Rest assured | Daily News
Accreditation – delivering a safer world:

Rest assured

Innovation and exchange are not only the integral element of the fast-paced society, but they are the major elements of modern economic strategy as well. In today’s world of sciences, destruction has become the catchphrase in an optimistic sense.

When he pointed out the word ‘destruction’, Science, Technology, Research, Skills Development, Vocational Training and Kandyan Heritage Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama apparently did not refer to either physical or mental plain. He pointed at the virtual destruction of the old form to deliver a new model. This form of destruction, Dr. Amunugama added, leads to innovation and exchange in the knowledge society.

“But the innovation itself won’t suffice. It requires a certain certification. Such a guarantee is a vital ingredient in the world of consumption. Before we consume something, someone must assure that it is good or fit for consumption. If it is not good, then you can complain. You can raise the red flag to say something has gone wrong,” Dr. Amunugama explained.

Such a process, in a clear and a transparent manner, is exactly what the public demands. Before making the purchase, they are entitled to have an idea of the worth of the product. To achieve that end, proper research must be done on time in a transparent manner. What is called into question is whether the certification is executable in time to cater to the public demand.

“The competitors have an edge when the certification process takes time. If certification does happen on time, more countries will open doors to our experts and exports. It makes the certification really vital. For instance, the United States needs certification for our exports. This is simply because they need some assurance. It is a vital organ of administration. Whatever comes in and go needs certification in a transparent manner catering to the public demand as we live in a highly competitive world,” Dr. Amunugama elaborated.

From that well-known sphere, Dr. Amunugama shifted into a lesser-known territory: accreditation. He expressed these sentiments at a seminar on Accreditation – Delivering a Safer World held in Colombo organised by Sri Lanka Accreditation Board in collaboration with UNIDO, International Trade Centre and European Centre recently. Accreditation is a third-party attestation related to a conformity assessment body conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out the tasks of conformity assessment.

Quality and reliability

The process is duly accredited to the Sri Lanka Accreditation Board for Conformity Assessment (SLAB), the national accreditation authority established under the Science, Technology and Research Ministry. Strengthening the quality infrastructure and conformity assessment procedures in Sri Lanka and enhancing the recognition and acceptance of products and services in international and domestic markets are the main objectives of SLAB activities. SLAB offers accreditation for different types of conformity assessment bodies (laboratories, certification and inspection bodies, GHG validation and verification, good laboratory practices) in accordance with international principles.

Quality and reliability of test reports are the prime concern of the customers. SLAB Accreditation scheme is an excellent tool to instil these essential characteristics into the service. This scheme is instrumental in upgrading the competence of testing towards international level. The SLAB Accreditation for testing and calibration laboratories is based on ISO/IEC 17025 standard, which is used to assess the testing and calibration laboratories throughout the world.

According to Tung-Lai Margue, Ambassador and Head of European Union Delegation to Sri Lanka, the world of 9 billion people is facing a critical challenge with limited access to resources. How can they have sufficient access to the limited resources? That’s not a simple solution.

“We have issues such as climate change on one side. That is why we need legislation policies to change platform. The accreditation or certification process caters to that need. It is the Sri Lankan way of thinking globally,” Margue said.

Work-related diseases or occupational accidents take a toll on 2.78 million people on an annual basis. Worse, about 125 million workers are prone to asbestos-related conditions such as lung cancer. One in eight of total global deaths, around 7 million people annually die as a result of air pollution exposure. Plus, 1.25 million has been recorded as road traffic deaths, on a global scale, in 2013. About 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses each year add insult to injury resulting in extended absences from work. This finally affects not only the humans but the economic impact as well stemming from poor occupational safety and health practices (which is estimated to be 3.94 per cent of the global gross domestic product or about US$ 2.8 trillion, in direct and indirect costs of injuries and diseases each year).

Recent problems with tainted food, drugs, electronic devices and other consumer products have made clear that more needs to be done to protect consumers. Injury statistics indicate that design problems, defects and inadequate safety information for consumer products are associated with many injuries.

In a wider social scope, the products, especially the electrical goods and the children’s toys, are expected to be hazard-free. On the contrary, the same commodities pollute the environment smashing the hopes of water without contaminants and air free from harmful pollutants. The large-scale infrastructure projects such as road, bridges, and public transportation systems are no longer safe to use. The daily sources of energy such as gas or electricity should also be accessible without risk of injury or harm. The business titans have a responsibility to ensure that their employees, visitors and customers are able to enjoy freedom from injury or disease. They should also ensure that they provide for a sense of mental, physical and social well-being.

Wong Wong Wah, Assistant Commissioner, Innovation and Technology Commission, Hong Kong and Immediate Past Chairperson of Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC), stressed on the conforming assessment. The process has an international definition. The certification is an in-house verification.

“How can I tell you that I am what you expected? There should be a reliable proof of compliance required. We make decisions on a regular basis. We make decisions every day on what to eat when to eat where to go and how to do a certain thing.”

The completed projects, raw materials, products, services, management systems and personnel can be evaluated against a standard, code of practice or regulatory requirement by testing and calibration laboratories, inspection bodies and certification laboratories, inspection bodies and certification bodies (collectively known as conformity assessment bodies). Conformity assessment bodies are used to check that products and services are safe for use.

Accreditation is the independent solution to this predicament.

The evaluation of the conformity assessment bodies against recognised standards to carry out specific activities to ensure their integrity, impartiality and competence. Through the application of national and international standards, government departments, businesses and wider society can, therefore, have confidence in the calibration and test results, inspection reports and certification provided. Accreditation bodies are established to ensure that conformity assessment bodies are subject o oversight by a competent body. Internationally recognised accreditation bodies, which have been evaluated by peers as competent, sign international arrangement that enhances the acceptance of products and services across borders, thereby creating a global infrastructure to support health and safety related processes.

Dr. Sapumal Dhanapala, Director Environment, Occupational Health and Food Safety of Health Ministry focused on food safety.

“When we have food, we have the natural question of how safe they are. For that, we need to strengthen the analytical capacity. Our food is good on par with the international platform. But we are not in a position to show that. The international audience might think that our food is not safe,” Dr. Dhanapala explained.

The Health Ministry has implemented some regulations to ensure that the hotels can carry on business only if they meet certain regulations. The National Food Policy is being drafted in order to certify food safety. Dr. Dhanapala also hinted how the food imports from the developing countries are subject to a thorough inspection procedure in developed countries.

“We need to apply security measures on bottled water as they are in high demand. More products in this category enter the market. We need to check whether they are up to the standard and whether it is safe,” Dr. Dhanapala added.

The biggest stumbling block used to be waterborne diseases. The figures decline but indicate the growth of food poisoning on a parallel track. Dr. Dhanapala urges proper farming and animal husbandry habits to make sure that the food does not get contaminated. Most importantly, the food produce must not be mixed with animal faeces. The human sewage, on the other hand, must never be used as manure.

“Even in slaughterhouses hygiene needs to be maintained. Then, of course, storing and transport of the meat or vegetables must be done in a proper manner using the correct temperature. Kalmunei is where the food poisoning happens a lot. Comparatively, it is much lesser in Colombo. The Colombo residents are better equipped with food-analytical knowledge,” Dr. Dhanapala elaborated.

Professor Ajit de Alwis, Project Director, Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI), emphasised on the safer environment.

“Safer environment and a clean environment are an essential requirement in today’s milieu. We have come up in the global climate risk index because we are not prepared for disasters,” he said.

Professor de Alwis also made reference to climate departure which marks the point at which the earth’s climate begins to cease resembling what has come before and moves into a new state. It is the core point where heat records are routinely shattered and what once was considered extreme will become the norm. That means to essentially enter a carbon-neutral era for the first time.

Designing a chain reaction is essential, but ensuring the standard is equally important. Maintaining quality is the first step followed by cost assessment. It gives a clear idea of the productivity. Cost assessment and productivity together leads to a stable stay in the market.

For SLAB Chairman Namal Rajapaksha, 2018 is a memorable year. The Board has completed 12 years of accreditation in Sri Lanka.

“Up to now, SLAB has received nine international recognition for accreditation schemes for testing, calibration, medical testing, inspection, product certification, food safety management systems, quality management systems and environmental management systems certification and greenhouse gas validation and verification bodies. Sri Lanka Accreditation Board has accredited above 100 conformity assessment bodies which include all categories including personnel certification bodies. In the near future SLAB intends to expand its services into other areas like Good laboratory Practices, Proficiency testing service providers and reference material producers, personnel certification while enhancing the effectiveness of current accreditation schemes,” Rajapaksha elaborated.

Once every four years, the SLAB faces a comprehensive peer evaluation conducted by regional accreditation corporations to maintain this international recognition.

“We are grateful to all our assessors, committee members, professionals and academics who are currently engaged with SLAB activities and present and previous SLAB staff, for their collective efforts which contributed to the present success of the organisation,” Rajapaksha added.

As Science, Technology, Research, Skills Development, Vocational Training and Kandyan Heritage Ministry Secretary Sandhya Wijayabandara said, in most of the current regulations in Sri Lanka, mechanisms for implementation are not adequately addressed.

“No proper regulatory impact analysis was done so far. It is a requirement of good regulatory practice to carry out regulatory impact analysis to make sure that regulations are effectively implemented while giving intended results. In many cases, the implementation is not effective due to lack of resources and policies and rules which are not suitable and not comply with current trade practices,” Wijayabandara said.

She went on to add that the developed countries and emerging economies in the region such as Vietnam, Bangladesh are transforming their systems in line with current world requirements to strengthen their economies.

WTO principles

“According to WTO principles, Accreditation and Conformity Assessment could be used as an effective supporting tool to implement technical regulations. Therefore, it is very much important to complete review of technical regulations and carry out a proper regulatory impact assessment to align our current regulations to meet national and international requirements. Under this background, I strongly believe that all institutions of the National Quality Services Department, all regulatory agencies and Sri Lanka Accreditation Board should work very closely in identifying and implementing strategies to improve the quality of products marketed in the domestic market and produced for the export market,” she added.

With the increasing variety of products and services on offer, there is an increasing demand for intervention by the state to assure public safety and protection of consumers.

In 2016, in order to implement proposals of Cabinet of Ministers, State regulatory authorities were requested to make accreditation mandatory in implementing technical regulations covering products and services related to health, safety, consumer protection, fraud prevention and market fairness.

As Wijayabandara placed it on record, the requirement to assess was based on associated risks and prevalence of unfair, unethical practices. This could ensure the effective use of limited resources to the maximum benefit of the society.

“State intervention should be planned in areas where it is identified as necessary. Strategies adopted and implementing mechanisms should be effective in achieving the identified objectives. All state regulatory authorities need to give serious consideration to these aspects in formulating regulations and implementation mechanisms for public safety, environmental protection and consumer protection,” Wijayabandara said.

 


 

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