Standards help ESR provide world class science - case study

Issue 52 – August 2013

With two major science groups: the forensic science group and environmental health, Environmental Science and Research (ESR) provides essential applied science for the justice and the health sectors in New Zealand. Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, General Manager of Environmental Health says accreditation is an essential part of day-to-day delivery.

'The Ministry of Health is a major client for us. Our labs that work with specimens from sick humans are accredited by the methodology body International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) to NZS/ISO 15189:2007, Medical laboratories – Particular requirements for quality and competence.

'NZS/ISO 15189 is a powerful package underpinning the importance of the work we're involved with in human health. The accreditation criteria are challenging – some cover the ethics and integrity of the organisation practising science. When dealing with results that impact on individuals, I think it's important the organisation can prove several factors: that it's ethical, that it's got integrity, that privacy and confidentiality are respected.'

Fiona says some of ESR's environmental microbiology, whether on shellfish, water, or soil – looking for legionella for example – is accredited by IANZ to NZS ISO/IEC 17025:2005 General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.

'With IANZ accreditation, we demonstrate New Zealand scientists operate at the same level as their international peers, and we have assurance we provide world class science in New Zealand.

'World Health Organization (WHO) technical experts visit our laboratories every year to make sure we're performing the WHO tests for flu and polio to the required level. They look at our manuals, and they check that we've been audited by the Ministry for Primary Industries for being an accredited containment facility.

'When core government clients contract services with us, they have risk management assurance that we are operating to the highest level of accreditation. This distinguishes us from research or science services provided by someone in a shed in their garden.

'One way that standards have helped our business is that we're proud of the work that we do on behalf of New Zealand. Our staff like coming to work at ESR as it sits well with their values and beliefs and they feel they're doing a good job for New Zealand and New Zealanders. So, they love challenging the standards as IANZ does see some of our laboratories as a flagship for New Zealand.

'Our scientists are always trying to continually improve the quality of the work that we do.

'We are involved in standards development and IANZ work. We lend our staff to IANZ as experts. Some of our staff help IANZ perform assessments on other laboratories across New Zealand.

'We see that as a key part of our role as a Crown Research Institute; we're Crown-owned and we're helping other parts of the science sector in New Zealand to raise their game while raising our own game.'

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