Ethical practices play a key role in all professional fields and more so in laboratory operations because your customers have no reason to doubt your reports and place unquestioned confidence in the results communicated to them. Just imagine the degree of damage they suffer due to wrong decisions taken based on incorrect reports and the loss of face that they suffer in turn with their own clients.
It is not uncommon for anyone to make mistakes which should be verified and corrective action taken before results are communicated to outside parties. You have to bear in mind that mistakes or deliberate misdeeds can go undetected once or twice but your customer can see through the game and your organization can start losing customers due to decline of confidence in reports. Further adverse comments through word of mouth can spell disaster for your organization.
What are laboratory incidents?
Laboratory incidents are errors that are discovered prior to completion of analysis and reporting of results. Errors as you would agree are of two types – determinate and indeterminate. You cannot do much about indeterminate errors but determinate errors should be brought to the notice of your managers and corrective action taken before results are compiled and communicated to your customers. You could be tempted to conceal such findings because corrective actions can delay your reporting and may reflect adversely on your efficiency but remember you will be appreciated for your honesty and at same time excused for bringing such errors to the knowledge of your managers. However, if such errors and drawbacks come to their knowledge after reporting has been done it can result in serious consequences.
Now let us place some common laboratory incidents:
- Spilling of sample or incomplete transfer resulting in loss of sample volume or precipitates.
- Deviation from prescribed standard test procedure unless it has been authorized by a competent authority
- Errors in calculation of results because of transcription errors of handwritten data or manual data inputs into a computerized system
- Use of un-calibrated instrument or volumetric glassware
- Incomplete washing of glassware or chromatographic vials before use
- Errors in weighing and dilutions
- Changes in prescribed environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity during the analysis
- Use of broken or cracked glassware
- Use of non-recommended test items such as glassware due to non-availability of recommended items
- Accidental exposure of light sensitive sample before analysis
- Analysis conducted by untrained or non-validated analysts
- Incomplete dissolution of samples in prescribed solvents
- Conducting analyses on decomposed samples with visible suspensions or mould growths
- Use of outdated reagents, buffers or working standards
- Communication of chromatographic results when major deviations in peaks are evident such as splitting of peaks, presence of shoulder peaks, peak tailing, flat top peaks, substantial shifts from known retention times, etc
- Sample injection made when noise is significant or baseline drift has not stabilized
The above-mentioned listing is not exhaustive and can include still more types of errors which are typical to the particular sample being analyzed or the technique employed. After the incident is reported it is the responsibility of the quality control manager to maintain proper documentation of such incidents and decide on corrective action before the results are communicated to the concerned customers and ensure that such occurrences get minimized over passage of time.