The Covid-19 pandemic has posed many challenges for various sectors and activities, especially those that require physical presence and interaction. One of these activities is the accreditation of conformity assessment bodies (CABs), which are organizations that provide services such as testing, calibration, inspection, certification, and verification. Accreditation is the process of evaluating the competence and impartiality of CABs by an authoritative body, such as the National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (Inmetro) in Brazil.
Accreditation is essential for ensuring the quality and reliability of products and services, as well as facilitating trade and protecting consumers. However, accreditation usually involves on-site visits by evaluation teams, which have been restricted or suspended due to the pandemic. To overcome this obstacle, Inmetro has adopted remote evaluation as an alternative method to maintain the accreditation of CABs during and after the pandemic.
Remote evaluation is a technique that uses information and communication technologies (ICT) to assess the conformity of CABs from a distance. Remote evaluation can include document review, interviews, witness audits, and virtual tours. Remote evaluation is not a new concept, as it is already foreseen in the international accreditation standards and in the Inmetro Quality Manual. However, the pandemic has accelerated its implementation and increased its scope and frequency.
According to Inmetro, remote evaluation has proven to be a satisfactory tool when on-site visits are not feasible. Remote evaluation can improve the efficiency of the accreditation process, reduce the time and costs involved, and avoid the exposure of the evaluation teams to risk areas. Remote evaluation can also allow access to a larger number of locations and increase the frequency of monitoring and surveillance activities.
However, remote evaluation also has some limitations and challenges, such as the availability and quality of ICT infrastructure, the security and confidentiality of data and information, the competence and training of the evaluation teams, and the acceptance and trust of the stakeholders. Therefore, Inmetro emphasizes that the decision to use remote evaluation must always be based on a prior risk analysis of the processes, the CABs, and the nature of the evaluation.
Inmetro clarifies that remote evaluation will continue to be used even after the pandemic, as it has become a permanent feature of the accreditation system. Remote evaluation will not replace on-site visits entirely, but rather complement them in a balanced and flexible way. Inmetro believes that remote evaluation will contribute to the continuous improvement and innovation of the accreditation process, as well as to the development and competitiveness of the Brazilian conformity assessment sector.