» Accreditation – the hallmark of a successful testing business
09 March, 2015
Sales of toys and jewellery reach their peak at Christmas. The sale of both these types of goods is heavily regulated, and is often an emotive purchase for the buyer. It is therefore vital for public confidence that the services for measuring the content and properties of these goods provide accurate and reliable results. In the UK, the assessment of these services is provided by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), which has accredited some 1,500 laboratories since its inception in 1995.
The main purpose of accreditation is to determine, in the public interest, the technical competence and integrity of organisations offering testing and analysis services.
(UKAS is the sole body recognised by Government for the assessment and verification – against internationally-recognised standards – of certification, inspection, testing and calibration services). In other words, UKAS ‘checks the checkers’.
All that glistens
The Birmingham Assay Office was founded in 1773 as a statutory body with only one function – the assaying and hallmarking of silver. Over the past 235 years The Birmingham Assay Office has grown to become the largest Assay Office in the UK, hallmarking several million articles of gold, silver and platinum every year.
The Birmingham Assay Office is no stranger to UKAS. Its assaying process, which tests to ensure the precious metal is of the fineness stated, has been accredited for many years. As The Laboratory began to grow as a division in its own right, it has made good commercial sense for its methods to be accredited by UKAS, giving them credibility and international recognition.
Dippal Manchanda is Technical Director of The Birmingham Assay Office and The Laboratory. He believes UKAS Accreditation is fundamental to the credibility and growth of the business. “We are currently UKAS accredited to over 45 methods and we find all of our services are restricted in their saleability until they have full accreditation.”
Since 2000 The Assay Office has significantly expanded its portfolio of services and now has three additional divisions and two of these divisions are UKAS accredited; AnchorCert Diamond Certification and The Laboratory. Until recently, The Laboratory was focused on its core business of testing precious metal, jewellery and watches. However, the testing of costume jewellery for large retail customers, particular for nickel safety compliance, has resulted in requests for The Laboratory to venture into new territory such as EN71, as required by the Toy Safety Regulations
Accreditation by UKAS has helped the business expand into this new marketplace as Manchanda explains. “The Birmingham Assay Office has an excellent reputation and is well known internationally in the precious metal and fine jewellery world. But as we enter new territory, we have yet to establish our reputation. UKAS accreditation gives customers reassurance that we are competent and consistent and subject to regular independent audit.”
The Laboratory is accredited for BS EN 71-3 which restricts the release of toxic elements such as lead, cadmium and mercury and five other hazardous elements. Lead has been a hot topic during the past two years. Whilst UKAS accreditation has helped The Laboratory to attract large companies for the testing of toys, many companies have also submitted costume jewellery to ensure it meets general product safety regulations. Manchanda said. “There is no doubt that UKAS accreditation is a basic requirement for customers seeking product testing, which is so crucial to health and safety.”
The Laboratory has also invested in the latest state of the art equipment to carry out Flammability testing to BS EN 71-2. This standard applies to ‘toys’ in their widest definition, from fancy dress outfits and wigs to playhouses. Manchanda continues. “The Laboratory staff now have a reputation amongst their colleagues for ‘burning teddies!’ Here again accreditation by UKAS is a prerequisite for most customers and our next project is EN71-1 for the mechanical testing of toys.”
As a signatory to the international Multi-Lateral Agreements, UKAS accreditation is recognised across the world. The Laboratory has many customers who trade internationally and the global reach of UKAS accreditation has helped the company to expand its services overseas, as Manchanda explains. “In response to customer demand, The Laboratory has just become one of the first few UK facilities to be UKAS accredited for the widely recognised American Standard imposed by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) 2008 which imposes strict controls on Lead content on all children’s items. However The Laboratory is seeing many articles intended for adults being tested too.” Accreditation by UKAS has also enabled The Laboratory to be registered as an accredited testing Laboratory for these tests on the US CPSC website.
Far from being a burden on the day to day operations of a business, the process of achieving UKAS accreditation can actually help the business become more efficient. Manchanda concluded. “In addition to the international reputation that we gain by being UKAS accredited, we have also benefited from the accreditation process itself. It causes us to examine our own internal process and evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it. This ensures that we can incorporate both the latest technical developments and best industry practices into our procedures. UKAS accreditation is very much an enabler in helping us to become a more efficient and modern organisation.”