While many water laboratories currently use a LIMS for some activities related to managing samples or lab workflow, on the whole much of the sample and related data management is still done using manual collection and reporting processes using either paper lab notebooks or spreadsheets. Manual processes introduce a certain level of risk: manual processes are error prone, the data is not searchable or collaborative in any way, and any manual process is more time consuming, taking lab managers and systems operators away from more value added work.
Implementing a LIMS and automating the lab’s workflow can be a challenging prospect for a water testing lab, but one which is becoming essential. By implementing a LIMS preconfigured to meet the needs of water system operators and testers, those challenges are significantly reduced. With a LIMS designed to address the specific workflow and regulatory requirements of water testing labs, lab managers can me faster and more informed decisions or rapidly share information with management, in addition to being able to respond to ongoing regulatory and business demands. With a LIMS like Thermo Scientific SampleManager, water testing labs are able to establish protocols and documentation methods that meet NELAC compliance requirements and ISO 17025 guidelines. With specific functionality built into the LIMS to improve workflow and lab efficiency, reports can easily be automated to ensure full traceability, and the integrity of the lab’s data is assured. Any regulatory agency, such as the EPA or a state regulator, will require reporting of lab results in a standardized and structured format. SampleManager LIMS can easily store the sample data and collate it in the format appropriate for each regulatory recipient. The LIMS is also designed specifically for water system operators, enabling a more efficient workflow by taking this data directly from the instruments and comparing it with the regulatory limits for various contaminants. Once the sample data is in the LIMS, a predefined set of templates for reporting can be used, allowing the lab to automate data output and enable lab operators to spend significantly more of their time testing and processing samples. For commercial laboratory organizations or contract labs, packaging and reporting results and the associated quality control data for their clients is often the deliverable product, so automating the creation and delivery of this package can also trigger the invoice process.
A LIMS designed for water and environmental labs can significantly enhance the lab’s preparedness for any audit situation which requires evidence of controlled sample management, proper labeling and identification, records of all proficiency training for operators, instrument calibration schedules, and full audit traceability of all records. For NELAC audits, which typically occur every two years, the LIMS simplifies the audit process since it enables the lab to mine all sample related data to give an end-to-end review of all related information. TNI provisions that the audit will involve both a technical and quality system review, as well as the potential to review data over a 5-year period – something which can be both challenging and very time consuming in a paper based environment. There are number of very good webinars available that can inform lab managers in the water sector on the benefits of implementing a LIMS and integrating the lab, including Introduction to the Benefits of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) (48 Mins) and How to Meet NELAC, ISO 17025 and Other Industry, State and Federal Requirements (50 Mins).
THE NELAC (National Environmental Accreditation Conference) standards published in 2003 were revised and made available in July 2011 as the new TNI Standard 2009, and based on ISO 17025 guidance. Implementation of this updated TNI (The NELAC Institute) Standard is now becoming a reality as the respective accrediting bodies phase in the new regulations. For water system operators and testing labs, not only does this require adherence with ISO 17025 standards, it also requires analysis of at least five new contaminants and lower limits for existing contaminants as designated by the EPA in their annual review. The resulting increase in sample management and data analysis workload necessitates an investment in automated workflow. By automating operations and integrating instruments, water operators and testing labs can increase capacity and sample throughput, build in regulatory compliance, while also reducing the costs associated with time spent on manual activities such as recording data in paper notebooks. or using spreadsheets to create reports. To achieve all these benefits, a laboratory information management system (LIMS) is a critical tool enabling the lab to meet the ongoing requirements of TNI standards, and helping prepare for state, regulatory or NELAC audits with all defensible data properly documented and prepared.
SampleManager LIMS gives you the ability to control the lab’s workflow for improved efficiencies and cost savings. For compliance requirements, SampleManager will generate, store and report on valid and traceable data in support of your lab’s quality processes, giving you the defensible data you need for ISO 17025 and NELAC regulations.
A good site for more information on LIMS for water testing laboratories can be found at Resources for Water and Environmental Testing Laboratories.
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Jeanne Mensingh and Colin Thurston have discussed the challenges faced by water testing laboratories, and how a LIMS can improve lab efficiencies and enable the lab to more easily generate, store and report on valid and traceable data for ISO 17025 and NELAC compliance requirements.
Jeanne Mensingh is President and Founder of Labtopia Solutions, which provides tailored quality system advisory services to help business meet regulatory requirements and enhance performance.Jeanne is also a NELAC auditor.
Colin Thurston is Director of Product Strategy for the Informatics business at Thermo Fisher Scientific, focused on Process Industries.
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