Brexit and ISO Standards

Karen MacKenzie considers the question on every Quality Manager's lips: "now the UK has left the EU, what does this mean for our ISO Certification?" As she explains below, the future remains BRight...

There is only one sure thing about Brexit and that is its uncertainties. However, for ISO aficionados and the idly curious alike, here is what we do know.

What will not change?

Firstly, the whole ISO infrastructure will remain in place exactly as it is. ISO is an international organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland. It operates around the globe with multiple centres. The UK has historically had a strong role and may continue to have some involvement in activities such as reviewing and developing of standards; therefore to this extent, the existence of ISO and its operation will not be changed by Brexit.

Secondly, UKAS (The United Kingdom Accreditation Service, the controlling body for UK Certification Bodies) will continue as before, regardless of Brexit.

Thirdly, BSI has confirmed that the full range of CEN/CENELEC (European Committee for Standardisation) relations shall remain ongoing. This means the standards in the UK will continue to be identical to those of the rest of the world.

So, what might and what will change?

Some industrial sectors have their own ISO-based standards (e.g. the aviation industry has its own standards, such as AS9100 for Manufacturing, AS9110 for Maintenance, and AS9120 for Distribution; and the Automotive sector has its own standard: IATF 16949), which will be maintained and adjusted over time due to influences including (and beyond) ISO. This is because when these standards were set up, they adopted existing agreements from within the aviation/automotive sector in order that all players around the world could use the AS/IATF standards as a short cut to achieving the levels of reliability needed -- over and above ISO requirements. To this end, SQMC predict Brexit will have little to no effect here, as the direction the standards go in will be dictated by the sector.

Impacts from references to the EU, however, will cause an impact. A case in point is the CE marking aspect of the Medical Devices standard ISO 13485. The EU will continue to use CE marking. However, while the ISO 13485 Medical Devices standard will still apply, the CE Marking aspect for medical devices ceases to be valid post-Brexit. Therefore, all physical product placed on the market after that date will have to use a non-UK accredited CE Marking assessor. Other aspects relating to EU references, however, are less clear: where contracts refer to “EU” as a territory, this may no longer include the UK, and this will need to be made clear. However, this is not an ISO specific issue.

What legal basis exists for agreements? All ISO standards rely on the organisation complying with ‘local’ law – and where the definition of ‘local’ changes, this will need to be clarified going forward. Thus, an ISO 14001 Environment or ISO 45001 Health and Safety Legislation Register may have to be changed to reflect the different sources and applicability of legislation. For instance, where EU Directives and Regulations may have been quoted, this will need to be changed to the appropriate UK Acts and Regulations, as necessary. While organisations will have to understand the impact of the change of ‘local’ legislation (when it comes to where they might be prosecuted, or to what legal requirements they are obliged to meet), these are more outside the scope of ISO standards.

ISO Certification remains a worthwhile and invaluable investment

The general consensus of the UK Management Systems think tank, SQMC, is that demand for ISO standards will, in fact, increase -- for these three reasons:

1. As a source of certainty in an uncertain world

When there is uncertainty, people look for predictability to build their structure, to address the new versions of life going forwards. ISO standards will remain the same. They have a good reputation, nationally and internationally, and this enhances the national and international reputation of those organisations holding certifications in ISO standards. These will be the organisations that benefit from the vagaries of Brexit, using their ISO standards as strong foundations for their operations within the desert of uncertainty that is Brexit.

Further, having an ISO standard incorporates the internal framework required to adapt to change and uncertainty – even if you do not have the ISO 22301 Business Continuity Management standard which focuses on these activities. Thus, those organisations with an ISO standard will naturally bend with the change, rather than break. They can more easily operate their systems going into the future. The natural ‘continuous improvement’ requirement, in combination with the benefits of applying Board/Top Management requirements through the procedures embodied within the standard, will let an organisation change and develop and adjust to change with greater ease.

2) UK Competitiveness

One area that will help UK organisations going forwards into an uncertain future, is increased productivity. One of the key benefits of any ISO standard, properly applied, is the improvement of productivity. The efficiency required to operate a standard’s requirements properly, will result in improved use of resources – i. e. productivity increases. This is a huge advantage that needs to be pointed out, even if Brexit had never happened at all. UK Productivity is far lower than it could be, and its GDP levels are achieved through long hours and high employment. While long hours are to be decried as long-term bad practice, (and will be lost with the loss of EU legislation), high employment is another matter. However, look at it this way: if the levels of employment relate to the fact that 3 people are required to do a job that 2 could do with the right process controls, this would free up a ‘spare’ person to duplicate the work of the others; i.e. enabling an increase in production. If this can be done without a key change in costs (since we are already paying for three people) then we have reduced production costs, which makes the product far more competitive. Efficiency and effectiveness are the keys to smooth running management systems.

Brexit has and will continue to affect the exchange rate. Whatever happens in the short term, some financial forecasters expect the rate to remain lower than it was before the whole Brexit question appeared. This will decrease the cost of exports – potentially increasing the UK’s international competitivity. Nothing to do with ISO standards, except that the ability to manage the change is going to be easier with an ISO standard than without (as detailed above). Imports will increase in costs, however, so this will impact dependent on each specific organisation.

3) UK Reputation                                                                              

Despite an occasional cynically snide remark about UK quality, it is a fact that the UK (and Scotland in particular) is seen as a bastion of good quality around the world. This is a beneficial reputation that can be built on using ISO standards to demonstrate that the perception is true; that the resultant exported products and services are of high quality and that the productivity involved behind the scenes in the generation of these products and services is ensuring that the prices are competitive as well.

Combining our international reputation for quality with demonstrating it to be accurate will bring its own rewards.

In conclusion

While the ‘results’ of this Brexit exercise are as uncertain as ever, the certainty remains that ISO standards will remain. Their value holds true for all parties, and the need for them is greater than ever.



Photographer credits

Top banner: Christian Lue

Mid content: Alev Takil