When talking about Management Systems Standards, such as ISO 14001:2015 & ISO 9001:2015, two terms will, often, come up: conformity and compliance & are used interchangeably. But are they the same or is there a difference?
In this article, we will be looking at the terms: conformity and compliance & whether they really the same or is there a difference.
Now, the common habit of using the two terms interchangeably means that many are unaware of the subtle differences between them. This is a common mistake prone to many of us, whether you are new or have experience of the subject.
It is likely that our use of the terms: Conformity and Compliance, synonymously, is a fitting example. At first it may seem that ‘to conform’ and ‘to comply’ essentially mean the same thing, notably, to agree to do something or follow certain rules. However, the strict definitions of these two terms illustrate something different entirely.
What does Conformity mean?
In general English, the term Conformity is, often, simply considered to be the harmonization between a person’s behaviour and the standards of a particular group.
Take for example, a person conforms when he/she seeks to adopt the same behaviour, beliefs, attitudes, and practices of those in the group or the wider society. Conformity for taking a party photograph is that everyone should be smiling and making friendly gestures to the camera.
As opposed to a state of compliance, conformity is not prescribed by a legal body. In fact, refusal to conform is viewed as an act of independence or rebellion. If a person does not conform to certain social norms or conventions, they face rejection.
And, so it is with the use of conformity in Management Systems Standards, such as ISO 14001 & ISO 9001. Looking to ISO 14050:2020, which is the ISO Standard covering the vocabulary for environmental management.
In ISO 14050:2020 Clause 3.1.16, conformity is given as the “fulfilment of a requirement” & equally, non-conformity defined in Clause 3.1.17 as a “non-fulfilment of a requirement”. It should be remembered that Clause 3.1.15 defines a “requirement” as a “need or expectation that is stated, generally implied or obligatory”.
An example of conformity is when an organisation can demonstrate that they hold a Management Review. Thus, meeting the requirement given in Clause 9.3 of ISO 14001:2015, that “Top management shall review the organization’s environmental management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness”.
So, we can see that conformity is very much linked to the achievement of the requirements within the applicable ISO Standard.
Finally, it is fitting that Certification Bodies are, often, referred to in ISO Standards as “Conformity Assessment Bodies” further cementing the link between Standards and conformity.
If you re getting value out of this episode on conformity and compliance, please hit the “like” button.
So, that is the meaning of the term: conformity, so what about “compliance”.
What does Compliance mean?
The term Compliance implies a more, formal, serious type of act. It is defined as the act or process of adhering to and fulfilling a given order or command. Compliance recognises a situation, where certain rules or orders have been met.
Think of an example of the police carry out the commands or orders of another individual, or more likely, a government organization to ensure that a protest is in compliance with local laws.
It, can, also, relate to a body charged with legal responsibilities, such as the Environment Agency in England or the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. Compliance, then, means that the person fulfilling the order did not have a choice in the matter.
And, so it is with the use of compliance in Management Systems Standards, such as ISO 14001 & ISO 9001. Looking to ISO 37301:2021, which is the ISO Standard covering the requirements for a compliance management system.
Clause 3.26 – compliance is defined as “meeting all the organization’s compliance obligations” & equally, noncompliance 3.27 – noncompliance is defined as the “non-fulfilment of compliance obligations”. It should be noted that “compliance obligations” are defined in Clause 3.2.9 of ISO 14001:2015 as a “legal requirement that an organization has to comply with or other requirement that an organization has to or chooses to comply with”.
An example of compliance is when an organisation is seeking to move hazardous waste in the United Kingdom, must complete a consignment note in accordance with Regulation 35(1)(a) of the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005 (2005 No 894). Completing the consignment note is to be “in compliance” with this Regulation.
Failure to complete a consignment note is an offence under Regulation 65(c) and would be considered to be a non-compliance.
So, we can see that compliance is a specialised term linked to the meting a legal requirement, or to use the term from ISO 14001, compliance obligation to further reinforce the meaning of compliance.
So, to answer posed at the beginning of this episode:
What is the difference between Conformity and Compliance?
Within ISO Standards, there is a clear view that:
Conformity refers to when an organisation seeks to meet the requirements of a standard, such as ISO 14001.
Whereas Compliance relates to a situation in which the organisation fulfils a compliance obligation or legal requirement stipulated by a legal or higher authority.
How to use the terms: Conformity and Compliance?
For the term: Conformity, it would be correct to say:
- Our Management System is in conformity with ISO 14001:2015
- We have conformity in our Management System as there are no nonconformities present in our audit.
- Our Internal Audit demonstrated the conformity of our emergency preparedness procedures.
You would not be correct to say:
- Our Management System is in compliance with ISO 14001:2015
- We have compliance in our Management System as there are no nonconformities present in our audit.
- Our Internal Audit demonstrated the compliance of our emergency preparedness procedures.
For the term: Compliance, it would be correct to say:
- Our hazardous waste movements are in compliance with the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005.
- All our waste operations are demonstrated to be in compliance with the relevant Regulations.
Equally, it would not be correct to say:
- We are in conformity with the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005.
- All our waste operations are demonstrated to be in conformity with the relevant Regulations.
If this article has helped to advance your understanding of the use of the terms: Conformity and Compliance within ISO Standards, please share your feedback on the use of the terms in the comments section below.
If you enjoyed this article, you should check out our YouTube Channel – EMSmastery, where you can watch our videos, such as our video accompanying this article on What is Conformity & Compliance and subscribe in our YouTube channel for new videos released each week.
#conformity, #compliance, #EMSmastery