20 years of PCA
Accreditation and economy are interconnected
Interview with Lucyna Olborska, Director of the Polish Centre for Accreditation
The Polish Centre for Accreditation was established 20 years ago, but that was not the very beginning of accreditation in Poland.
Lucyna Olborska: Disposition No 45 of the President of the Polish Committee for Standardisation, Measures and Quality of 11 July 1990 amending the disposition on the detailed procedure for qualification and marking of products with the state quality marks and the safety mark was the basis for the establishment of the national system of accreditation of testing laboratories, compliant with the EN 45000 series of standards. That system replaced the former system of authorisations granted to testing laboratories by the Central Office for Product Quality (CBJW) in accordance with the requirements of ISO/IEC Guide 25:1982.
The first accreditation certificate for a testing laboratory was granted in September 1992, and a year later, in December 1993, the first certification body received its accreditation certificate. On 1 January 1994, the Act of Parliament on testing and certification came into force – the Polish Centre for Testing and Certification (PCBC) was established and took over the tasks of the CBJW. In March 1994, the Team for Accreditation of Measurement Laboratories was created in the Central Office of Measures (GUM). The first measurement laboratory received accreditation in April 1997.
On 28 April 2000, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland passed the Act of Parliament on conformity assessment system, accreditation and amendment of certain acts, which provided the legal basis for the establishment of a national accreditation body as an impartial and independent organisation. The Polish Centre for Accreditation – founded on the basis of the Accreditation Office of the PCBC and the Team for Accreditation of Measurement Laboratories of the GUM – began its activities on 1 January 2001. The PCA took over the assets and obligations of its predecessors in the field of accreditation, including more than 430 accreditations granted, experienced personnel, operating procedures, an extensive database of assessors and international contacts.
How has the accreditation system changed over the last two decades and what would you consider to be the milestones in the development of accreditation in Poland?
In my opinion, such a milestone was the recognition of the Polish Centre for Accreditation on the international forum and gaining the status of a signatory to international agreements, thanks to which certificates and reports issued by the CABs we accredit can be recognised in Europe and worldwide. The first such agreement signed in 2004 was the multilateral agreement with EA on mutual recognition with respect to testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, as well as bodies operating certification of systems, products and persons – the EA MLA. Then, subsequent mutual recognition arrangements were signed (the ILAC MRA and IAF MLA – in 2005), and we gradually expanded our activities to new areas.
At the same time, looking at these two decades in terms of significant changes in the legislation, I would point to 2008 as a breakthrough year. That was when Regulation (EC) No 765/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council was published. It created a new legislative framework for accreditation in Europe. It is worth emphasizing that only in Europe do we have such a document that specifies the requirements for accreditation bodies in all EU Member States. What does the Regulation stipulate in the first place? For example, that there is only one accreditation body in each Member State, recognised by the government of this state, so there is no competition between accreditation bodies. Accreditation bodies do not conduct conformity assessment activities and, therefore, do not compete with their clients, i.e. conformity assessment bodies. The Regulation also states that each entity should apply for accreditation in its own country, if the national accreditation body offers accreditation in the requested scope. Finally, Regulation No 765/2008 says that the European co-operation for Accreditation (EA) is the body appointed by the European Commission to manage accreditation in Europe, and that the European Commission will allocate funds for the development of accreditation, in particular accreditation in the regulated area, i.e. where the legislation indicates accreditation as the necessary tool to confirm the competence of conformity assessment bodies.
Judging from the perspective of these 20 years, what do you consider to be the greatest success in the PCA’s activity?
The achievement of international acceptability is certainly a success. I can say that today PCA is one of the largest accreditation bodies in Europe and, at the same time, a body that has a strong position in the international arena. We have earned this position, which is confirmed by the positive results of assessments of the PCA conducted regularly and by different entities – the ministry, the Supreme Audit Office, as well as evaluators from other European NABs. We enjoy international recognition in all possible areas in which accreditation is currently performed in Europe. And if new areas come up, we apply for assessment of our competence and extend our activities. As a result, all Polish entrepreneurs interested in obtaining accreditation can apply to the PCA. I try to manage the organisation in such a way as to ensure that we prepare relevant accreditation schemes in response to the demand of all parties. Ensuring the possibility of accreditation in Poland is of key importance – let us remember that all these activities ultimately serve the Polish economy, and the number of accredited conformity assessment bodies reflects the needs of the economy and its condition.
Implementation of new areas of accreditation requires us to be very well prepared – above all, to hire people having appropriate competence, as well as to develop new procedures and provide evidence that such assessments are carried out competently, because certificates issued by PCA accredited organisations are accepted throughout Europe. Coming back to the strong international position of the PCA, it is also evidenced by our participation in the work of international organisations – PCA employees are members of working groups and committees developing requirements for the European accreditation and conformity assessment system, but also managing members.
In today’s world, which has had to face and is still facing the global threat of the pandemic, we have learnt to value safety and all the mechanisms that help achieve this safety even more. In order to return to normal functioning and quickly overcome the social and economic effects of the coronavirus crisis, we need to restore public confidence. How can accreditation help us?
The coronavirus has shown how important testing and laboratories are. Today, everyone knows that COVID-19 tests are performed in laboratories, that these laboratories must employ competent personnel, and that the tests must be carried out in accordance with specific procedures, which determines, for example, the number of tests performed. In those laboratories performing COVID-19 tests which are accredited, it is accreditation that ensures reliability of the results through conformity with the requirements for the management system, treatment of samples or control.
Another area where accreditation and the conformity assessment system have proved to be extremely useful tools is testing of half face masks and surgical face masks. In addition to those aspects of accreditation which are related to health and safety, what is very important in terms of combating the economic impact of coronavirus are all actions to support entrepreneurs. The economic challenges that have already emerged and will continue to emerge in the new post-COVID reality will be taken into account in the new state industrial policy being developed by the Ministry of Economic Development, Labour and Technology. Accreditation and, more broadly, accredited conformity assessment services are certainly among those instruments that will be able to support entrepreneurs in overcoming the effects of the pandemic, for example by facilitating their expansion into export markets.
Another important element of the business support policy is simplification of the law and reduction of bureaucracy. That is why, after the outbreak of the pandemic, we introduced a number of measures to facilitate the situation of our clients; first of all, we simplified the procedures. The pandemic has practically been with us for a year now, and already in March last year we began discussions concerning the periodic assessments intended to confirm maintenance of accreditation – assessments in the traditional form, i.e. conducted on site, could not take place, so we changed our procedures, which enabled us to carry out remote assessments using IT tools. We are also supported by guidelines from the international organisations for the accreditation bodies, i.e. ILAC and the IAF, which publish recommendations on the feasibility and flexibility of procedures used by the accreditation bodies.
The 20th anniversary – and what next? What are the PCA’s plans for the near future? What do you see as the most important challenges in the accreditation activity?
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting mark. No organisation will ever return to where it was before March 2020. We have a new deal, and the same applies to the PCA. The organisation of work will certainly change, because the time of the pandemic has shown that we can work differently, for example remotely. The PCA – just as other organisations – has taken a huge step forward in the area of digitisation. As far as our plans are concerned, we will continue to follow the market and respond to all the needs related to accreditation. Every year, we receive several dozen new applications, which means that the market is still unsaturated and there are still new organisations that need an independent, external confirmation of their competence in order to operate and maintain their market position.
It is worth emphasizing that accreditation, as the most objective, transparent and globally recognised way of confirming the competence of entities that participate in the conformity assessment process, fits perfectly with the idea of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The full list of the so-called Sustainable Development Goals identifies 17 key areas for action and is applicable to developing and developed countries. The list includes such areas as: “good health and well-being”, “clean water and sanitation”, “decent work and economic growth”, “industry, innovation and infrastructure” or “climate action”, and actions in each of these areas are more credible when accredited conformity assessment results are used. World Accreditation Day, which we celebrate on 9 June – this year under the theme: “Accreditation: Supporting the Implementation of SDGs” – will be an opportunity for a wider debate on this topic.
The interview was conducted by Agnieszka Kwiecień