As the Middle East grows into a more evolved and a quality-conscious market, testing and certification of products and services to meet international standards and those specific to the unique regional demands become imperative. Jerome Sanchez speaks to John Bainbridge, General Manager, Al-Hoty Stanger Laboratories, about how the region has tried to measure up to these benchmarks.
How is the testing culture in the region?
The existing testing culture has developed in the UAE, spurred by the influx of qualified professionals, relative shortage of manufacturing industries, the requirement for imports to meet the demands of a burgeoning population and the vision of the country’s leaders. All these have supported the growing trading industry. These imports need to be monitored for quality and quantity and, therefore, the UAE government has laid stringent guidelines to control the same.
Secondly, the presence of multinationals, such as the Starwood group, Jumeirah group, Carrefour and Spinneys, bring their own culture/policies into this industry, which dictate that compliance monitoring be conducted for adherence to local and international guidelines. These reasons obviously aid us in spreading the “testing” message across.
Could you share with us the perception of the market towards testing? How are they receiving it?
Earlier, companies treated testing as an added expense, which was merely tolerated. But with the inception of ISO 9000, 14000, 22000 and HACCP Systems, along with the company’s own legal and social obligations, today, they accept testing as an important facet of their operations, aiding them as they strive to better the quality of services, products and workmanship they provide.
What is the value of testing for a company? And what impact can testing have in their products and operations?
The values are manifold, especially with regards to reputation and costs saved. This reminds me of the adage, ‘Penny wise, pound foolish’.
Take the recent example of major car manufacturers recalling a number of vehicles from the market due to quality issues. This translates into billions of dollars to the company, not to forget the dangers it poses to human life, as well as the loss of reputation.
When a client tests a product with an ISO 17025-accredited laboratory locally, the test certificate is valid in any part of the world governed by the ILAC/ISO regulations. In short, this puts us on par with international laboratories.
Does this region have unique testing conditions? Could you speak about those?
Yes, the heat, dust and the marine environment play a major role in the testing conditions, increasing operational costs, as we need to maintain our structures/laboratories in a reliable testing condition.
Another aspect of the prevailing climate is that these conditions also are detrimental to products, such as food. Therefore, to ascertain the condition of the consignment, the client needs to test the same.
What is the extent of testing in Saudi Arabia? How is the Saudi Arabian market receiving testing processes?
Saudi Arabian Standards Organisation (SASO) and the KSA ministries play a prominent role in laying standards for products. Therefore, their regulations aid us in increasing our testing presence.
AHSL is a Saudi-based laboratory since 1978, and caters to a wide range of disciplines there. In 2013 we have opened a new laboratory in Batha (KSA-UAE border) to aid in testing the quality of products passing through for cross-border import or export.
What progress has the testing industry made in the region?
Organisations, such as the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA), Emirates National Accreditation System (ENAS), Dubai Accreditation Committee (DAC), Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), Dubai Municipality (DM), Sharjah Municipality (SM) and Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB) monitor this environment, and have laid out regulations on par with developed countries. They collaborate with the World Food Programme (WFP), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and International Laboratories Accreditation Commission (ILAC) to put these regulations in place, and are continuously improving them.
In recent times ESMA, ENAS and DAC have signed membership agreements with ILAC, which grants them access to all the latest developments within the testing industry.