ISO - What is it ?

International Organization for Standardization

What is ISO certification

Authored by: Martin Leduc, 2003

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Last year, our ship underwent an ISM (International Safety Management) audit. The crew was told that not only were we undertaking steps to comply with ISM, but also with ISO. Huh! I had seen ISO9000 logo associated with various part suppliers and technical service providers and assumed they were for shore based technical type businesses. So why were we, as seafarers, having anything to do with ISO?

Firstly, the word ISO is derived from isosceles, as in isosceles triangle -equal sided triangle. ISO first came about in 1987 by the International Organization for Standardization. This organization, based in Switzerland, was created in 1947. 

This non government body is made up of standards bodies from 130 countries of the world. The goal of the organization is to promote standardization with the hope of advancing the international exchange of products and services. It's work results in international agreements that become standards across the world. Some of the organization's achievements include photographic film, bank card size, shipping containers, the SI (metric) system, etc. 

With the introduction of ISO 9000 in 1994, an update of the standards first released in 1987, leaders in the technological, scientific, economic and intellectual fields could finally have a universal set of management standards which would allow a better assurance of quality. 

Basically, ISO provides management guidelines, a framework if you will, which can be applied to any business to increase the business's ability to produce a product with consistent quality. As far as ISM is concern; ISO could be construed as the "sister program" of ISM, except with ISM, safety is the product. 

Why bother with ISO? It may be cheaper than the cost of poor product quality, it may be required by law, your customers demand it or maybe your firm wants to minimized items left to chance. 

A firm can be in full compliance with ISO standards without being "official". But to be in compliance, "official", a firm will need to adopt one of the ISO standards: ISO 9001, ISO 9002, ISO 9003. The firm will then proceed to evaluate and adjust their procedures to meet the guidelines set by the ISO standards. 

Once satisfied of their actions, the firm's officials invite an independent, accredited auditor into their firm. The auditor will review the firm's policy to see if they meet ISO standards, then if they do, the firm will be issued a certificate of compliance. 

Copy of an ISO9000 certificate of compliance, this one is for the Schottel Group, makers of ship propulsion pods and z drives

For those familiar with the ISM procedure, you will recognize immediately the similarities of the process; the review of policies aboard ships, the defining of responsibilities, land side office structure and operation, etc. As such, your shipping company will most likely be adopting ISO standards at the same time as ISM standards.