Innovation push for Quality Infrastructure through COVID-19?

As we are now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the regular operation of Quality Infrastructure is greatly reduced and partly at standstill. At the same time, we observe how Quality Infrastructure organisations are adapting their services to the reality of lockdown and home office work. Since we also have to stay at home, it is an excellent opportunity to use this time to eventually start the blog #QI4D.

Quality infrastructure organisations are faced with the dilemma of protecting their staff from becoming infected, on the one hand, and maintaining their services, on the other hand. Quality Infrastructure services are of great value when trying to find the right responoses to the pandemic. For example, patients, medical professionals and the society as a whole must be able to rely on the results of COVID-19 tests. This is only possible if laboratories are technically competent and can at best prove this through internationally recognised accreditation.

Faced with the crisis, Quality Infrastructure organisations have shown to be adaptable. One example is the International Standards Organisation (ISO) whose standards committees are now working virtually. As online meetings of standards committees happened before, it was easy to mainstream this practice.

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, many national standards institutes have made  standards, which are relevant for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, freely available online. This applies to standards for masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other medical devices. In doing so, National Standards Institutes are foregoing essential revenues, but they are supporting the entry of new suppliers into the market, especially Companies which purposing their production lines to join the fight against COVID-19, and ensure access of healthcare professionals and patients to urgently needed equipment.

Quality Infrastructure is equally important for controlling respiratory masks. Particle filtering half masks, better known as FFP masks (FFP = filtering face piece), are recommended for medical personnel. In Europe, the EN 149-2001 standard specifies this, while similar requirements are defined in the N95 (NIOSH-42CFR84) standard of the United States and the KN95 (GB2626-2006) standard of China. Due to the sharp rise in demand, international trade of fake masks are now increasing dramatically. For the protection of medical staff and patients, functioning market surveillance and the existence of accredited testing laboratories is the essential.

Meanwhile, the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) allows alternative procedures for assessing the conformity of products. In Brazil, for example, the inspection authority INMETRO allows an alternative method of compliance with the factory audit that is required for the maintenance or recertification of INMETRO product certification projects. Accredited product certification bodies are expected to perform a risk analysis based on the records of the manufacturer’s last internal audits, management review and handling of customer complaints. INMETRO allows the use of 1st or 3rd party accredited laboratories in Brazil or international laboratories accredited by ILAC members, regardless if the criteria for test reports written in the specific product certification.

All these practices, born out of necessity, can give us essential ideas for innovation in the work of the Quality Infrastructure in times of lockdown and pandemic. The advantages of the digitisation of services, which has received a new push as a result of the crisis, are already apparent. Processes that previously seemed lengthy,have reached the phase of prototyping after a few weeks only. At the same time, new modes of working, such as home office and video conferencing, are attracting increasing attention in the areas of cybersecurity and occupational safety and health. Here too, Quality Infrastructure is required and can offer a range of standards and technical regulations.

To start a discussion on innovation of Quality Infrastructure in times of a global crisis, we request directors and other staff of QI institutions to share novel practices that are probed by their institutions and other opportunities for fundamental innovation in the work they are recognizing. We would also like to discuss methods and procedures that prove being inflexible and obsolete in the face of such a crisis and what the alternatives could be.

Please, share your experiences and ideas, using the comment function in this blog.

Feature Image H Shaw on Unsplash

This entry was posted in Accreditation, Quality Infrastructure, Standards and tagged , by Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke

Dr Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke is a global expert in the field of international economic development cooperation. With more than 25 years of consulting experience, he is active in all phases of a project and program development (preparation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation) and collaborates with various implementing organizations and development banks (German Development Cooperation - GIZ and PTB -, Inter-American Development Bank, European Union and United Nations). He has consulting experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr.Harmes-Liedtke is an experienced trainer and process consultant. He works with groups and teams to reflect on their situation and to then formulate change projects to improve their reality. He enables dialogue, facilitates and designs workshops, processes, and sense-making processes. He is certified in facilitation, mediation, and communication techniques which allow him to deal with sensitive, diverse, and even conflict situations. He supports systemic economic development in various roles: • As an expert and trainer in international trade, national quality policies, industrial policy, clusters, and global value chains • As a process consultant in designing and leading diagnostic processes that result in change, adaptation, and improvement • As a facilitator of dialogue, workshops, training, and sense-making processes • As a transdisciplinary researcher in the field of systemic economic development Born 1965, Ph.D. in political science and economics (Bremen 1999), MA in economics (Diplom-Volkswirt) (Hamburg 1991). German nationality.

9 thoughts on “Innovation push for Quality Infrastructure through COVID-19?

  1. Very interesting summary, including the equivalent product regulations for FFP masks. Here in Ecuador, the National Accreditation Body- SAE is in the situation described, working remotely and participating in regional IAAC meetings virtually.
    We will have to quickly adapt to the new environment, to adequately respond to the need for compliance evaluation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Uli for these insights. It seems that kin countries where the QI system is weak, like in many developing countries, they face even more challenges to assure the system in the time of COVID-19?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The interaction between the health care system and the Quality Infrastructure is crucial. If a country’s health system is efficient and uses the services of the quality infrastructure, it is certainly easier to successfully combat a pandemic. If, on the other hand, countries lack competent laboratories, not enough tests can be carried out and faulty tests can make it much more difficult to combat a pandemic.


  3. Thanks Ulrich for these important thoughts. In Colombia the problem is lack of money, for factories to pay for tests, inspections and certifications, and for CABs for accreditation assessment. All of them are asking for delay their evaluations, but it generates risk for all QI. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Alejandro,

      Thank you for your question, which is not easy to answer. ONAC shares this problematic situation with the other National Accreditation Bodies in the world.
      I think a double strategy is needed:

      In the short term, the accreditation bodies should show flexibility and be pragmatic in dealing with the lockdown. Online audits and virtual meetings are a path that many accreditation bodies are already following.

      From a longterm perspective, it is essential to underline and communicate the systemic relevance of accreditation. It makes a significant difference for the trustworthiness of test results and certificates whether an accredited organisation issues them or not.

      In this respect, the corporate communication of the accreditation body with customers and governmental organisations is particularly important at this time. The government and public laboratories, certification and inspection bodies should set an example and continue their accreditations. Especially in the medical field, companies should only deliver only products and services that have been tested by trustworthy and competent institutions.

      Finally, ONAC should also be on the lookout for new business opportunities arising from the crisis. I’m thinking here of business continuity management systems. I just checked the ISO Survey. In 2018, only 1,506 companies worldwide were certified with ISO 22301:2012 – Security and resilience. In Colombia, no companies have been certified with ISO 22301:2012 so far. Now it is apparent that companies can deal with the crisis much better with continuity plans.

      I hope this answers your question. I am sure you have a lot of ideas yourself and are already implementing them. I wish you and your employees that ONAC and the Quality Infrastructure in Colombia will emerge stronger from the crisis.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Estimados Ulrich y Alejandro.
        A más de lo ya mencionado, me parece importante considerar que la tecnología disponible deberá incrementarse y utilizarse en estas circunstancias, por ejemplo, algunos OECs acreditados o en proceso, cuentan con plataformas de gestión remotas que facilitan al evaluación online a los ONAs. Saludos, Mauro.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank Mauro for pointing that out.

    With so many people suddenly working remotely, the need for standards for teleworking and IT security is increasing. The ISO 27001:2013 standard contains good practices for working with mobile devices and teleworking. Here I expect a growing need for certification and accreditation.

    Liked by 1 person

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