When ISO announced on December 1st 2017 that ISO/IEC 17025:2017, General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories, had been updated, the conformity assessment community was aware that this would be one of the largest scale transitions of an accreditation standard ever undertaken.
ISO/IEC 17025 is the most popular international reference standard for ensuring the competence of testing and calibration laboratories around the world. Producing valid results that are widely trusted is at the heart of laboratory activities. This standard allows laboratories to implement a sound quality system and demonstrate that they are technically competent and able to produce valid and reliable results. It also helps facilitate cooperation between laboratories and other bodies by generating wider acceptance of results between countries. Test reports and certificates can be accepted from one country to another without the need for further testing, which, in turn, improves international trade.
The standard has been updated in order to reflect the latest changes in market conditions and technology; the new edition encompasses the activities and new ways of working of laboratories today. It covers technical changes, vocabulary and developments in IT techniques and takes into consideration the latest version of ISO 9001 on quality management.
The scale of the revision was also clear to ILAC (the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation) and they agreed an implementation date of 30th November 2020 – three years from publication - to accommodate the large numbers of organisations needing to make the necessary changes to their processes and procedures in order to demonstrate conformity, and for accreditation bodies to then check their effective implementation.
The current COVID-19 outbreak led to global restrictions on travel and social contact that has had a significant impact on the ability of some laboratories to implement the necessary changes, and for accreditation bodies to complete assessments and confirm compliance before the original November deadline. Recognising the difficulties faced, ILAC and ISO agreed that the deadline should be extended by six months to allow sufficient additional time for all transitions to be completed. As a consequence, a revised deadline of 1st June 2021 was agreed, and accreditation against ISO/IEC 17025: 2005 will continue to be recognised up until this date. The ISO/ILAC ISO/IEC 17025:2017 Transition Communique has been updated to reflect the extension to the transition period.
In the UK, accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 is conferred by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) and, at the time of the original announcement, there were 1603 such accreditations in place. UKAS has been working with accredited laboratories over the past three years to ensure that all were successfully transitioned before the original (November 2020) deadline. Progress towards that goal has been excellent and despite the significant challenges faced by UK testing and calibration laboratories from the COVID-19 pandemic and preparation for our withdrawal from the European Union, it is clear that there has been a tremendous national focus on meeting the amended requirements. As of 30th November 2020 - the date which was originally specified as the cut-off for transition to have been completed - 99% of accredited laboratories had been successfully converted to the latest version of the standard, leaving just 15 organisations yet to satisfy the amended requirements before the revised deadline of June 2021. UKAS continues to work proactively with these remaining laboratories and does not anticipate that there will be any that fail to meet the revised deadline given current progress.
As a nation, we can be incredibly proud of the hard work that has been taking place in laboratories throughout the UK over the past three years to put us in such a strong position in terms of international conformity. We should recognise and celebrate the quiet resolve of our test houses and calibration laboratories that have dedicated valuable time and resources during such a difficult period to prove their ongoing commitment towards continual improvement and technical validity. This ultimately ensures that UK measurement and testing infrastructure remains at the leading edge at a time when it is most needed to support our move towards greater national independence.