What Does “Improvement” Mean for Your Organization?
BY HEATHER I. THOMPSON AND BOB DI RIENZO
The ISO/IEC 17025:2005 standard and various other policies require accredited industrial hygiene testing laboratories and their
accreditation bodies (ABs) to demonstrate “improvement.” ABs such as AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs (AIHA-LAP),
LLC conduct site assessments to ensure that laboratories meet this and other requirements for quality. The assessors report violations (also known as assessment findings, nonconformities or deficiencies) to the AB.
But how do ABs define and measure improvement? The Synergist asked Heather I. Thompson, quality systems manager at
AIHA-LAP, LLC, and Bob Di Rienzo, vice president of Quality Systems at the AIHA-LAP, LLC-accredited laboratory ALS Global, to
discuss the meaning and implications of “improvement” for accrediting bodies, laboratories, and lab customers.
Are labs and ABs required to measure improvement?
Heather Thompson: There are no explicit references in ISO/IEC
17011:2004, the international conformity assessment standard
that governs how AIHA-LAP, LLC operates as an accreditation
body. However, according to ISO 9004:2009, another performance standard from which we draw guidance, “Improvement, innovation, and learning can be applied to: products, processes
and their interfaces; organizational structures; management systems; human aspects and culture; infrastructure; work environment and technology; and relations with relevant, interested
parties.” In the case of an AB, the accreditation service and our
“product” is a competent, accredited laboratory; “management
systems” refer to business practices and quality management;
and “interested parties” are internal and external customers in
need of service. AIHA-LAP measures improvement through constant evaluation for satisfaction, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Bob Di Rienzo: ISO/IEC 17025 section 4. 10 states, “The laboratory shall continually improve the effectiveness of its management system through the use of the quality policy, quality
objectives, audit results, analysis of data, corrective and preventive actions and management review.” The only requirements are to show evidence of commitment and improve the
management system. Evidence can be as simple as a quality
policy, signed by management, which states their commitment.
Improving the management system comes through its use. If
management’s commitment is questionable, there will be no
improvement in the management systems—there will be only
How do improvements occur?
HT: Through planning, preventive and corrective action, training,
and feedback. Experience has shown, however, that personnel are
at the center of any continuous or continual improvement effort.
The stability and improvement of a process ultimately depends
on the quality of the people on the team. Management depends
on employees to meet deadlines and conform to requirements.
Well-trained, self-directed, engaged employees are more likely to
solve problems at the process level, leading to innovations and
potential preventive action. Again, ISO 9004 9.2 speaks to this:
“The organization should ensure that continual improvement be-
comes established as a part of the organizational culture by pro-
viding the opportunities for people in the organization to
participate in improvement activities, through their empower-
ment, providing the necessary resources.”
The same relationship between management and personnel
exists in accredited laboratories. The personnel within the AB
and the laboratories that make up the body of accreditations are
both responsible for the final make-up and reputation of the AB.
An AB that regularly seeks corrective action against a laboratory,
or laboratory management that must constantly put out fires via
corrective action, will require significant attention and resources,
and the process will never have a chance to improve. A labora-
tory’s reputation and the AB’s reputation are inextricably linked.
Why don’t the ISO standard and AIHA policies explain this
HT: Standards may give explicit and codified language on certain items, but the process for achieving continuous improvement must be flexible and tailored to a given organization. What
will allow your organization to optimize effectiveness, efficiency,
capability and performance from management down? What will