Most industry members will be familiar with the notion of ISO accreditation, but exactly what does this mean, why is it important and what does it entail? Air Products South Africa offers its take on the certification conundrum.

ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation), is a voluntary system for companies around the world gain accreditation according to certain standards which meet the requirements of business and the broader needs of society.

Although entirely voluntary, ISO certification is becoming increasingly prevalent in industry today.  This is according to Abdul Shaik, Field Quality Manager at Air Products South Africa.  He explains that there are several reasons behind this.

“There are a number of drivers for ISO accreditation, including organisational procedures and operational efficiencies, as well as customer requirements,” he says.

As one of the country’s leading manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of gas and gas products, Air Products gives top priority to health and safety issues and is proud of its track record.

Sue Jansen van Vuuren, Environmental Health and Safety, and Quality Manager at Air Products, explains the company’s standpoint:  “For us, nothing is more important than safety - not production, not sales, not profits.”

We get many requests from customers and prospective customers wanting to see our ISO certification.

Abdul Shaik

She continues: “We regard the national legislation in terms of environmental health and safety as the very minimum standard.  Over and above legislative compliance, we have very well-entrenched quality management systems in place, including ISO 9001, which we have had since 1992.”

ISO 9001, Shaik explains, is a baseline quality management certification, which the company has in place at all its sites countrywide.  More recently, Air Products has achieved two further ISO accreditations:  ISO 22 000, which is a food management system utilised mainly in the food industry  and ISO 14 000, an environmental management system. “We comply to local legislation in terms of environmental safety,” says Shaik, “but it is important to us to reach over and above this by attaining ISO certification as well.”

He explains: “Being ISO compliant affects our operational efficiency by ensuring that we do not incur waste and that we operate according to carefully designed step-by-step procedures. This eliminates possible complaints, fewer failures and reworks, which in turn keeps production costs as low as possible.”

In addition, ISO certification has proved instrumental in providing the company with access to new markets. “We get many requests from customers and prospective customers wanting to see our ISO certification,” Shaik says.

ISO, which is granted to South African companies through the SABS, (South African Bureau of Standards) applies to a company’s manufacturing or production facilities, which in turn provides guarantees regarding that facility’s output and product consistency.

“It is about engineering and managing procedures according to international best practice to ensure a consistent quality output, which meets customer expectations,” says Shaik.

The start up to achieving ISO certification involves a lot of time and effort, with particular emphasis on careful documentation.

…we realise that it’s not always possible to ensure compliance remotely, so we hold the people on the ground accountable for how they run their areas day-to-day.  It is something that is an ongoing effort – we definitely do not rest on our laurels!

Abdul Shaik

“Primary processes have to be well-documented and recorded for later scrutiny, which is quite an involved process in itself,” Shaik explains. “Thereafter, it is important to train your people on approved procedures, according to ISO standards – and then there are various ‘checks and balances’, checking incoming bulk product and raw material, and outgoing product according to specifications.”

He emphasises the importance of keeping careful records of all activities, including training.  “This is important for auditing purposes, as SABS routinely audits our systems.” Shaik says.

With regards to keeping compliant, Van Vuuren says: “Once we have achieved our ISO certification in the various areas, we conduct our own internal audits. But we realise that it’s not always possible to ensure compliance remotely, so we hold the people on the ground accountable for how they run their areas day-to-day.  It is something that is an ongoing effort – we definitely do not rest on our laurels!”

She adds that the SABS/ISO audit is generic in nature, and that Air Products’ internal auditing is run according to very strict industry-specific standards, conducted by subject experts and specialists in the various fields of gas production.

Shaik concludes: “Being ISO compliant has become a way of life for Air Products: it makes good business sense, and, more importantly, ensures that we are able to consistently provide a quality output, according to world standards – something our customers have come to expect from Air Products.”

Air Products South Africa (Pty) Limited manufactures, supplies and distributes a wide variety of industrial and specialty gas products and chemicals to the Southern African region. Benefiting from a workforce of 415, the company was registered in 1969.