Dejan Krnjaić PhD, Director of the Accreditation Body of Serbia, gave an interview to the EurActiv network on the occasion of the decision made by the Multilateral Agreement Council of the European co-operation for Accreditation (EA) (18th April 2012) enabling the Accreditation Body of Serbia (ATS) to sign a bilateral agreement with the EA.
We hereby present the interview in its entirety.
The agreement will be signed in May at the 28th meeting of the EA General Assembly (EA GA) in Madrid. Dejan Krnjaić PhD, ATS Director, will sign the agreement on behalf of the ATS and the Republic of Serbia. Since the EU candidate country status was obtained, the ATS will, at the EA GA meeting and in accordance with the EA documents, change its membership status in the EA and be granted EA full membership status that will replace the existing one, and accordingly the EA BLA will be replaced with the EA MLA.
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Interviewer: Smiljana Vukojičić Obradović
On 18th April it was confirmed that the Accreditation Body of Serbia (ATS) was harmonised with the EU standards. The multilateral agreement will be signed at the end of May on the basis of the decision that was made. The Accreditation Body and all accredited laboratories, inspection bodies and certification bodies will thus be able to issue their reports and certificates that will then be recognised outside our country without any need for additional checks, i.e. this means that they will be recognised Europe-wide and worldwide. However, this is also important for the Serbian consumers to be certain that the quality and safety of goods and services accompanied by the certificates are at the same level as those of the EU. Serbia needs to promote accreditation, but the problem is that there is no association of accredited CABs. I deem that our consumer organisations should get more engaged and try, in accordance with the situation in the EU and world that requires the observance of their rights, to exert influence on the public and regulators to make the situation in our country better. Consumers can recognise the certificates of accredited CABs since they have a unique ATS logo and thus be sure that they are using goods and services of satisfactory quality.
The Accreditation Body of Serbia got the confirmation today that it operates its activities in keeping with the EU standards. Why is that important?
Today the Accreditation Body of Serbia became a member of the EU recognised family of accreditation bodies. This means that laboratories, inspection and certification bodies operate and perform conformity assessment activities at the same level as those of the EU and world.
The Accreditation Body of Serbia applied way back in February 2009 to be peer evaluated so that it could be confirmed that our procedures, operation and competence were at a desired level and that we could meet all the requirements of relevant standards and mandatory international guidelines. ATS was assessed by two teams of EU experts in 2010 and 2011 and these visits were followed by the evaluation of our report.
The decision was made by the EA MAC Council in Copenhagen. What else should be done for the decision to come into force?
Following the Copenhagen decision the multilateral agreement will be signed at the end of May. The ATS and all accredited laboratories, inspection and certification bodies will thus be able to issue reports and certificates that will be recognised outside our country without any need for additional checks, i.e. this means that they will be recognised Europe-wide and worldwide.
It will thus be easier to place our products on EU and world market, while on the other hand it will give additional guarantee to our consumers that products or services are safe and of good quality.
Could you please give a short explanation of the importance of accreditation?
All segments of our life, products and services are based on standards. The said standards contain clearly defined technical specifications that have to be determined and hence a large number of conformity assessment bodies. When it comes to food safety laboratories are in charge, when it comes to safety of lifts inspection bodies perform periodical controls to check whether a lift works properly.
Someone must determine the competence of those assessing the fulfilment of a specific requirement of the standard. The accreditation body is the paramount institution in the country that determines, controls and supervises, for the purpose of protecting the public interest, the work of all those assessing the fulfilment of the requirements of the standard.
On one hand, the accreditation body is the paramount guardian of the safety and security of citizens, environment and all other elements of our life. Furthermore, accreditation is recognised in the system of international trade.
Dejan Krnjaić PhD, ATS Director
This means that the agreement will help increase the export outside Europe?
As soon as we sign the multilateral agreement it will automatically be recognised worldwide. We will be recognised worldwide through European co-operation for Accreditation which means that reports and certificates will not only be recognised at EU level, but in China, Australia and America as well.
The Accreditation Body of Serbia is a member of the European co-operation for Accreditation (EA), and through it a member of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and International Accreditation Forum (IAF).
This is important not only for the EU and our export, but for our country as well. This is the first time that a body has been recognised as the one operating at the same level as those of the EU and world. The ATS could be more proactive on our market, to act as a guarantee that labels placed on products and services can be trusted.
Recognition of certificates does not mean that export permits can automatically be obtained since that depends on trade relations between countries. To what extent will the things change, what are the limitations that will sustain?
The fact that the ATS attained this objective is a great success and in most of the cases the goods will be placed on the market with no additional assessments. However, under certain circumstances where the risk is higher certain products can be tested, inspected and certified despite the mutual recognition arrangement.
The very EU market defines specific requirements. When it comes to the safety of certain products EU legislation has about 30 different directives defining requirements for safety of products. Directives are based on standards, and fulfilment of the requirements of standards in case of their technical regulations can only be confirmed by so called notified bodies.
For example, safety of toys is very important. Majority of problems related to the toxicity of plastics. Despite the fact that a CAB can test something and confirm its safety, it will not be possible to avoid retesting and recertification of the said product/toy prior to placing them on the EU market. However, this is only in case of initial placing on the market that is followed by market surveillance that does not imply testing of each toy or batch.
Does this bring more business opportunities for Serbian certification bodies and laboratories?
After the multilateral agreement has been signed, our laboratories can be really appealing. For example, when it comes to production of certain products in Germany you will need a notified body that will certify the production. It is not defined that the said notified body from Germany cannot use the testing capacities of Serbian CABs. After signing the multilateral agreement the results become equally reliable as the results of such a laboratory in Germany. If the fees of our laboratories are lower, that will bring new business opportunities for our accredited CABs, primarily laboratories.
Will laboratories, certification and inspection bodies have to get accredited again so that their reports could be recognised abroad?
No, they will not. We were peer evaluated and the entire system was, so to say, positively assessed and automatically all those that are accredited will be recognised as competent and their reports and certificates will also be recognised. Furthermore, surveillance is performed every year, and every four years reassessment is performed to renew accreditation.
Does the peer evaluation pertained to the entire system of control of conformance with the standards or is there anything else remaining?
The following fields of our accreditation system were assessed: testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, medical laboratories, inspection bodies and certification bodies operating certification of products.
The only thing that remains is the field of certification (certification bodies operating certification of management systems) since we had problems in this field due to lack of experience. Furthermore, until now we did not receive any applications for the accreditation of persons or proficiency testing (PT providers).
Our priority is to upgrade, in the next several months or in the next twelve months, this aspect of our work to make it at EU and world level when it comes to accreditation of certification bodies operating certification of management systems, i.e. certification as per ISO 9001 for quality management system, ISO 14000 for environmental protection, OHSAS 18000 for occupational safety, and ISO 22000 for food safety.
Again, there is another important standard - ISO 27000 that is not yet acknowledged in the right way in our country and it lays down the safety of information and data transfer via IT technologies. There are plenty of opportunities to improve the level of standard in our country. In a developed country when you are a bank card holder and when someone cuts up your credit card or takes the code out do you know what is paying for that? Not you, but the bank does. Is there any kind of protection in our country and what is the level of safety of information sent via internet? Well, the level of safety is not high.
Can the CABs not accredited by the ATS work in Serbia?
The Law on Accreditation that is fully harmonised with the EU Regulation765/ 2008 lays down that CABs that are not accredited can also work. Other laws prescribe whether the accreditation is mandatory or not. In case of food safety the legislation prescribes that e.g. laboratories and test methods have to be accredited.
Take the newly established Traffic Safety Agency for example. Before its establishment tachograph inspection was part of the accreditation system. This means that regulations must be clearly defined so that drivers could not drive continuously for a long time or to avoid burdening drivers or vehicles which is of great importance to safety.
In Europe this problem mainly implies independent assessment of all those performing inspection. The same thing happened with us. When a new law was adopted the situation worsened and now the newly established Agency deals with this. This is not the only example that the state is trying to assume the authority or responsibility for everything with no additional engagement of experts from certain bodies.
How can you guarantee independence and competence?
After we have received an application we have to select, like any other technocrats, experts in accordance with our standards and establish the assessment teams. Our key characteristic is impartiality and competence we achieve by hiring a large number of external experts in different fields.
Hence the ATS has 33 employees, but the total number of external experts in different fields (starting from machinery safety, safety of building materials to steel and concrete) implies more than 300 renowned national experts in different fields.
This is how the entire society is evolving. A country assesses, on the basis of technical analyses and risk analysis, the need for its involvement in different fields and what to confer on others. The role of the ATS is to prove the competence of those appointed to perform conformity assessment activities in order to avoid the application of political, nepotism-like criteria or any other criteria or to hire incompetent people to perform the said activities.
Since accreditation is not mandatory how can consumers be sure that the standard specified on the product or report provides guarantee of quality and safety?
All our accredited bodies have a right to use the accreditation symbol containing our mark, logo, and the number allocated thereto. They have a right to display that symbol in their reports and certificates.
Given the importance of accreditation when it comes to the fulfilment of the standard requirements is your plan to conduct a public campaign?
We conducted a large campaign as part of several EU funded projects. We are doing our best to conduct such activities.
However, the problem in our country is that we do not have any associations of accredited CABs. I appealed many times to emphasise that all the accredited CABs should be united and try to promote the importance of accreditation. This is not on us to do.
On the other hand, I think that our consumer associations should get more engaged and try, in accordance with the situation in the EU and world that requires the observance of their rights, to exert influence on the public and regulators to make the situation in our country better.