The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) is the first not-for-profit laboratory, services and equipment accreditation organisation established in Australia. With years of experience and a sterling reputation, the authority is responsible for accrediting laboratories, equipment calibration services, inspection services and certified reference and testing services. The ultimate purpose of NATA is to provide independent assurance that certain equipment and procedures are providing the most reliable and accurate results possible. In the case of drug and alcohol testing, NATA assesses the technical competence of a laboratory doing sample analysis or of a collecting agency doing sample collection and/or on-site screenings. NATA raises the confidence and trust level that consumers and businesses can place in drug and alcohol testing products and services.
Though people tend to use the terms accredited and certification as if they mean the same thing, they actually have different meanings. Certification considers compliance with established product and systems standards. Often, internal audit procedures are used for ongoing self-assessment and re-certification. Though accreditation includes reviews of compliance with standards underlying the certification of products and services, it sets a much higher review standard in that it focuses on technical competence rather than mere compliance. Accreditation requires an external audit by a third party reviewer like NATA. Equipment and services accredited by NATA give employers doing workplace drug and alcohol testing the confidence that:
Test kits and testing facilities meet Australian standards
Detection of drugs or alcohol in urine or saliva (cut-off level) meets the workplace testing expectations for medical and legal purposes
Procedures used to collect test samples maintain sample integrity
The equivalency of on-site and laboratory screenings is maintained
Collectors have completed appropriate training according to The Australian Quality Framework
The calibration and re-calibration of equipment is precise and the equipment is demonstrably fit-for-purpose, whether used on-site or in a laboratory
The sample chain-of-custody procedures protect sample integrity
Accreditation Improves Decision Making
The importance of NATA accreditation cannot be overstated. In the arena of drug and alcohol testing equipment, employers are making important personnel decisions based on the results the equipment and the testing laboratory produced. For example, a worker testing positive for cocaine will usually be asked to participate in an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) or will be terminated. Both of these actions have serious consequences in terms of lost wages for the workers and lost productivity for employers. Inaccurate test results or poorly designed collection and transportation procedures can quickly turn into a legal nightmare for the employer. Having absolute faith in the accuracy of drug or alcohol testing equipment and procedures is critical because such important workplace decisions need to be made using reliable and valid information.
In Australia, the emphasis on using random drug testing only to promote workplace safety lends accreditation even more importance. The emphasis on prevention and harm minimisation rather than using testing to simply weed out drug and alcohol users adds additional legal risk to the testing process. Using accredited equipment and testing services mitigates employer legal risks associated with the collection, handling and dispatch of urine and saliva samples. NATA is governed by an authoritative body composed of knowledgeable representatives from government, industry and professional bodies. The committee includes professionals representing railways, trade unions, environmental research, forensic science, medical laboratories, hospitals, pathologists, alcohol and drug research centres, WorkCover and many others. The breadth of representation on the NATA committee ensures that laws, current medical research, and employer and employee interests are presented.
A Value Proposition for Employers
NATA accreditation is a value proposition for employers. In the past, employers appreciated the benefits and importance of using an accredited laboratory for confirmatory testing. However, the advances in technology have made it easier and easier to do onsite workplace testing. Now there is an equally important need to ensure the onsite screenings, collection handling and dispatch procedures are accredited too. It is the only way to have full confidence in the integrity of the workplace drug and alcohol testing program because using accredited products and services ensures Australian Standards are met from the beginning to the end of the testing process.
CMM Technology (cmm.com.au/), and Mediscreen (mediscreen.net.au/) lead the Australian drug and alcohol testing industry in quality and reliability. The companies are the first in Australia to be NATA accredited for chemical testing for breathalyser recalibrations of hand held and wall mount breathalysers and among the first to be accredited for onsite testing.