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Laboratory quality control is the practice of auditing procedures at a lab to make sure results generated by the lab are accurate and complete. The goal is to maintain high quality and dependability. Labs may also use quality control to manage costs and employee schedules effectively. This includes internal and external auditing for extra safety and assurance. Firms specializing in laboratory quality control make their services available to labs in a variety of settings.
Individual lab technicians must follow very precise procedures when performing and reporting tests. This is a key part of quality control for consistency. They also routinely calibrate and check lab equipment to make sure it is working properly, as well as maintain logs to show that this has been done and provide information about the results. Lab employees may also log the process of testing so that documentation is available in the event of an audit.
Internal auditing procedures for laboratory quality control can include repeating tests to see if the results are the same, looking over documentation paperwork to determine if employees are conducting tests properly, and checking lab equipment to make sure it is working right. These may be performed by a supervisor or quality control officer. Internal protections also include issuing clear and detailed employee manuals for use by lab staff.
External audits can involve repeating tests at different facilities, hiring technicians to calibrate and check equipment, and asking quality control officers to look over laboratory records and procedures. This process can include the use of a consultant to make sure a lab is using the most up to date standards for all its testing and reporting practices. The law may require labs to submit to inspection by government agencies for the purpose of laboratory quality control. The inspector will write up any potential violations and concerns, identifying areas where the lab needs improvement.
Laboratory quality control at labs handling forensic evidence also includes an extra layer of precautions to protect the integrity of evidence. These labs not only need to perform tests accurately, they also need to follow the rules of evidence to prevent a situation where evidence and test results may be excluded from court because the lab didn't follow procedure. This includes training personnel in chain of custody procedures, having a secure area for evidence storage, and using clear labeling and tracking systems to monitor evidence in the lab at all times.