Certification Decisions Do They Have to Be So Hard?
By Tina Fischer, CWS-VI
Choices, choices, choices. Each day, we are forced to make thousands of them. These choices range from simple things to much more difficult choices and each moment of every day is engulfed in millions of questions bouncing back and forth internally so that we can function in society. With the amount of activity your brain goes through for typical things, it’s no wonder that when it comes time for certifying a product line, having to make decisions about how to get to the end result, it is challenging and sometimes overwhelming. “Which standard is pertinent to the types of product I would like to get certified? Are there options for certification bodies that I can choose from? Once I determine which standard my products fall under, what sections of the standards are pertinent to me? How many products do I need to send for testing?” We could spend the entire day writing out the multitude of questions that must be answered in order to obtain product certification.
Instead, let’s address some of the key factors so the next time you would like to have products certified, there is a handy reference guide to walk you through the main points. This way, the only decision you have to make to get started is to pull out this magazine and review the article.
What standard(s) is (are) applicable to my product type?
There are literally thousands of industry standards for each and every product type that is used daily in our homes. Here we will focus only on what is referred to as the DWTU (drinking water treatment unit) sector. Under the DWTU standards, there are nine to choose from (see Table 1).
While the table certainly does not take into consideration all possible scenarios, it is a good place to get started. The difference between health claims and aesthetic claims does not require a degree to decipher. Quite simply, aesthetic claims refer to the taste and odor of the water. Additionally, if the contaminant does not pose a health risk, it would be considered an aesthetic claim. Chlorine reduction is the most common aesthetic claim. A health claim is a chemical that poses a health risk when exposed to it (arsenic is a common example). Further, all those nasty chemicals that you cannot pronounce (hexachlorocyclopentadiene, for example), fall under the inorganic contaminant category and are also considered health claims.
What type of product certification should I apply for?
There are two main categories under which products within the DWTU sector that products fall. Certification can be granted for complete systems and/or for components of a system. A complete system is a product that is able to perform its intended function without additional parts being added. A component would be described as something that, on its own, would not be able to fulfill its end-use application. A good example of the two types includes a water softener and a water softener valve. A complete water softener is made up of a number of components (including but not limited to a valve, pressure vessel, ion exchange resin, distributor tube and brine system). When all of these components are assembled together, the product is able to carry out its intended duty of removing hardness from the water. In contrast, the water softener valve is unable to remove hardness from water without all of these other components accompanying it. Therefore, if you manufacture a valve only, you would choose to have your valve certified as a component.
What section of the standard applies to my products?
Each standard is broken out into different sections. In order for your products to become certified, they must meet the specific sections of the standard based on the type of product you have. Components are not required and actually cannot be certified according to all sections of the standards when the standard contains performance claim parameters (see Table 2). Components themselves are only certifiable to the materials safety and structural integrity sections of these performance standards. Performance claims are not allowed on components that are not functional without other components.
Are there options for certification bodies that I can choose from?
There are many options when choosing a certification body. Some may think that NSF is the only option, simply because the NSF name is actually part of the industry standards’ titles. There are quite a few other capable agencies that can and do perform product testing and certification for your drinking water treatment units. In order to be best prepared when doing your certification shopping, you should verify that any certification body you request information from has undergone external audits and is accredited by a third party according to ISO Guide 65. The current list of certification bodies accredited to perform these activities includes: The Water Quality Association (WQA), NSF, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA). When accredited, the certification body is required to undergo extensive, extrinsic audits annually. These inspections verify that the certification activities that the certification body is performing are in line with the product standards and the certification body’s policies. Without an accreditation, there is no guarantee that your certification body is ethical, reliable and accepted by regulatory bodies.
How many products should I submit for testing?
While it would be wonderful to be able to say for each product you want certified you should send two products, it just is not the case. There are many factors that are considered when determining how many products are needed to perform testing for certification. Product bracketing is the most significant factor. Because products can be grouped into families based on similarities in design and function, it is most common that when multiple products are submitted for certification, only a small portion of those products actually undergo testing. For the sake of discussion, though, if we were to assume that certification was only going to be for one product, Table 3 details the approximate number of samples that may be required for product testing—of course your certification body should be consulted prior to shipping any samples.
A standard does not exist for the product type I manufacture; now what do I do?
Product standards are difficult to write since numerous people from the industry cosult to establish a consensus standard. New technology and/or devices that do not necessarily fall under the standards/product types already mentioned are not, however, left in the dark. It is still possible for you to move forward with certification of your specialized product. For these types of products, a protocol can be written that will detail how to effectively test the product for compliance. This protocol is something that you will need to work with your certification body to develop. If the demand presents itself, these protocols can later become industry standards as well.
Product certification can be daunting. There is always paperwork to fill out and there are always questions to be asked and choices to be made. Certainly, it would be impossible to answer every question you might have in this arena; however, the previous details should be able to get you started on the right track. If you are looking for help in making more certification choices, please contact the WQA Product Certification team. If you have tough choices to make, or questions that require answering, we are here to help.
About the author
Tina Fischer is a Product Certification Supervisor for the Water Quality Association’s Gold Seal Program. She has been part of the Water Quality Association team for over 10 years, and in that time has helped develop the Gold Seal Program into an organized ANSI- and SCC-accredited program. Fischer can be contacted by telephone (630) 505-0160 ext. 533; fax (630) 505-9637 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to provide additional information concerning the Water Quality Association’s Gold Seal Certification Program.
About the organization
WQA is a not-for-profit association that provides public information about water treatment issues and also trains and certifies professionals to better serve consumers. WQA has more than 2,500 members internationally. WQA provides Gold Seal certification for products that remove a variety of contaminants. These products are tested according to independently developed standards of the highly respected ANSI (the American National Standards Institute).