I should probably be scared of my toaster. It has 1200 watts running through some tiny exposed wires on my kitchen counter. I usually operate it either first thing in the morning when I’m barely awake, or at about 2 AM when I’m drunk. Even when I’m sober, I don’t truly understand how the toaster works. Nor did I meet any of the thousands of people who made it. I’m sure they’re all nice people, but we all have our off days.
So why am I not scared of my toaster? Mainly because I have a vibe that “I’m sure it’s fine” that I’ve been able to develop from living in a developed society. But if you pushed me, I’d probably say something about certification, turn over my toaster and point knowingly at the CE stamped into the plastic.
If you were being particularly annoying you might point out I have no idea what that stamp actually means. But then that’s the point of certification, it’s an indicator that “this is good, you can chill out” without me having to actually know anything. Faith in the institutions around me. This is good! I get toast and go about my day neither dead nor worried.
But hang on, if I’m putting my trust in the institution that certified my toaster, I hope that there’s some other institution that is both helping them be good at certifying toasters, and maybe punishing them if they’re not somehow? WHO’RE ACCREDITING THE ACCREDITORS?
The United Kingdom Accreditation Service have 190 staff. They’re not civil servants, UKAS is a private company, but they’re the only people to have this Memorandum of Understanding with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, making them the “sole National Accreditation Body for the United Kingdom”. UKAS certify the certifiers.
I actually have no idea if UKAS actually accredited the certifying body of my toaster. It sounds like they probably did. Or should have? But we’re now dealing in such abstract levels that it would be very hard for me to trace my toaster all the way up to them.
Anyway, I’m glad that UKAS exists. The toaster’s great. As is the calibration of the temperature reading of a water bath, the monitoring of my stack emissions and my Mum’s mammogram. Thanks UKAS.
November 25, 2021
Great article James. Love it. I worked for Lloyd’s Register for a year forming the digital and data team. They effectively accredit large ships to be fit to sail. Got me into the world of Regulatory Technology for a bit. A world waiting for a digital revolution. Look forward to more departments in your review.