International benchmarking of quality management in forensic science drug laboratories
Venter, Casper Henderik
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Since the early 1980s, laboratory managers in the field of forensic science were introduced to the first international standards for testing and calibration laboratories. Now almost three decades later every laboratory should have some level of quality management system implemented to assure the quality of results. With all the quality standards and requirements in the global arena, proper assessment is necessary to ensure that quality standards are harmonised across laboratories. The aim of this study was first to establish the extent of quality standards and recommendations within the forensic drug environment and secondly, the level to which they were implemented in forensic drug laboratories globally. A questionnaire was developed to measure quality variables according to five categories in forensic drug laboratories, namely equipment, personnel, quality assurance and quality control, customer relationship as well as productivity. A total of seventy international drug laboratories participated in the study which consisted of laboratories from the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Taiwan and Israel. To make statistical inferences on the greater population of forensic drug laboratories, all data was converted to proportions. These proportions were compared to international quality standards such as ISO 17025 and ASCLO/LAB. International forensic drug laboratories use similar analytical methodology when analysing drug samples. These techniques comply with ISO standards and can be accepted within any jurisdiction, if operated and maintained correctly. Laboratory managers should however pay more attention to maintenance and procurement plans. All the laboratories appoint qualified scientists and have internal training programs to ensure that technical staff are qualified and competent when performing specialised tasks. More attention should however, be given to mentorship programs to assess and coach new technical staff. The majority of laboratories complied with the technical and managerial ISO requirements on quality control and quality assurance, in spite of a non-standardised sampling scheme. Although laboratories have a good relationship with their customers, staff shortages will lead to extended turn around times which will influence customer satisfaction over time. Furthermore, small drug laboratories, translating to a small staff quotient, were determined to be more productive than larger laboratories. This study ultimately, underscores the fact that an established quality system and an effective laboratory information management system will contribute to higher productivity in a forensic laboratory environment.
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