Brexit – how are ISO standards affected?
The only certainty about the Brexit situation is that it will yield, whatever happens, uncertain results. So how should businesses view this situation?
What will not change?
Firstly, the whole ISO infrastructure will remain in place unchanged. ISO is an international organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland. It operates around the globe with multiple centres. While the UK has had a strong role in the past, and will, I predict, continue to be involved in the review, generation and development of standards so this aspect of the existence of ISO and its operation will not be changed by Brexit.
Secondly, the UK arms of the ISO process – namely UKAS (UK Accreditation Service – the controlling body for UK Certifiers) and the UK Certifiers – will continue as before whatever Brexit brings. There may be some international Certifiers that operate in the UK at the moment – but if the amount of interest in increasing their UK client base is to be taken as an indication, they are keen to continue to be involved.
Thirdly, BSI has confirmed that the full range of CEN/CENELEC relations shall remain ongoing. This translates as meaning that the standards in the UK will continue to be identical to those of the rest of the world.
Thus far, this is nothing to get excited about.
So what will change?
• Some industrial sectors have their own ISO based standards. For example – the aviation industry sector has its own standards (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 beyond and including ISO. This is because when these standards were set up, they adopted existing agreements from within the aviation/automotive sector so that all players around the world could use the AS/IATF standards as a short cut to achieve the levels of reliability needed over and above ISO requirements. This means that Brexit will have little to no effect either short or long term as the direction the standards go will be dictated by the sector.
• Impacts from references to 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 BUT the latest news is that while the ISO 13485 Medical Devices standard will continue to apply, the CE Marking aspect for medical devices will cease to be valid from 30th March 2019. Thus all physical product placed on the market after that date will have to use a non-UK accredited CE Marking assessor. BSI has said it is setting up a parallel operation (my interpretation) in the Netherlands to allow for this to be transitioned – but that this transition needs to happen by 30th March deadline. 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. But this aspect 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 H&S Legislation Registers may have to be changed to reflect the different sources and applicability of legislation. ie. 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.
• Demand for ISO standards will increase – three reasons – see below.
1) ISO as a source of certainty in an uncertain world
Wherever there is uncertainty in life, people look to areas of predictability against which to build their new framework to address the new version of life going forwards. ISO standards, as stated above, will remain the same. They have a good reputation nationally and internationally and this recognition enhances the national and international reputation of those organisations holding certifications in ISO standards. These will be the organisations that can benefit from the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, using their ISO standards as rocks to anchor their operations in the sea of uncertainty that is Brexit.
There’s more: 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 is specifically focused on such activities. So those organisations with an ISO standard will naturally bend with the flow of change. They can better operate their systems going forwards. The natural ‘continuous improvement’ requirement, in combination with the benefits of applying Board requirements through the procedures embodied within the standard, will let the organisation change and develop to adjust to change more easily.
2) UK Competitiveness
If there is any one area that will help UK organisations going forwards into an uncertain future, it 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 – ie productivity increases. In fact, this is a point that is shouting out to be made 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, high employment is another matter. However, look at it this (very simplified) 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 controls, this would free up a ‘spare’ person to duplicate the work of the others ie. Enabling the increasing of production. If we can do this without a key change in costs (since we are already paying for three people) then we have reduced our production costs which makes our product far more competitive.
Brexit has and will affect the exchange rate. Almost whatever happens in the short term, the rate will be lower than it was before the whole Brexit question appeared (when the rate was around €1.45 to the £1.00). This will decrease the cost of exports – again increasing the UK’s international competitivity. Clearly this has 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 more or less dependent on the specific organisation.
3) UK Reputation
Despite an occasional cynical snide remark about UK quality, within the UK, it is a fact that the UK is seen as a bastion of good quality practice in the world. This is a beneficial reputation that can be built on using ISO standards to demonstrate that a) this perception is true, b) that the resultant exported products and services are good quality and c) that the productivity involved behind the scenes in the generation of these products and services is ensuring that the prices are competitive as well.
Combine this international reputation for quality with demonstrating it to be accurate will thus bring its own rewards.
While the ‘results’ of this Brexit exercise are as uncertain as ever, the certainty remains that ISO standards will remain and their value holds true for all parties and that the need for them is greater than ever.