A Recognition of Testing Competence Laboratory accreditation is a means of determining the technical competence of laboratories to perform specific types of testing, measurement and calibration. To maintain this recognition, laboratories are re-evaluated periodically by the accreditation body to ensure their continued compliance with requirements, and to check that their standard of operation is being maintained.
Clients are encouraged to check with the laboratory as to what specific tests or measurements they are accredited for, and for what ranges or uncertainties. This information is usually specified in the laboratory’s scope of accreditation, issued by the accreditation body. The description in the scope of accreditation also has advantages for the customers of laboratories in enabling them to find the appropriate laboratory or testing service.
PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL ADVANTAGE
Laboratory accreditation benefits laboratories by allowing them to determine whether they are performing their work correctly and to appropriate standards, and provides them with a benchmark for maintaining that competence.
A regular assessment by an accreditation body checks all aspects of a facility’s operations related to consistently producing accurate and dependable data. Areas for improvement are identified and discussed, and a detailed report provided at the end of each visit. Where necessary, follow-up action is monitored by the accreditation body so the facility is confident that it has taken the appropriate corrective action.
Laboratory accreditation is highly regarded both nationally and internationally as a reliable indicator of technical competence. Many industries, such as the construction materials industry, routinely specify laboratory accreditation for suppliers of testing services. Laboratory accreditation uses criteria and procedures specifically developed to determine technical competence, thus assuring customers that the test, calibration or measurement data supplied by the laboratory or inspection service are accurate and reliable.
This recognition helps to reduce costs for manufacturers and exporters that have their products or materials tested in accredited laboratories, by reducing or eliminating the need for retesting in another country.
Many countries around the world have one or more organisations responsible for the accreditation of their nation’s laboratories. Most of these accreditation bodies have now adopted ISO/IEC 17025 as the basis for accrediting their country’s testing and calibration laboratories, or ISO 15189 for medical laboratories.
This has helped countries employ a uniform approach to determining laboratory competence. It has also encouraged laboratories to adopt internationally accepted testing and measurement practices, where possible. This uniform approach allows countries to establish agreements among themselves, based on mutual evaluation and acceptance of each other’s laboratory accreditation systems. Such international agreements, called mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs), are crucial in enabling test data to be accepted between these countries.
This system of international MRAs between accreditation bodies has enabled accredited laboratories to achieve a form of international recognition, and allowed data accompanying exported goods to be more readily accepted on overseas markets. This effectively reduces costs for both the manufacturer and the importers, as it reduces or eliminates the need for products to be retested in another country.
Countries without viable accreditation systems can seek to have their laboratories accredited by established accreditation systems, so that their test data and associated goods can be accepted on foreign markets. These countries can also endeavour to develop their own accreditation system based on the structure and experience of established systems in other countries.
How do Laboratories Become Accredited?
Laboratories can have either all or part of their testing and calibration activities accredited. The accreditation process involves a thorough evaluation of all the elements of a laboratory that contribute to the production of accurate and reliable test data.
The evaluation process can take one to several days, and involves the use of specialist technical assessors who evaluate the specific types of testing or measurement being performed. The assessment criteria are based on the international standards ISO/IEC 17025 or ISO 15189, which are used for evaluating laboratories throughout the world.
Laboratory accreditation bodies use this standard specifically to assess factors relevant to a laboratory’s ability to produce precise, accurate test and calibration data, including the:
- validity and appropriateness of test methods
- traceability of measurements and calibrations to national standards
- suitability, calibration and maintenance of test equipment
- testing environment
- sampling, handling and transportation of test items
- quality assurance of test and calibration data
At the end of the assessment a detailed report on the evaluation is presented to the laboratory, highlighting any areas that require attention and corrective action prior to the laboratory being recommended for accreditation.
Once accredited, the laboratory is re-evaluated periodically to ensure its continued compliance with requirements, and to check that its standard of operation is being maintained. The laboratory may also be required to participate in relevant proficiency testing programs between reassessments, as a further demonstration of technical competence.
The ABA program ensures competence in the application of calibration and testing methods related to a variety of fields. Organizations wishing to become accredited by ABA must be operating their Laboratory Quality Management systems based on the requirements ISO/IEC 17025 and any local regulations as applicable