Behind the scenes: how our clients make the world a safer place

With World Accreditation Day highlighting the theme of safety this year, we want to celebrate the incredible work our clients are doing behind the scenes. From ensuring the reliability of rail infrastructure to safeguarding food production, these business remind us what accreditation is all about.

As an accreditation specialist, it’s no surprise that I have developed a portfolio of specialists as my clients. I am often struck by the fact that these specialists are keeping us safe in ways that most of us are not even aware of.
On the road
Did you know that there are sensors that detect light levels and adjust the light at tunnel entrances so that you don’t slow down as you approach and cause traffic problems?  Or that traffic lights are tested to make sure that when the sun shines on them they don’t appear to be on when they’re actually not?  There are some very special people at Steve Jenkins & Associates who do this and a whole array of other tests involving photometric measurements. Having accreditation means that we can all be sure that SJ&A don’t just get to have fun using their physics knowledge at work, but produce results that are reliable, meaningful and can be used by other scientists and engineers to ensure our safety.
Oil & gas, food and chemical processing
Whether it’s medical and industrial gases, steam, milk, petroleum or grain being processed, valves are used to control the flow and provide pressure release in the case of dangerous pressure build-up. In every application the valve design, trim and construction must suit the fluid in the pipelines, both chemically and physically. The valve must also be able to withstand certain pressures, and release at the correct pressure […]

By |June 10th, 2018|Accreditation News, ISO 17025 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation|Comments Off on Behind the scenes: how our clients make the world a safer place

AS/NZS ISO 17025:2018 is here!  Now what?

SAI Global has just released the 2018 version of AS/NZS ISO 17025 the updated laboratory accreditation standard, and NATA has finally explained how they will approach the implementation. So it’s time to start thinking about how you will approach the changes.

What you need to know.
(No time? Jump straight to our five steps to compliance).
The changes made to ISO 17025 are designed to:

promote increased confidence in the results your laboratory is producing,
to facilitate improved cooperation across international borders, and between laboratories and other related bodies.
to make the standard more flexible and easier to work with (which means less paperwork in some cases!)

The new standard reflects the latest approach in quality systems, which presumes that risk-based thinking must inform our decision-making.

ISO says:
“The main changes compared to the previous edition are as follows:

the risk-based thinking applied in this edition has enabled some reduction in prescriptive requirements and their replacement by performance-based requirements;
there is greater flexibility than in the previous edition in the requirements for processes, procedures, documented information and organizational responsibilities;
a definition of “laboratory” has been added”.

So far so good, and no need for any urgent action.

In their December 2017 Update, NATA gave us their take on the main changes to the standard.  Their list of 11 points included the following four that might require action:

greater emphasis on impartiality, risks and opportunities
requirements covering information technology and the validation of such systems have been included
the term ‘decision rules’ has been introduced in relation to pass/fail results for statements of conformity
–   how MU is to be considered when making such statements

two management system options
–   Option A = comply with the management system requirements […]

By |May 10th, 2018|ISO 17025 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation|Comments Off on AS/NZS ISO 17025:2018 is here!  Now what?

Bullet-proof your laboratory accreditation

Keeping your laboratory accreditation (& business) safe
Good laboratory quality systems do more than just cover the things that NATA expects to see. They also support the laboratory management to make the right decisions.  

Whether you have laboratory accreditation, GLP or ISO 9001 certification, consider these key practices, which well-run organisations use to protect their accreditation status and their business: 


Say no. Decline work when it is not right (too much, too little, wrong type, wrong client, wrong time)

Prepare staff. Train your team thoroughly before sending them out on their own


Fill gaps. Replace departing staff members promptly


Keep a full team. Back-fill for staff members on extended leave. 


Price check. Review prices regularly.


Ideal clients. Cultivate ideal clients through suitable marketing


NATA know-how. Know the accreditation requirements and how you are meeting them


Stick to a system. Have a system in place and follow it


Testing expertise. Understand the science and measurement trace-ability behind the tests you do


Take stock. Regularly review operations, make decisions and follow through


Manage change. Plan changes thoroughly, involving all stakeholders


Apply feedback. Use incidents and complaints and internal audits to improve systems


Organisations that stick to these practices have happy employees who know they are in a secure, supportive job.  Staff know they will be given the time to learn before they have to do a task, and that there is always someone there who knows more than they do.

So when NATA comes visiting, these staff members may be nervous but not afraid.  They will be looking forward to showing the laboratory operations to the NATA assessment team and hoping that all their hard work will be obvious.  The discussions with NATA will be engaging and open, and disagreements handled without animosity.

Keep these practices up so you can celebrate after your […]

By |March 8th, 2018|ISO 15189 Accreditation, ISO 17025 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation, Quality systems|Comments Off on Bullet-proof your laboratory accreditation

How Safe is Your NATA Accreditation?

Danger ahead: warning signs for NATA Accredited Labs


When a lab has their NATA accreditation suspended, it usually comes as a huge shock.

But there are warning signs for poor assessment outcomes. You can determine whether there are issues that you should address before NATA arrives.
These are some of the red flags noticable in laboratories that go on to have a poor assessment outcome or have their accreditation suspended:
Senior technical staff have left and not been replaced.

The laboratory is chronically short-staffed . This may be due to illness or other unavoidable factors.


Business has expanded but staff-training and resources are lagging.  No time to train the front-line staff and update resources for quality management and internal audits.

Lots of phone calls from customers.

 Technical problems that everyone is aware of remain in the lab.

Staff  members are putting off internal audits due to busy schedules.

New NATA accreditation requirements, but keep delaying working out how they apply to them.

Quality-assurance systems spread too thinly: NATA accreditation covers many different labs, some of which managers have never seen. In some cases, they haven’t even met the staff members.

 Nobody knows where to find a copy of the last NATA assessment/surveillance report.

 Last but not least – if you have had the same NATA lead assessor for many years and now a new one is headed your way.

No one of these problems alone spells doom for your accreditation. But if you are saying “yes” to two or more of them, this is a warning sign that you need to slow right down and take stock.

How to protect your NATA accreditation 
Take stock and review
Some labs are caught off guard by a sudden suspension of their accreditation. Others may have had a fair idea that things were rough […]

By |February 23rd, 2018|Accreditation News, ISO 15189 Accreditation, ISO 17025 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation|Comments Off on How Safe is Your NATA Accreditation?

Are you wasting time & money on NATA requirements?

The assessment is over, you have ushered the audit team out the door and you already know how you’re going to fix most of those niggly things they brought up.  The assessment team were really helpful and you know it’s going to feel great to get all of these NATA requirements ticked off.

You’re not sure why these issues are important enough to be in the assessment report, but you need to get the response under control so the “Just Do It” approach wins.  You get the assessment report and hold a meeting to decide who will do what, including all the observations and recommendations.  Great work – you’ll have everything fixed and your reply to NATA post haste.

Can I just say whoa?!

When we behave like this we are focussing on one risk: the risk of NATA being annoyed with us for not having a response in time.  What about the other risks?  The real risk to your business presented by the issues the audit team identified?  The risk of wasting time and money on interventions for trivial problems?  The possibility of the same issue coming up in future assessments, which can threaten your accreditation and your reputation.

This is the time to slow down and take a quality improvement approach to each of the issues raised by the auditors. Here’s my step-by-step process to address these findings so that hopefully they never come back to haunt you again.
Understand the problem
Study the finding closely.  Make sure you have understood exactly what the auditors found that is wrong & why it is wrong.  Go and check what they were looking at if you haven’t seen it.  Look up the clause of the standard that they refer to […]

By |June 26th, 2017|ISO 15189 Accreditation, ISO 17025 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation|Comments Off on Are you wasting time & money on NATA requirements?

The easiest internal audit program ever

I recently discovered there’s a way to do internal audits that takes (almost) no time at all.  I got an invitation to a webinar Freshening Up Your Internal Audit Program featuring a dude who has been around the ISO 9001 certification scene for many decades.  (Aha! I thought.  I’m finally going to learn the secret from a real veteran of internal auditing).

When we got to the secret, I was amazed by the completely different approach to auditing.  This was more than a freshen up, it was radical surgery.  There are no horizontal, vertical, process, observational, or outcome audits: they have all been excised.

This quality manager produces a detailed Compliance Matrix (it’s like a gap analysis with much more detail) and updates it every year (you can get a copy if you make it to the end of the webinar).  And the Compliance Matrix is it.  There is usually quite a vigorous discussion with the ISO auditor when they come, but he manages to get it across the line.

Now I wasn’t quite ready to adopt this approach whole-heartedly, but there were some great lessons in the webinar that I’d like to share with you:
There is no right way to do internal audits
The ”tell me, show me” or process method used by certification and accreditation bodies is not mandatory.  Many of us are married to the belief that observational process audits are the only “proper” kind of audit (you know, the ones we learn about in the NATA/SAI/Lloyds internal audits courses). I know I was for many years and I love auditing that way because it suits my curious nature and visual learning style.

However, if you follow the requirements trail for internal audits, it leads you back to […]

By |June 15th, 2017|Internal Audit, ISO 15189 Accreditation, ISO 17025 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation, Quality improvement|Comments Off on The easiest internal audit program ever

10 Tips to Avoid NATA Paper Warfare

Some lab / quality managers enjoy corresponding with NATA and arguing the point with them.  But most of us don’t.  Other labs inadvertently get caught up in three, four or even more rounds of correspondence with NATA following an assessment.  It can be frustrating and time consuming.  You seem to be talking at cross purposes at times and you may even start to wonder if the NATA staff were actually at the same assessment as you were!

After an assessment you need to get the follow-up over and done with as quickly as possible so you can turn your attention to more significant issues.  It’s not that NATA is not significant, but that many of the issues they find are compliance issues with no immediate impact on your output or business security. In the normal run of business they would be prioritised much further down the list.  So we need to minimise the amount of time spent dealing with these issues, whilst managing the risk of having a poor NATA assessment in the future.

Here are my key steps to stay out of the mire:
1. Be a good host
Before the assessment, make sure everyone knows who is who on the assessment team: who the technical assessor is, who are the NATA staff members and what the difference is.  If you don’t know much about the technical assessor you can google them to find out a bit more about their background. This gives you an opportunity to establish rapport right from the start and have good open lines of communication. This is small task that can make things run a lot smoother.
2. Stick like glue
Do not leave any assessor or NATA staff member alone to interview junior […]

By |April 1st, 2017|ISO 15189 Accreditation, ISO 17025 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation|Comments Off on 10 Tips to Avoid NATA Paper Warfare

Are internal auditors better than managers?

Internal auditors can be better at identifying process improvements than most managers – let me tell you why.
What a manager may never see
There are things that internal auditors see that a manager would never have known about if not for the audit program. These can include: tests failing and needing to be repeated; risky work-arounds to compensate for poorly designed processes; retesting QCs until a result falls within spec; using calibration factors incorrectly; biased sampling; poor labeling practices; unsafe work methods; some staff having their own special way of doing a task; continuing to perform tasks made redundant by process changes.

Most of these you will never know about unless you directly observe them.  So why does an internal auditor see them when the manager walks through the laboratory every day and does not see it?  I can think of a couple of reasons.

When a manager strolls through the lab their mind is filling in the picture with all sorts of details that they believe happen in that lab. This is not a fault of the manager, this is being human.  Unless they go into the lab with the intention of studying a particular process, they will likely see very little of interest.

When a manager arrives in the lab, they are thinking “I am the expert on this process” whereas the auditor is thinking “I don’t know much about this process”.  Neither of these is wrong, but they have a big effect on what types of questions are asked, and how the answers are listened to.  A good internal auditor approaches the audit with a child’s mind – curiosity and wonder.

When an internal audit has been arranged, everyone is primed and ready to demonstrate and […]

By |March 25th, 2017|Internal Audit, NATA Accreditation|Comments Off on Are internal auditors better than managers?

Supervision or Teamwork?

NPAAC has produced four revisions of the Requirements for the Supervision of Pathology Laboratories document in the past 6 years.  Each of these drafts has been met with dismay by any pathology laboratory wanting to determine their most effective organisation structure and to foster a culture of teamwork, continual improvement and learning amongst all of their staff.

What follows is my quick review of the draft that was circulated in October 2016.
Supervision Requirements
S3.2 Requires full time on-site supervision to direct the operations of a pathology laboratory. The person can only supervise one category G laboratory.

S3.3 Every test must be covered by an APP with the relevant scope of practice.

The effect of these two provisions together is that there will be a lot of very bored pathologists and/or Clinical Scientists working in pathology laboratories trying to find something useful to do while they meet the full-time supervision requirements. Oh no, wait –we already know that there are not enough pathologists or Clinical Scientists to fill these roles anyway.  Where are these highly qualified, but somehow lacking in ambition staff going to come from?  Who has tried to find a full-time Immunologist lately?

How will NATA staff, encountering non-compliant organisations, insist on them meeting a requirement that they know is impossible for pathology laboratories to meet?
Risk management and handling clinical incidents
S1.6 This is repetition of what is in ISO 15189. I cannot understand why NPAAC insists on repeating things that are already in an international standard for medical laboratories.

S1.7 Again, this is repetition of one of the most fundamental requirements in any quality system.  There is nothing in this that is not already covered in ISO 15189.
Supervision Requirements for Category B Laboratories
S3.6 Specifies how many days of supervision […]

By |January 4th, 2017|ISO 15189 Accreditation, NATA Accreditation|Comments Off on Supervision or Teamwork?

The Perils of Internal Auditing

When inconvenient truth meets comfortable myth
Overcoming long-held beliefs about other departments in your own organisation and making objective judgements about compliance is difficult for even the most experienced auditor.

You are auditing another section of your organisation. You find a few issues that aren’t quite in line with the SOPs, but you know they’ve been short-staffed for the past six months.  And you’ve heard that they have a great reputation outside the organisation, so everything must be OK in here, right?  So you do them a favour and leave it out of the audit report.

Are you really doing them a favour if you leave it out?  Does it matter if their fume cabinet hasn’t been checked for three years or their QC has been out of spec for a week?  Who suffers in the end if these things are not attended to?  Yes, there definitely are little issues that can be left out of internal audit reports, but you need to think about a few things before you decide to do this:

How significant is it? Will it affect the test results or the customer experience?
Is this an isolated event or is it happening elsewhere as well?
Is it a symptom of a deeper problem?
How will it look as a newspaper headline?

Internal auditors have a responsibility to think about the good of the organisation and it’s customers even when that brings great discomfort. Issues that require system changes should go into the audit report.  Isolated cases of human error need not.
The fear of offending a friend
Organisational culture is important here.  This ranges from norms about confidentiality
of audit reports to clarity in defining (and backing) responsibilities and recognising the contribution that internal auditors make. […]

By |December 1st, 2016|Internal Audit|Comments Off on The Perils of Internal Auditing