FORENSIC LABS LAB FOCUS PROFICIENT FINDINGS
With the many rules and regulations in place within their sector, it’s important that forensic science providers are fully aware of the correct codes of practice. Here, Forensic Access fill us in on the requirements needed for certain proficiency standards.
Historically, forensic science providers have used Proficiency Testing programmes as an effective method of monitoring their performance – both internally and against other forensic providers.
However, the worldwide adoption of ISO/IEC 17025 some years ago as the de-facto quality standard for most forensic disciplines has put a more formal responsibility on forensic science providers – whether they be police forces, large multidisciplinary providers or smaller specialist providers – to demonstrate that they are engaged in an ongoing programme of Proficiency Tests. More recently the adoption of the Forensic Science Regulator's Codes of Practice and Conduct has placed additional proficiency testing requirements on providers.
REQUIREMENTS OF ISO 17025 ISO 17025 mentions Proficiency Testing in three places:
• Section 4.4: ‘Review of requests, tenders and contracts’ where it states that an organisation may use participation in proficiency testing programmes to demonstrate that they can meet the requirements of a contract, tender, etc.
• Section 4.12: ‘Preventive action’ where the results of proficiency tests may be used to identify opportunities for improvement.
• Section 4.15: ‘Management reviews’ with the standard stating that ‘the review shall take account of …. Proficiency tests’.
FORENSIC SCIENCE REGULATORS CODES
OF PRACTICE AND CONDUCT Reference to Proficiency testing here includes:
• Section 14: ‘Control of non-conforming testing (ISO 17025:2005 ref. 4.9)’ ‘unexpected performance in proficiency testing... could require escalation to the Forensic Science Regulator’.
• Section 20.9: ‘Validation of interpretive methods’ proficiency tests are included in the list of ways of demonstrating ‘consistent, reproducible, valid and reliable results that are compatible with the results of other competent staff’.
• Section 24: ‘Assuring the quality of test results (ISO 17025:2005 ref. 5.9)’ where the whole of section 24.1 discusses the need for providers to ‘investigate’ and ‘participate’ in such tests.
Against this background, there is no escaping the need to be involved in proficiency testing programmes if you are seeking to achieve or maintain accreditation to ISO 17025 and/or comply with the Regulator’s Codes.
FORENSIC PROVIDER SURVEY Following many negative comments over the years about Proficiency Tests, in 2015 Forensic Access undertook its own survey of forensic science providers on the subject. The messages coming back from the market were very clear and consistent with providers saying they wanted tests that were:
• In-tune with current UK forensic science requirements and methods (the majority of customers buy their tests from the US).
• Realistic and challenging: current tests were noted to be often ‘just tests’, often very simple and not reflecting real case scenarios.
• Competitively priced and offered scheduled schemes (for inter-laboratory comparison) and on-demand (for training and internal use).
In Autumn 2016, Forensic Access launched Forensic Proficiency Testing Service (FPTS) to help all forensic providers meet their requirements. FPTS provides a range of tests across many disciplines, designed and produced by forensic scientists for forensic scientists. The company is delighted to have representatives from the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, Association of Forensic Science Providers and the Police Quality Standards on our Advisory Panel to help ensure its tests meet the often differing requirements of these sectors.
Forensic Access has a longevity and a legacy to be proud of. Formed in 1986 as an independent supplier of quality forensic science services, it has built an enviable reputation for its work in many different sectors, providing investigative and analytical forensic science, consultancy (and project work), training and quality management services.
The company remains independent to this day, operating as a privately owned, Limited company, with no institutional investors and, because Forensic Access truly focuses on science, it will work for any sector of the Criminal Justice System (prosecution and defence), as well as for other Government Departments (including Local Authorities), in Civil Law cases, industry and private individuals. Forensic Access works in the UK and overseas and is the chosen ‘partner’ for highly sensitive work within the police service and other Government organisations.
With its Board of Directors, management team, employed scientists and administration staff, plus a long list of highly experienced consultants and what they call ‘associates’ – other companies to which they contract work – Forensic Access aim to deliver safe and sustainable forensic science evidence to the Courts and other customers.
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