DEREK POPP is the quality control coordinator at the Wisconsin Occupational Health Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. Popp serves on the AIHA Proficiency Analytical Testing Programs LLC Board and is past chair of AIHA’s Sampling and Laboratory Analysis Committee.
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How to Check for Quality Lab Reports
A discussion on Catalyst, AIHA’s online member forum, raised the question of how to ensure quality when reviewing lab reports. This question is difficult to answer without more information, some of which may not be well known to the end users of those reports. Let’s start with the basics and assume that the laboratory is accredited to ISO/IEC 17025:2017, General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories. If the report concerns industrial hygiene samples, then the lab should be accredited by an ISO/IEC 17011:2017-recognized accreditation body, such as AIHA LAP, or have another accreditation specific to IH.
Non-IH accreditation programs can accredit the IH methods, but the IH field is significantly different from environmental and clinical fields. You also want to verify that the lab is accredited for the specific methods that were used for the samples; the report should indicate this with the use of an accreditation body logo or an accreditation identification number.
Accreditation alone doesn’t guarantee that the report you receive from the lab is trustworthy. What accreditation does offer to laboratory customers is the assurance that an independent party has reviewed the lab’s work according to objective criteria that apply to similar labs.
International Standard Accreditation is an ongoing monitoring of a laboratory’s practices against the accepted international standard and is how a customer can be assured of quality sample analysis and reporting. As an example, if the lab report states accreditation by AIHA LAP, you know that every two years AIHA LAP gathers information from the lab, evaluates that information, and sends an assessor to the lab. At the lab, the assessor will audit to the ISO/IEC 17025:2017 standard, review written procedures, observe work at the lab, and talk to the analysts.
Non-IH accreditation programs can accredit the IH methods, but the IH field is significantly different from environmental and clinical fields.
To further strengthen quality lab reporting, an accredited lab is required to analyze external proficiency testing (PT) samples on a regular basis. PT helps to assess whether the lab can actually perform the analysis it is accredited to do. A lab’s PT standing is continually monitored by an accreditation body, and a client can request that the lab provide you with its most recent PT results. Together, the assessment and the PT results provide strong assurance that the laboratory is producing a quality report.
As part of its accreditation, the lab also has to analyze standards at the reporting level, independently verify instrument calibration, and provide laboratory control samples (LCS), which are usually prepared on the media being used for sample collection. The report must carry notifications if any of these efforts produce unacceptable results.
If the lab report contains unexpected results, contact the lab directly and ask staff to verify that the data are correct. You may need to perform additional legwork such as interviewing workers to help explain anomalous data. A worker mishandling a sampling pump, for example, could skew the results you get from the lab.
Quality REsults Still wondering? As a customer, you can request the results of the LCS; the recoveries give an indication of method performance when the field samples were analyzed. You can also ask for all the data from your samples. You can even ask for an EPA-style data package, but most IH labs won’t be familiar with that terminology, so be prepared to explain what you want in your report.
As long as the lab is doing the things discussed in this article, it is producing quality results that are legally defensible.
AIHA Proficiency Analytical Testing Programs.