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LABORATORY ACCREDITATION AND CERTIFICATION

Introduction

Laboratory accreditation is the employment of procedures and criteria specifically developed to determine technical competence of laboratories to carry out accurate and reliable services. It is the formal recognition, authorization and registration of a laboratory that has demonstrated its capability, competence and credibility to provide reliable testing, measurement, calibration services and all other technical services. The concept of laboratory accreditation was developed to provide third-party certification that a laboratory is competent to perform the specific test or type of tests.

According to NIST, The terms “accreditation” and “certification” are sometimes used interchangeably, however, they are not synonymous. Certification is used for verifying that personnel have adequate credentials to practice certain disciplines, as well as for verifying that products meet certain requirements. Accreditation is used to verify that laboratories have an appropriate quality management system and can properly perform certain test methods (e.g., ANSI, ASTM, and ISO test methods) and calibration parameters according to their scopes of accreditation. Accreditation covers both the management system of a laboratory and the technical capabilities of a laboratory. The assessment of laboratories is performed to check compliance with the requirements to regulatory bodies. Upon satisfactory assessment and successful completion of proficiency testing (where applicable), the laboratory is issued a Certificate of Accreditation along with a Scope of Accreditation listing the test methods or calibration parameters that the laboratory is accredited to perform.

Global level

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a worldwide federation of national standards body which was conceived in 1947 (in the form of NATA: National Association of Testing and Accreditation of Laboratories); at present it comprises 140 members with at least one member in each country. ISO publishes its guidelines as International Standards. The International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) deal specifically with laboratories. The ILAC delegates the broad tasks via ISO standards to regional bodies like Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC) for Asian countries. To make these guidelines acceptable globally and to draw a uniformity all over the globe, there is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) quoting complete recognition and agreement among two international accreditation bodies (ILAC and IAF) and ISO(MRA)

National Level

The Nigeria National Accreditation System (NiNAS) is Nigeria’s national accreditation body recognised internationally to accredit conformity assessment bodies (CABs) such as laboratories (testing, medical testing and calibration), inspection bodies and certification bodies, in accordance with the relevant ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) series of standards and guides. NiNAS’ accreditation attests to the technical competence and impartiality of the CABs to provide conformity assessment services that are recognized internationally. Accreditation reduces the need for multiple inspection of goods and services supplied by accredited CABs. For accreditation programs and application, kindly visit NINA’s website for further information.

Need for Accreditation

  1. Facilitates the implementation and maintenance of an effective quality management system.
  2. Gives confidence to users in availing the services.
  3. Gives confidence to the laboratory for the results generated.
  4. Provides national/international recognition of technical competence.
  5. Helps in defending laboratories while dealing with legal disputes pertaining to laboratory results
  6. Reduces the operating costs of the laboratories by getting results right the first time and every time.
  7. Helps private sector laboratories to attract more business.
  8. Helps in national and international acceptance of results.
  9. Meets purchase or regulatory specifications.
  10. Increases competitiveness and market share.

Conclusion

From the point of view of the user of test data, the quality management systems approach to granting recognition to laboratories is deficient in that it does not provide any assessment of the technical competence of personnel engaged in what can only be described as a very technical activity, nor does it address the specific requirements of particular products or measurements. For instance, the ISO 9000 series state explicitly that they are complementary not alternatives to specified technical requirements. Users of test data, therefore, should be concerned with both the potential for performing a quality job (quality system) and technical competence (ability to achieve a technical result). The best available method of achieving these two objectives is through laboratory accreditation bodies, operating themselves to best international practice, requiring laboratories to adopt best practices and by engaging assessors who are expert in the specific tests in which the customer is interested.

Abdul Hakeem Owolabi
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