News on the Laboratories Section
Mission and organisation of the Laboratories Section
The mission of Cofrac's Laboratories section is the accreditation of:
- Testing and calibration laboratories;
- Organisers of interlaboratory comparisons;
- Reference material producers.
The Laboratories section is organised into four competence Poles, each corresponding to major sectors of activity: Biology-Agri-food (formerly Biology-Biochemistry), Chemistry-Environment, Physics-Mechanical (formerly Mechanical), and Building-Electricity (formerly Physics-Electricity).
Associated with these four Poles are six Technical Accreditation Commissions (TAC): Biology–Agri-food, Chemistry-Environment, Physics-Mechanical, Building, Electricity-Radiation-Information Technology, and Interlaboratory Comparisons/Reference Material Producers. The Legal Metrology TAC is now associated with the Inspection section Committee.
Accreditation of testing and calibration laboratories
Accreditation certifies the technical competence of testing and calibration laboratories to perform specific tasks.
In terms of testing, accreditation guarantees that the results are obtained according to valid methods and procedures that comply with precise standards. This may concern laboratories performing analyses on chemical agents in water or air, establishing nutritional profiles and seeking contaminants in foodstuffs, measuring electromagnetic fields in situ, mechanical tests on metals, etc.
In terms of calibration, accreditation recognises the aptitude of a laboratory to carry out calibrations and metrological verifications in a defined domain and with specified uncertainties. The Cofrac label on the calibration certificate guarantees the traceability of measurements in the International System of Units (SI).
The Cofrac document (in French), LAB INF 99, presents the principal fields of testing and calibration open to accreditation by the Laboratories Section (list not exhaustive).
Scope of accreditation
The accreditation of laboratories is done according to a well defined perimeter, called scope or technical annex, which is the formal and precise statement of the activities for which the laboratory is accredited.
There are several types of scope of accreditation, which increase in flexibility, suitable for the needs of laboratories:
- Standard, type A1 scope (fixed), for which the laboratory cannot make any modifications to its scope without prior evaluation;
- Standard, type A2 scope (flexible), for which the laboratory, accredited on standardised methods, may, without prior evaluation, implement any successive revisions to these standards (provided that the measurement principle remains the same); in this case, accreditation covers the laboratory's ability to review and confirm the standardised methods;
- Standard, type A3 scope (flexible), for which the laboratory is accredited on a general scope based on the principles of standardised methods; the laboratory is then deemed competent to adopt standardised methods based on technical competencies already demonstrated and may, without prior evaluation, implement any standardised method based on a principle already evaluated;
- Extended, type B scope (flexible), for which the laboratory is deemed competent to adapt and develop methods within the framework of a general defined scope; the laboratory may, without prior evaluation, implement any method that falls within the framework of the general defined scope.
Regarding accreditation flexible scopes, a detailed scope is combined with the general defined scope. This detailed scope is the exhaustive list at a given time T for the methods actually implemented (and therefore approved) by the laboratory.
This list continues to be the responsibility of the laboratory and is therefore managed by the laboratory itself.
Evaluations are based on the examination of the organisational and technical provisions put in place by laboratories and on the application of these provisions and the competence and ability to cope with each of the measurement techniques included within the limits of the scope. The evaluation methods are adapted to the degree of freedom given to the laboratory.
The type of scope is not shown as such in the scope. It is in its expression that we will find the idea of flexibility. For more information, cf. document LAB REF 08 (in French).
The field of Legal Metrology
In accordance with the application of regulation (EC) n°765/2008 of 9 July 2008 setting out the requirements for accreditation activities, the Legal Metrology field was transferred from the Laboratories section to the Inspection section. As of 1 January 2016, a scheme has been set up, to progressively transfer the accreditations in Legal Metrology already issued toward accreditations compliant with the 2012 version of ISO/CEI 17020 and to apply this standard to new requests. This transitional phase will last for 3 years.