May 25, 2021
Poor water quality is one of the most important concerns across the world. It is essential to maintain the quality of water as it is used for various purposes such as drinking, industrial use, and household chores. Water resource management agencies and environmental regulators have established various water testing laboratories so that the quality of water is properly tested before it is supplied to the public. Water testing laboratories conduct various tests such as tests for bacteria, minerals, toxicity, pH, temperature to determine the suitability of water. These tests tend to change over time with a change in regulations or evolving needs of customers. One of the most common challenges faced by water testing laboratories is that they fail to meet QA/QC standards and compliance requirements which eventually compromises the reliability of the laboratory and test results.
1. Technical Hurdles
Many water testing laboratories face technical difficulties such as a shortage of specialized equipment used in the water testing process, failure to pre-schedule calibration and maintenance of analytical instruments, and enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs). Sometimes, the equipment stops functioning, and getting them repaired becomes a challenge for laboratories. Availability of a proper and reliable source of electricity is another important factor for a laboratory and is essential to maintain. The water testing process also involves certain chemical reagents and a proper functional supply chain is necessary to restock these. Water testing laboratories must implement a system to alert laboratory managers before the scheduled calibration date or if an analyst deviates from standard protocols.
2. Human Resource
It is very important to hire competent staff with the required qualifications and train them so that they can carry out analytical tasks properly. Laboratory personnel must have sufficient time and space to carry out sample analysis and other testing processes. The laboratory should also conduct timely training sessions for the staff to avoid any scope of error. All technicians should have proper knowledge about the instruments used in the laboratory and their calibration protocols. Many times sustaining the technical staff becomes a challenge. Water testing laboratories should maintain a comprehensive training program for new staff and schedule training for experienced staff from time to time.
3. Manual Processes
Every laboratory has a limit of the number of samples it can analyze in a particular period, say a day or a week. It becomes a challenge for a water testing laboratory to turn around a large number of samples if it is managing workflows manually. One of the ways to maximize the testing capacity is the automation of laboratory processes. Water testing laboratories must automate their processes to minimize turnaround time and manual errors.
4. Storage and Transportation Issues
According to the guidelines given by the World Health Organization (WHO), water quality samples should be stored in low temperatures (for example, 4°C) if they cannot be analyzed promptly. In general, the time lapse between sample collection and water analysis should not be more than 24 hours. The storage and transportation of samples become a challenge if there is a shortage of freezers or no source of ice. Water testing laboratories should effectively manage the storage and shipment of samples to avoid contamination and assure sample integrity.
5. Lack of Technology
Digitally challenged laboratories find it difficult to manage samples, tests, test results and deliver certificates of analysis (CoAs) as they rely on paper-based systems which are error-prone and less time-efficient. This is one of the most concerning challenges as it could directly affect the quality of test results generated by a water testing laboratory.
The solution to all these challenges is a laboratory information management system (LIMS). A LIMS helps water testing laboratories to assure the validity and reliability of test results. All current and future laboratory needs should be considered while selecting a LIMS for your laboratory. A water LIMS aids in sample management, facilitates quick and easy electronic data entry, ensures QA/QC, and helps manage staff and equipment. Functionalities such as barcode generation, instrument integration, and workflow management also increase productivity and efficiency. A LIMS helps to automate workflows and improves the data management processes. It provides a full chain of custody and audit trail which is crucial during audits. Instrument integration ensures data integrity and significantly reduces the time and effort for manually entering data. A LIMS helps in increasing the efficiency of a water testing laboratory through automation, minimizing transcription errors. It enables automatic report generation and reduces turnaround time. A water LIMS helps in meeting quality standards by streamlining QA/QC processes. Furthermore, a LIMS helps in meeting regulatory compliance, such as ISO/IEC 17025, NELAC, GLP.
The quality of water we consume plays an important role in our economic, health, and social well-being. It is of utmost importance to remove any contaminants from the water that we consume. Hence, it is important to determine the water quality through various tests that are conducted by water testing laboratories. Water testing laboratories face several challenges such as technical issues, staff and competency issues, capacity and storage issues. The implementation of a water LIMS provides laboratories with a data management solution and increases their efficiency. A LIMS manages samples, sample sources, test results and integrates with analytical instruments for automatic data transfer, assuring data integrity. It can automatically flag out-of-specification results, analyze trends to identify analytical errors, and help in meeting compliance requirements.