What is QI?
“Quality infrastructure (QI) is a system comprising the organizations (public and private) together with the policies, relevant legal and regulatory frameworks, and practices needed to support and enhance the quality, safety and environmental soundness of goods, services and processes. QI is required for the effective operation of domestic markets, and its international recognition is important to enable access to foreign markets. It is a critical element in promoting and sustaining economic development, as well as environmental and social wellbeing. QI relies on metrology, standardisation, accreditation, conformity assessment, and market surveillance.” - United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), 2017
A coherent quality infrastructure is essential for the functioning of an economy. It is a necessary prerequisite to product innovation, technology transfer and equal opportunities on the market and makes an important contribution to health, safety, consumer and environmental protection. It ensures that user quality expectations and regulatory requirements are met.
QI is also a vital element of international trade facilitation. Uniform and internationally recognised product requirements and conformity assessment procedures make it possible to sell products across borders and ensure the compatibility of products and services. International cooperation in the field of quality infrastructure is crucial to enable and promote transnational trade and to reduce technical barriers to trade.
Standards are voluntary documents, which describe products, services, technologies or processes for common and repeated use. They lay down compatibility, quality and safety criteria to ensure certain levels of uniformity and consistency, for the benefit of the public. Standards are developed by recognised standards bodies, which involve all interested parties and experts as well as by other standards development organisations or consortia. While the use of standards is voluntary in principle, regulators might choose to declare compliance as mandatory (thereby becoming a technical regulation).
Conformity assessment provides evidence that a product or service complies with specific requirements. It encompasses tasks such as the calibration, certification, inspection or testing of products, services, processes, systems or persons. In some cases, conformity assessments are statutory, in other cases they are voluntary or based on a contractual agreement.
Accreditation is a confirmation by an independent third party, which formally states that a conformity assessment body has the required competences to conduct conformity assessment activities. In some cases, accreditation may be required by law, namely for conformity assessment bodies operating in sensitive areas, e.g. healthcare. In other cases, conformity assessment bodies voluntarily apply for accreditation in order to demonstrate their competence and increase confidence in their work.
Measurements and testing procedures are an essential element of quality assurance and the foundation of conformity assessments. Metrology ensures the accuracy of measurement results by comparing them with national standards and by calibrating measurement devices and procedures, in order for them to meet the requirements of the industry. Moreover, legal metrology lays down the official requirements regarding the units of measurement, the methods of measurement and the measurement devices for all areas, in which the government takes on a special protective function for its citizens.
Market surveillance authorities monitor and control products on the market to ensure their compliance with the existing legal requirements. If legal provisions are violated, they will take the appropriate measures such as recalls to restore conformity. Moreover, they inform the public about dangerous products on the market.
For more information on the elements of a QI, please see: