Labs move at the double
DEMAND for approval from the Hong Kong Laboratory Accreditation Scheme (HOKLAS) has almost doubled in the past year, according to Ng Lay-har, HOKLAS' executive administrator.
HOKLAS accreditation gave laboratories approval to conduct tests on manufacturing, construction materials and environmental analysis.
Every year applications for HOKLAS accreditation increased and labs already holding accreditation were applying for extensions to other areas, Dr Ng said.
HOKLAS had certified 59 laboratories and 62 laboratories had been registered since 1985.
Although Hong Kong's manufacturing base was shifting to southern China, the territory remained a major centre for re-exports, Dr Ng said.
Laboratories conducting tests on goods being exported had to ensure products met stringent international import requirements.
It was important to have accreditation in this area to maintain international confidence in the quality of Hong Kong testing laboratories, Dr Ng said.
Accreditation for exports testing was not just for textiles.
It also included electronics, electrical equipment, toys and food - all major Hong Kong exports.
Demand for accreditation from laboratories testing for exports manufacturing was growing as international import laws tightened, Dr Ng said.
American and European importers would not buy products that did not meet strict international standards which forced local manufacturers to get pre-sales testing.
'Accreditation shows Hong Kong has quality-testing procedures in place which gives countries importing products confidence in our testing procedures and, ultimately, in the products,' Dr Ng said.
'Quite often imports are held up at ports of entry because customs officers are not familiar with certificates which declare products meet import requirements.
'If goods have HOKLAS accreditation, which is recognised internationally, customs officers are confident products are safe and the export process will be faster,' she said.
The World Trade Organisation and the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation forum encouraged accreditation and mutual recognition agreements as a way of removing technical trade barriers, she said.
Hong Kong had mutual recognition agreements with Britain, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Holland and a 12-country multilateral agreement in Europe.
Demand for HOKLAS accreditation in environmental testing increased after the Government introduced extra environmental protection laws during the past year.
The new laws made it necessary for factories to test waste by-products and emissions of toxic chemicals or gases.
'The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is now tightening laws and it is imperative for companies to comply with these laws,' she said.
'Export companies and manufacturers want to be able to go to laboratories they know will give them results that are 100 per cent accurate.
'Accreditation makes it easier for these companies to choose which laboratory to employ to carry out tests knowing results will be passed to the EPD.' Many Government contracts for large construction works specified sub-contracting for materials testing had to be awarded to HOKLAS-approved laboratories.
HOKLAS-accredited labs were able to compete for Government contracts and were held in high esteem in the local market, attracting more clients, Dr Ng said.
'If there was no accreditation, any laboratory in the territory could start testing construction materials,' she said.
'It is important to have a third party to check laboratories to make sure they test building materials correctly and thus ensure they are appropriate and will be safe.' Some local restaurants were employing HOKLAS-accredited laboratories to conduct testing on waste emissions before lodging protests over newly-introduced waste disposal charges.
However, accreditation also helped laboratories tighten management structures to become more cost-efficient and use more effective test procedures, she said.
'Accreditation is not only recognition of technical competence of a laboratory, it is approval of the company's management,' Dr Ng said.
'Clients not only want to know the company can conduct accurate tests; more want to be reassured that the laboratory is managed well.' HOKLAS assessed laboratories using ISO-IEC (International Electrical Commission) Guide 25 standards, which encompassed ISO 9000 regulations for laboratories.
Laboratory accreditation 'went a step further' than ISO 9000, which was only an assessment of a company's management systems, Dr Ng said.
'We also look at the way laboratories perform tests and methods used to check they are valid and appropriate,' she said.
'Technical competence is evaluated rigorously and we employ honorary experts to visit laboratories to check testing procedures.' HOKLAS, a section of the Quality Service Division of the Industry Department, was established in 1985.
The section has 14 staff. Six were professionals who had science or engineering degrees and experience in testing and quality systems management, Dr Ng said.
Five professional officers visited and assessed laboratories accompanied by independent experts in fields related to the laboratories.
HOKLAS staff assessed quality of laboratory management and experts looked at technical competence of lab staff.
HOKLAS co-ordinated assessment of laboratories and compiled reports to ensure departmental and accreditation policies and procedures were followed.