Expensive testing

Laboratories of state inspectorates responsible for official food control and environmental protection were not used properly. They operated on their own, for the benefit of individual inspectorates, although the scope of their tasks partly overlapped. The degree to which expensive measuring devices were used for tests varied greatly in different facilities. In some labs the devices were exploited significantly and hence the failure frequency was much higher in their case. The auditees’ equipment was partly worn out which limited their capacity for development. Low salaries of laboratory technicians had adverse impact on the staff turnover and resulted in the need to reorganise testing. Besides, the already purchased, expensive measuring devices were not used for a long time.

In each province in Poland there are many laboratories in place funded from the state budget. They operate as part of various institutions and inspectorates. The NIK audits to date have highlighted issues related to the operation of laboratories. They revealed long testing time as well as insufficient funding which made the inspectorates’ activities potentially ineffective.

Key audit findings

Laboratory networks operated independently within the structures of individual inspectorates. The scope of their activity, related to the inspectorates’ tasks, partly overlapped and statutory rights to perform some of those tasks were transferred between individual inspectorates. The laboratories of individual inspectorates made tests – each within the scope of their statutory rights – of the same testing sample, sometimes also within the same scope and using the same methodology.

Some expensive measuring devices were used ineffectively:  

  • no tests were made by their means,
  • testing load was relatively low – only a few or a dozen tests were made using a given device;
  • in two audited laboratories, significant testing load of expensive measuring devices was revealed, which resulted in higher failure frequency (repair costs, lack of spare parts).

Regardless of the scale of tests made in a given scope, the auditees incurred fixed costs of laboratories’ functioning, also related to the maintenance of measuring devices (accreditations,  costs of metrological supervision).

Equipment used by the auditees’ laboratories was sufficient for the inspectorates to perform their day-to-day tasks. However, it was partly worn out which limited the labs’ capacity to introduce new testing methods or shorten the testing time. Low salaries of laboratory technicians had adverse impact on the staff turnover. As a result:

  • the accreditation scopes were limited or temporarily suspended and tests had to be handed over to other laboratories;
  • the already purchased, expensive measuring devices were not used for a long time (2-6 years) in laboratories operating as part of one inspectorate.

Although the spending on laboratories was a big burden for the auditees’ budgets, in most cases the maintenance costs of expensive measuring devices or single test costs were not analysed. Besides, the spending on laboratory activity was not planned separately.

In the audited period 2019-2021 (1st half), provincial laboratories were centralised. The  laboratory base of three inspectorates was subject to restructuring. The centralisation of laboratories aimed – as part of a given inspectorate – to boost flexibility and enable test specialisation independent of the region, especially in case of cost-consuming tests which required high analytical skills. It was stressed that the maintenance of specialised laboratories by one inspectorate for the needs of a single province is irrational.

Recommendation

In view of its findings, NIK recommends that the President of the Council of Ministers should take legislative measures aimed to implement the system of regional laboratories (outside the structures of inspectorates), specialised in food safety and environmental protection, performing tests for the needs of various inspectorates, to ensure more effective use of funds from the state budget.

 

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Date of creation:
18 March 2022 15:37
Date of publication:
18 March 2022 15:37
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
18 March 2022 15:37
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
Laboratory technicians at work, testing samples © Adobe Stock

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