Are you using the correct terms? 12 Commonly Interchanged Terms Explained

Do you sometimes notice people using industry terms incorrectly, or using the terminology but interchanging the meaning of words? Does it grab your attention and make you wonder what’s actually correct? We notice it a lot. For example, some businesses believe they hold accreditation of their management systems to the ISO standards (it’s actually certification), or that there is a confined space entry risk on a specific project (it’s actually a hazard).

Quality, Safety and Environmental management systems have extensive and unique terminology, most with well-defined meanings, but a few terms are often used interchangeably. So, we decided to summarise the commonly mixed-up terms, their correct definitions, and some examples of use.

Certification vs Accreditation

Firstly, let’s see the formal definitions:

Certification – a formal procedure by which an accredited Conformity Assessment Body recognises an organisation’s management system under a set of specified requirements (with an example of the “specified requirements” being ISO 9001:2015 – Quality Management Systems).

Accreditation – the independent evaluation of Conformity Assessment Bodies against the standard ISO 17021 to ensure their impartiality, competence and consistency.

In summary, the Conformity Assessment Body needs to be accredited to deliver their services. Their services are certification services of a business’s management system.

So, saying that your Quality Management System is “ISO 9001:2015 Certified” or you have the “ISO 9001:2015 Certification” is correct. Your systems are not accredited. The Conformity Assessment Body is the business which will conduct the audit (third-party audit) and, based on the results, certifies your business management system. In order for them to do so, the Conformity Assessment Body needs to be accredited. In Australia and New Zealand, the majority of Conformity Assessment Bodies are accredited by JAS-ANZ (Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand).

Compliance vs Conformance

It’s not easy to locate an accurate definition of these two terms. ISO 9000:2015 defines conformity as a fulfilment of a requirement. Definitions for non-conformance are in abundance. But not much on the positive aspect of this term! That’s likely where the confusion starts! Let’s check the definitions of the verb form of these two terms:

To comply – to be in accordance with a set of specifications or regulations, or with a policy or guideline

To conform – how well a product or a system, meets a specified standard

Or in simpler words:

Compliance is when you do as others tell you.

Conforming is when you choose to do it for yourself.

Are you confused? Stand by…

Basically, you must comply (e.g. with legislation) but you can choose to conform (e.g. with ISO Standards). Compliance requirements are for example: paying tax or your employee superannuation. If you want to provide your customers and stakeholders with added confidence with your services and products, you might decide to undergo a conformity assessment (certification process) of your products and services, in order to conform with the ISO Standards.

If you would like more information on how becoming ISO certified will benefit your business, contact us for a free consultation at ISO Certification Experts.

Quality Assurance vs Quality Control

The terms Quality Assurance and Quality Control are often used interchangeably, and one is often incorrectly used as a substitute for the other. These terms are closely related as they are both part of quality management, but they are fundamentally different in their focus:

Quality Assurance is a process focused concept of quality management. Processes are put in place to ensure that the actual products or services will turn out as per the requirements.

Quality Control is a product focused concept and it’s more of the inspection aspect of quality management to ensure that the existing products or services are fulfilling the requirements. Quality control is used to verify the quality of a product or service.

In a simple way – Quality Assurance is the process for managing the quality and Quality Control is used to verify the quality of the output.

Hazard vs Risk

These two terms are used at most workplaces on a daily basis. But are they used correctly? Let’s start with the formal definitions:

Are you using the correct terms? 12 Commonly Interchanged Terms Explained

Hazard – a situation or thing that has the potential to harm a person or property. Examples of hazard types are: safety hazards, biological hazards, ergonomic hazards, chemical hazards, etc.

Risk – the possibility that harm might occur when exposed to a hazard or in other words: a risk arises when it’s possible that a hazard will actually cause harm.

A few examples are:

“Working at heights” is a safety hazard which can potentially cause risk of “serious injury as result of falling”.

“Wet weather and slippery conditions” is a physical hazard which can potentially cause risk of “injuries due to falls”.

After all potential hazards are identified, you should progress with the risk assessment/rating and implementation of control measures.

Accident vs Incident

The term Accident is often misunderstood and is often mistakenly used interchangeably with Incident.

The meanings of the two terms are different.

The dictionary defines an Accident as an unplanned event that interrupts the completion of an activity, and that may (or may not) result in injury or property damage.

An Incident is defined as an unexpected event that did not cause injury or damage this time but had the potential to.

Basically, every accident can be an incident, however, not all incidents can be termed as an accident. A few examples are:

Incident Accident
Collision of two vehicles A person injured during collision of two vehicles
Spillage of a chemical substance Worker breaths in vapours from the chemical substance and has to be treated in hospital
Collapse of shoring during excavation Engulfment of a worker during working in a trench
Hammer fell from a scaffold Falling hammer hit worker and caused a head injury


Audit vs Inspection

You’ve just started a new construction project and there is a requirement by the client to check the site on a daily basis. Is this an inspection? Or is it an audit? Managers sometimes like to use the terms interchangeably, but the reality is that they are different processes. Let’s check the formal definitions:

An audit is an assessment of a process or a system to determine whether it meets a defined standard. Audits are performed to verify conformance to standards through a systematic review of objective evidence.

Are you using the correct terms? 12 Commonly Interchanged Terms Explained

An inspection is an evaluation or assessment of products or processes. It involves measurements or tests to confirm the product (or process) meets the specified requirements and/or standards.

The definitions look quite similar, don’t they? In brief, Inspection may not be formal and planned out, but an audit is scheduled, and it is a formal procedure. We may consider an inspection as part of an audit but cannot consider an audit as part of an inspection.

Types of audits are: Legal Compliance Audit, Internal Audit, System Audit, Financial Audit, etc.

Types of inspections are: Site Safety Inspection, Facility Inspection, Workplace Inspection, Vehicle Inspection, etc.

We hope that our explanations for the selected terms will help you in your every-day work!  We elaborated on those terms we come across most often. Can you think of any other terms which are often mixed up? Leave us a comment below and we can talk about them in our next blog! If you are interested in ISO Certification, you can find the details here or contact us on 1300 614 007.

About the author

Managing Director at ISO Certification Experts

Erica is a Certified Trainer, Implementer and Auditor for ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001 and ISO 27001, and heads up the day-to-day operations of the business.