The daily exposure to Ni from food, industrial processes, jewellery and coins makes the determination of Ni in human serum an important way to monitor the health status in non-occupationally exposed subjects. To this end, a method based on sector-field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry was developed and validated. The limits of detection (LoD) and quantification (LoQ), sensitivity, linearity range, trueness, repeatability, within-laboratory reproducibility and robustness were the considered issues of the validation process. The uncertainty associated with the measurements was also calculated, according to the Eurachem/Citac Guide. The method LoD and LoQ were 0.03 and 0.09 ng mL−1, linearity was over two order of magnitude, trueness was −3.57%, and the repeatability and reproducibility showed relative standard deviations equal to 4.56% and 6.52%, respectively. The relative expanded uncertainty was 21.8% at the Ni levels found in the general population. The tentative reference value for serum Ni was 0.466 ± 0.160 ng mL−1 with a related interval between 0.226 and 1.026 ng mL−1. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.