ISO 9001 Clause 5.2 – The Quality Policy

colourful blocks with the word policy written on them

ISO 9001 Clause 5.2 – Quality Policy is the latest clause to come under the spotlight in this series of How to Guides for ISO 9001.

We take a look at what it is, and where it fits in the greater scheme of the ISO family But first, let’s briefly set the scene with regards to the ISO 9001 standard.

In December 2021, the International Organisation for Standardisation (the main ISO body) reported “over one million companies and organizations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001:2015. This number continues to increase year on year, for many and varied good reasons.

Yet there’s one not-so-small catch…

ISO 9001 might just be the most confusing document in business history!

The good news is this series of articles and accompanying free factsheets are purpose designed to:

  • Cut through the jargon
  • Debunk the myths
  • Make smoother sailing of your journey to certification

Without further delay, let’s examine ISO 9001 Clause 5.2 – Quality Policy, in closer detail.

What is a Quality Policy?

ISO 9001 Clause 5.2 – Quality Policy is arguably the most important clause of the standard. The policy directs top management’s overall direction and attitude related to quality. It communicates to everyone within (and outside of) the business what is considered truly important to the success of the business.

Simply put, it is the statement of your organisation’s commitment to quality. It defines your commitment to customer requirements, legal requirements, and the requirements of the standard. It also contains a pledge to work towards continual improvement.

That may sound simple, but you’ll find this brief document is critical to ISO 9001 success.

It is worth mentioning that you don’t have to call it the ‘Quality Policy’, some businesses may want to use different terminology such as ‘vision’ or ‘mission statement’. Some businesses may choose to keep their policy short, whilst others may include topics such as values, culture and other characteristics. 

The key point to remember, is to ensure you address the minimum requirements as identified in the standard. Those, we will address in this article. 

The quality policy is a high-level document, and is an audited requirement, so don’t make any statements the sound good but have no relevance to your business. The policy needs to be aligned to the strategic direction of the organisation.

a yellow sign with the words policy update against a blue sky

Clause 5.2.1 – Establishing the Quality Policy

ISO 9001: 2015 requires you to write, document, communicate and enforce your quality policy. Finding a policy online or filling in a template just won’t cut the mustard. Your quality policy must reflect the business’ purpose and context, so it needs to come from the specifics of your business. 

The three areas to consider when developing your policy are:

Purpose: On an essential level, why does your business exist?

Context: What are the internal and external issues that affect your business, and what other parties are involved?

Strategic Direction: Where is your business going, what is the path of progress?

As you develop your policy, you will weave together the purpose, context and strategic direction into a single statement that focuses on quality goals and a commitment to continual improvement. 

Remember to keep your policy specific to your business. 

ISO 9001 is not about all businesses doing exactly the same things, it’s about how you are driving continual improvement within your business. 

The standard requires the policy to follow the following requirements:

1) Be appropriate to the business and support its strategic direction

This means that the policy needs to relate to the core purpose of the business, so a generic quality policy would not satisfy this. Each business also has a different strategic direction, and the policy should support this.

2) Provide a framework for setting objectives

The quality policy, either directly or indirectly, must provide guidance for setting objectives. I do not recommend including your objectives in the policy, as these change on a regular basis as you achieve them, and your policy will not change as frequently as your objectives. This requirement can be satisfied by including a statement: “We are committed to ensuring our Quality Objectives are reviewed at regular intervals for continuing suitability”.

3) Give a commitment to meeting applicable requirements

This may sound a little vague, however ‘applicable requirements’ could include customer or statutory and regulatory demands as well as the exigencies within the scope of the management system.  I do not recommend listing these individually, but rather to make a commitment to satisfy applicable requirements.

4) Commitment to continually improve the QMS

This is exactly what it says, the business must commit to continual improvement.  I recommend using these exact words in your policy, however feel free to add your own spin if you wish.  The proof of meeting this requirement will be evidenced throughout the system.

lady looking at a staff notice board

Clause 5.2.2 – Communicating Your Quality Policy

Your quality policy won’t be driving force of your QMS if it remains in a folder, never to see the light of day.

Communicating the policy is an essential step, and you need to ensure your team are aware of the policy, understand it and are able to apply it. This is vital for the certification audit as the assessor will ask employees about your quality policy.

Employees are not expected to know the policy by heart, but they need to be able to convey the main themes and if questioned by an auditor, be able to talk about it and how he/she supports it in their everyday activities.

I recommend holding a meeting with the intention to share and explain the policy with your team, presented by top management so everyone understands the importance of the policy and the QMS. You may also want to display the policy in the office kitchen, as a screen saver or on the staff notice board.

The standard requires that the quality policy is:

1) Available, maintained and documented

You’ll write your quality policy in the beginning stages of your QMS implementation, but that does not mean you can then forget about it. Your quality policy is a formal document, is subject to document control and at least once a year needs to be reviewed. The management review meetings are the perfect time to do this, and as your business is always changing, your quality policy should change with it.

2) Communicated, understood and applied

We’ve covered the communicated and understanding part of this requirement above. ‘Applied’ means that the business ensures all actions support its intent and content.

3) Available to interested parties

Your business can choose how they wish to communicate the quality policy to interested parties such as external providers, customers and regulatory bodies. This could be via the company website, upon request, or on display in the company reception area.

Learn more about ISO 9001 with our free ISO How to Guides.

Or maybe you are ready to start seeing the benefits of ISO 9001? Contact Meggan today for a chat.

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