A matter of public health

26 Nov 2019

Our work with leading multinational certifier SGS to deliver the best technique for hexavalent chromium analysis

New markets are often accompanied by new developments. But it is unique for competing laboratories to work together to realise a harmonised measurement technique. Encouraged by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, RPS in the Netherlands and leading multinational verifier and certifier Standard Global Services  (SGS) cast aside any hesitancy and decided to share the secrets behind their analysis techniques for hexavalent chromium (Cr (VI)) with one another. Frank Vrolijks (General Director at RPS) and Udo Waltman (Director of SGS Search) explain why they decided to suddenly put all their cards on the table: it is a matter of public health.

RPS and SGS_Frank Vrolijks MD at RPS in NL and Udo Waltman Dir of SGS Search in NL.jpg

Frank Vrolijks (l), Managing Director at RPS in the Netherlands and Udo Waltman (r), Director of SGS Search in the Netherlands.

"The hexavalent chromium case is very difficult. We must all play our part. This requires time, but time is actually at a premium. Our market involves handling dangerous substances, so quality becomes an additional factor in everything we do. Over the past year, we noticed that margins for error are still too high during analyses. As laboratories, we believe this must be addressed. And when it comes to public health, we must dare to play a leading role together with like-minded parties" explains Udo Waltman.

No time to lose

That is why the laboratories spent the past year doing something that is certainly unusual within this domain: they shared the secrets of their in-house analysis techniques with each other. "Hexavalent chromium is a serious problem and is high on the political agenda" says Frank Vrolijks "There is no time now for long discussions about which approach is the best and why. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management challenged us to work together. What was the message? Realise an accepted approach which has wide-spread support and guarantees the best results. If possible, also make sure the method is certified."

This request served as a catalyst.
"Instead of competing with each other and seeing our own methods as the Holy Grail, we spent time together and examined all the possibilities" says Udo Waltman. This took some getting used to. "Our work is highly specialised. And a lot of time, research and money have been invested in developing measurement techniques. Of course, we have a natural reflex to protect our findings" he adds.

The best of both worlds

However, there appeared to be great mutual trust as the process advanced. This increased willingness to work quickly in order to create a harmonised measurement technique for the Dutch market. "It is an extremely interesting process. We are selecting the very best components of our measurement methodologies in order to realise a joint approach. This means using all our experience and all our trials and errors" Frank Vrolijks explains "Because hexavalent chromium is so complex and unpredictable, we think we will make more progress by working together than by working alone."

Certified measurement methodology

The aim is to have the harmonised measurement technique certified and to launch it as soon as possible. However, the laboratories are not willing to set a specific date for this release. "Moreover, we do not want to claim the exclusive right to develop this harmonised measurement method. This is certainly not a closed shop. But it clearly involves very specialised work, where we are using all our knowledge and experience about chemicals, coatings and interferences to realise a jointly coordinated norm that can be embraced by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management" says Udo Waltman, as he also invites other innovative laboratories to participate.

Renewed competition

A couple of years ago, neither laboratory could have envisaged sharing its secrets so openly. "This actually involves knowledge that defines our competitive position" states Frank Vrolijks "And no matter how interesting the process is, once the methodology has been realised, we will each go our own way and start competing once again. After all, our companies have a duty to pursue profits. But we are looking at the bigger picture for now: public health. It will be reassuring to know that such a widely accepted protocol is available, so laboratories can all realise uniform findings in complex situations involving hexavalent chromium. This will eliminate uncertainty from the hexavalent chromium market."

‘Quality must always come first’
Help to settle concerns about hexavalent chromium

Jan Kegelaer, Operational Director at RPS, emphasises how exceptional the partnership is:

“Hexavalent chromium is a major public issue and requires a benchmark. Analysis methods and norms are generally imposed by law. But this has not yet taken place, so we have now decided to play a leading role.

“If I’m honest, I am scared about sharing our analysis techniques because it goes against all my instincts. After all, this RPS method has been certified for the past twenty years. However, we have decided to work together nonetheless because there is need for quality. Because we believe random companies should not be given the opportunity to approach clients with analysis techniques that we know to be ineffective.

“By working together to create the most reliable method, we can help to settle some of the concerns about hexavalent chromium. Once the norm arrives, it will immediately become clear which methods are suitable and which are not. This is the best way to make sure that people are not unnecessarily exposed to hexavalent chromium.”

RPS and SGS_Jan Kegelaer OD of the RPS laboratories in the Netherlands.jpg

Jan Kegelaer, Operational Director of the RPS laboratories in the Netherlands.

More information

RPS has a long track record and has gained extensive expertise. Our experts use specialised measurements to assess the magnitude of risks and offer advice about appropriate (source) measures. Like to know more? Check out the services page about workplace exposure analysis.

Contact: Frank Vrolijks

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