Not even a pandemic can keep me from writing about World Metrology Day! The theme for 2020 is Measurements for Global Trade. There are multiple global trade agreements which are underpinned by good measurements. We’ve seen how important measurements are in ensuring products are fit for purpose, protecting healthcare workers and the general population from the ‘invisible enemy’ of COVID 19.
Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented article, starring COVID-19 and looking at some of the measurements supporting our global efforts to manage our lives right now.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Many mass-produced items including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are manufactured in one economy and sold to another. You might have read about some PPE which was sold to the UK NHS from Turkey. Of 67,000 gowns provided to the UK, 2,400 failed quality checks and were rejected for use in the NHS system. In Australia, there have been media reports concerning the rejection of face masks.
PPE is tested using national or international standards to confirm compliance against specifications. These include viral penetration, spray impact and tensile tests.
During the ‘toilet paper wars’ (was that really only a month ago??) we were urged to wash and sanitise our hands. As a result, there was a growing shortage of hand sanitiser.
There are two main types of hand sanitisers: alcohol-based and alcohol-free. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers contain varying amounts of alcohol, often between 60% and 95%, and usually include isopropyl alcohol, ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or n-propanol. Hand sanitisers with less than 60% alcohol have been found to be less effective at as an anti-microbial agent. These may only reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them outright so you want to be sure you have the right amount of alcohol!
You can test the strength (proof) of alcohol by simple techniques, such as using hydrometers or near-infrared spectrometers. These measurements are important for hand sanitisers and vital for trade purposes, as many jurisdictions apply taxes based on the alcohol proof in beverages.
Interestingly, with 70% of Australian households reporting that their alcohol consumption has increased since the COVID-19 outbreak, there’s clearly a lot more alcohol being tested!
You might have heard that, for a time, Australia was running short on COVID-19 test kits, reagents and swabs. I almost choked on my cup of tea when I heard Minister Richard Colebeck deliver the grim news on Q&A that we were “running out of chemicals for testing” (for COVID-19). How could an advanced economy like Australia not have enough chemical manufacturers at times like these?
Well, the chemicals he was referring to were primers, which are special materials used in the PCR testing process. PCR was, and still is, the primary technique used for identification of the virus. The fact is many components of test kits and materials in health laboratories come from overseas.
We rely on very high-quality materials that have been tested to enable Australian laboratories to perform our tests and provide reliable and accurate results. Without measurements at the supplier end, trade in these materials could not occur because of the regulations for importation of medical devices such as test kits.
Equally concerning are reports that $19 million spent on ‘meaningless’ Australian coronavirus antibody tests. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has now announced a review of the kits and called on all 29 suppliers to ‘verify their ability to detect antibodies to COVID-19, taking into consideration the time frames for an individual to develop detectable levels of antibody’. Fortunately, the kits are not in general community circulation. You can read updates on the TGA website.
Measurements to ensure these things get to us safely
Of course, the imported PPE and test kits don’t swim here from overseas; they are transported on ships and airplanes (yes, they’re still up there!), then locally distributed by freight vehicles.
The fuel used in those vehicles are all tested by chemical and microbiological testing laboratories to ensure that the required standards for these materials are met.
The mechanical components are maintained using lubricant materials, and companies such as the recently accredited laboratory at Techenomics, provide analytical capabilities to ensure things run smoothly in the engines. This is a vital system which ensures transportation is unhindered because of the quality of energy used by these modes of transport and the maintenance of the engines.
Not only are measurements vital for global trade, they’re essential in underpinning our health and safety in the face of a pandemic.
At MAS Management Systems, we have many clients whose role in measurements support global trade ranging from consumer goods, medical devices, lighting, agricultural commodities and pesticides.
Are you in a lab making measurements for trade purposes? Drop us a line and share your story!