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Scott Paton

Cement Life Preservers?

The recent Firestone tire recall has nothing to do with the effectiveness of QS-9000.

ISO 9000 and QS-9000 rarely get any coverage in the national media, but the recent Bridgestone/Firestone tire recall brought both standards into the national spotlight. The Sept. 8 issue of USA Today featured an article on the Decatur, Illinois, Firestone plant's QS-9000 registration. The article, "Quality Auditor OK's Decatur Tire Plant," criticized QS-9000 as being long on paperwork and short on results.

 As a member of the media, I am sometimes loath to criticize it. However, the USA Today article was shallow and inaccurate. Attempting to link Firestone's design flaws to QS-9000 is ridiculous.

 The article pointed an accusatory finger at Firestone's QS-9000 registrar, Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), implying that the registrar should share in the blame for the defective tires. An important point the article's author missed is that a registrar is responsible for certifying only that an organization's quality system complies with the requirements outlined in QS-9000 and meets customer requirements.

 Unfortunately, the national media (and many QS-9000 critics) don't seem to understand the breadth and depth of QS-9000, which requires suppliers to meet a host of requirements, such as contract review, design review, design validation, failure mode and effects analysis, production part approval process, and measurement system analysis. To be registered to QS-9000 requires a supplier to be intimately aware of a customer's requirements and to have a well-defined and -documented quality management system to meet those requirements.

 If Firestone delivered tires that met the stipulated requirements of its customers and of QS-9000, LRQA did its job. QS-9000 is in no way intended as a guarantee of product perfection; it's designed to ensure that set procedures are being followed. As such, QS-9000 registration demands that customers know exactly what they're purchasing from their suppliers.

 Firestone and Ford have an enormous problem on their hands. Firestone announced last month that it would recall 6.5 million tires due to a sharp increase in the number of tire-related accidents involving Ford Explorers and light trucks, according to a report in the Sept. 19 issue of the Wall Street Journal. The same article notes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported more than 1,400 complaints, 88 deaths and 250 injuries stemming from accidents related to the tires during the last decade. The problem has been so severe that Ford had to halt production at several plants to ensure that enough tires would be available to replace the tires of customers affected by the recall.

 One tire failure is obviously one failure too many, but blaming QS-9000 and Firestone's registrar is misguided. It would be far more appropriate to investigate the customer's safety standards. And although the exact number of accidents resulting from the defective tires isn't known (and probably never will be), it would be interesting to do a statistical analysis of the defects to see if they fall outside the control limits for Firestone and for tires manufactured by other suppliers.

 The USA Today article states that a running joke among quality "experts" is that a plant making life preservers of cement could get certified provided procedures were written and followed exactly. If somebody wanted to buy cement life preservers, I'm sure somebody would make them. And I'm equally certain that if the supplier's quality management system met the customer's requirements and ISO 9000's requirements, it could get registered. Just don't blame the registrar when people start drowning.

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