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Quality Assurance

UKAS-Testing logosEvery year Marine Scotland Science (MSS) devotes significant resources to taking measurements in the marine and freshwater environment. These measurements are used as a basis for protecting our seas and rivers, assuring the quality and safety of the crustaceans, fish and shellfish that we eat, for providing reliable information on the distribution and changes in the levels of harmful chemicals, and on the nature and distribution of aquatic diseases. Aquaculture sites are also regularly inspected in order to maintain the status of Great Britain as an approved zone for various diseases of crustaceans, fish and shellfish.

A systematic approach to quality assurance of these measurements and inspections is essential to maintain confidence in the data obtained and to provide the necessary Quality Assurance to our customers who use this information.

How is Quality Managed at MSS?

MSS operates an extensive formal internal quality assurance system, and is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) for a range of inspections and tests under the ISO 17020 and 17025 accreditation standards respectively. MSS has also implemented the Joint Code of Practice for Research for its research activities.

In support of this commitment, MSS has appointed a Quality Manager, Data Manager and Technical Management team. The Quality Manager has overall responsibility for ensuring that scientific work carried out under the Quality System at MSS is conducted in compliance with international standards. The Technical Management team is responsible for ensuring that analysis and inspections performed under the MSS Quality System are carried out in compliance with the quality standards, and for identifying and implementing improvements. The Data Manager is responsible for ensuring that data policies are implemented across MSS.

Methods operating within the Quality System are fully documented and validated as fit for purpose. Staff undergo comprehensive training which is confirmed on an annual basis for key techniques, and major equipment is appropriately calibrated. All methods routinely analyse internal quality control samples to confirm their on-going suitability, and also participate in external quality assurance schemes where available. Methods and the wider Quality System are audited on a regular basis by the MSS internal auditor team, and UKAS assess the Quality System annually to re-confirm accreditation status against the ISO Standards. The scope of accreditation is regularly reviewed and methods are added or removed as required.

How are the Quality Assured Data used?

Marine Chemistry: MSS contributes advice, data and information to the UK Clean Seas Environment Monitoring Programme (CSEMP) under the auspices of Marine Assessment and Reporting Group (MARG). The Green Book is the interactive manual of the current CSEMP that provides details on the aims, objectives and operational information. There are three main analytical quality control sub-groups underpinning the work of the CSEMP:

Nutrient, contaminant and biological effects data collected for the CSEMP (and other monitoring programmes) are submitted annually (by 1st June) to the UK MERMAN database; this data is subsequently submitted to ICES (September of the same year). Data entering the MERMAN database must be of a specified quality. The quality of the data (nutrients, contaminant and effects) submitted to CSEMP is judged by means of a data filter. The data filter requires laboratories to demonstrate the use of appropriate internal and external Quality Control procedures to show that their data is fit for purpose. Data is excluded where QC performance does not meet the required standard.

Aquaculture: In order to monitor and maintain the high health status of wild and farmed crustacea, fish and shellfish, samples are analysed using diagnostic techniques including histopathological examination, molecular confirmatory methods such as qPCR and genome sequencing, parasitological identification and traditional microbiological assays. Typically samples are initially assessed using an accredited screening method, with follow-up tests used to confirm presence of disease. MSS is the Scottish National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for crustacean, fish and shellfish diseases and is represented at European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) meetings for aquatic diseases, providing input into the development of new and improved methodologies for sampling, testing and inspection.

Details of the scope of accreditation:

Joint Code of Practice for Research

The Joint Code of Practice for Research is endorsed by the main UK research funding bodies and sets out standards for the quality of science and research processes that research bodies should follow. Following the code ensures that the aims and approaches of the research are robust, and gives confidence that the processes used to gather and interpret the results of research are appropriate, rigorous, repeatable and auditable.

MSS has introduced a range of systems across the organisation to ensure that the requirements of the Code are met.