So you’ve decided your laboratory would benefit from accreditation to ISO 17025. What next? To make the process as smooth as possible and get the most out of it, it is important that you understand these key steps:
Step 1 – Research
Decide which tests (and methods) your laboratory will need to offer (‘scope of accreditation’). Only one point-of-view matters in this: what your clients need or want from you. What tests are they asking you for? How will they be using the results you provide?
In some cases you may need to read up on the regulations that your clients are working to, to find out if particular methods or techniques are specified. If you know this before commencing with your ISO 17025 accreditation process, then you’ll save a lot of time by knowing exactly which of NATA’s technical requirements your laboratory must meet.
Next, you want to contact NATA to let them know that you want to get accreditation. NATA will then point out the relevant accreditation requirements you need and you can also ask them for a cost estimate at this stage.
To help you communicate with NATA, look up the scope of accreditation of a few competitors in the NATA Directory and see how they are written. NATA will “get it” and be able to assess your application much quicker, if you can use similar language to another lab’s scope.
Once you have copies of all of the accreditation documents, you are in for some serious study. Read through all of them and think about how your laboratory meets (or does not meet) these criteria.
Step 2 – Develop your quality system
Develop any processes or procedures that are missing from your system. If you haven’t already, start conducting internal quality system audits. You also need to hold a management review meeting.
Step 3- NATA Advisory
Ask NATA to come and do an Advisory Visit at your laboratory. This is a fairly informal process, but NATA will give you feedback on your quality system and any obvious gaps in the technical operations. Now is a great opportunity for you to ask questions about specific accreditation criteria and how to apply them in your laboratory.
Step 4 – NATA Assessment
Once you have sorted out any issues raised during the advisory visit, NATA will arrange an assessment. This assessment will be far more technical in focus than the advisory visit, as a volunteer assessor from a similar industry to yours will review all of the technical aspects of your laboratory. Meanwhile the NATA auditor will be reviewing the quality system in detail.
Step 5 – Post Assessment
NATA will leave you with a detailed assessment report, including non-conformances. These ALL need to be addressed before NATA grants you accreditation. Sometimes this stage can drag on a bit, so be patient!
Step 6 – Accreditation
NATA will send you a certificate that you can proudly put on display. You can start issuing NATA-endorsed test reports and using the NATA logo in your marketing materials from the date of accreditation.
No you don’t get to just sit back and relax after all that! NATA returns on a regular basis to re-assess your laboratory and quality system. The schedule for ISO 17025 laboratories is
Year 0 – Full technical assessment
Year 1.5 – Surveillance visit
Year 3 – Full technical assessment
The surveillance visits are conducted by a NATA staff member, so they have much less technical content than the technical assessment where a technical specialist also attends.