Development of the Trinidad and Tobago Laboratory Accreditation Service
The development of a Laboratory Accreditation Service for Trinidad and Tobago has been of significant importance at the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards ( TTBS) for years. Developments in world trade, particularly trade liberalization and the emphasis on Mutual Recognition Agreements played a major role in justifying the need for a national laboratory accreditation service. It became evident that TTBS needed to expand its activities related to conformity assessment and offer the service of accreditation to local and regional laboratories. As such, the revision of the Standards Act in 1997 (Act No. 18 of 1997) provided the legal framework for operation of the Trinidad and Tobago Laboratory Accreditation Service.
Accreditation is defined as third party attestation related to a conformity assessment body conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out specific conformity assessment tasks. Laboratories are conformity assessment bodies since they provide activities which demonstrate that specified requirements relating to a product or service are fulfilled. Therefore, Laboratory Accreditation is a process which gives formal recognition to the technical competence of a laboratory to perform specific tests, types of tests or calibrations. The process requires the maintenance of a documented quality management system and identification of personnel qualified and authorized to perform tasks related to the scope of accreditation.
The added value of laboratory accreditation far outweighs the necessary investment in human resources, finances and time. The process is an independent method of monitoring laboratory competence and performance, and it ensures the validity of results to users. Albeit, the benefits of lab accreditation affect the accredited labs, the users of these services, regulatory bodies and the general public.
The benefits of accreditation are:
It can be used as a marketing tool;
It supports policies to keep abreast of new technological developments;
It promotes continuous improvement of the services offered;
Effective management of the quality system enhances staff discipline and development;
Users have confidence in the technical capability of the accredited lab;
Users of calibration services have confidence in the accuracy of their measurements;
Reliable test data aid the decision making process for tenders and contracts;
Test results from accredited labs provide confidence that supplies comply with specifications, and
Test data contribute to consistently high quality products.
Standards for Accreditation
ISO/IEC 17025:2005 is the international standard entitled General requirements for the competence of Testing and Calibration laboratories, and ISO 15189:2003 is entitled Medical Laboratories – Particular requirements for Quality and Competence. These are the standards against which accreditation of laboratories is granted. Any laboratory complying with ISO/IEC 17025:2005 is also in accordance with ISO 9001:2000 and those complying with ISO/IEC 15189:2003 are in accordance with ISO 9001:2000.
Accreditation attests that a laboratory has demonstrated that
it is competent to perform specific tests, types of tests, calibrations or types of calibrations listed on its Scope of Accreditation
its quality system addresses and conforms to all elements of ISO/IEC 17025 or ISO 15189
its quality system is documented as per ISO/IEC 17025 or ISO 15189, and is fully functional
it conforms to any additional requirements of the Accreditation Body or specific fields or programs necessary to meet particular user needs.
International Trade and Laboratory Accreditation
The international trade environment largely influences the need for testing and laboratory accreditation as governments increase technical barriers to trade in an effort to regulate their markets. As a result, the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995 to facilitate equity in trade. Two noteworthy agreements produced by the WTO are;
The Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement)
The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement), which deals with food safety, animal and plant health.
Rules of the TBT and SPS Agreements mandate that all technical requirements of signatories must be transparent, justifiable, non-discriminatory and should be based on international standards whenever possible. As such accreditation of laboratories ensures that test results can be reproduced to a sufficient degree in any accredited laboratory. It is an independent method of monitoring laboratory competence and performance and it assures the validity of results to users. An accredited conformity assessment body can establish Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA’s) with counterpart bodies. These agreements ensure equivalency of systems in different countries. There is automatic acceptance of test results from accredited laboratories, which are parties to a given MRA, this serves to eliminate technical trade barriers and facilitate trade. Costs are reduced because there in no need for duplicate testing by both exporters and importers.
The Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards has been an Affiliate member of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC- www.ilac.org) since 1999. ILAC is an international Cooperation of Laboratory and inspection accreditation bodies. For information on International Accreditation Activities see (www.ilac.org/ILAC%20News.html). TTBS has also been an affiliate member of the Inter American Accreditation Cooperation (IAAC- www.iaac.org.mx ) since 1999 and became a full member in 2007. Participation in both of these organizations ensures that staff of the Laboratory Accreditation Service can interact with their Peers from around the world and have access to up to date information about Accreditation issues internationally. To strengthen the networking experiences that membership in these organizations offers, the TTBS sits on the Promotions Sub Committee, Management Committee and Multilateral Arrangement Committee in IAAC, and the Technical Accreditation Issues Committee and Promotions and Communications Committee of ILAC. This active participation ensures TTBS of the opportunity to comment on important issues and contribute to the production of documents, as well as ensuring that developing country views are represented in the appropriate fora.
Manager, Laboratory Accreditation Service
Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards
Century Drive, Trincity Industrial Estate
Postal Address: P.O. Box 467, Port of Spain, Trinidad, W.I.
Telephone: 868 662 8827 ext 171
Fax: 868 663 4335