The importance of standards
In the first of a series of insights provided by the Southern African Society for Quality (SASQ), SASQ Laboratory Forum chairman Dr. Geoff Visser outlines the importance of standards.
Standards are almost everywhere. In a 1999 study of standards and technical regulations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it was estimated that 80 percent of all goods traded globally were described and affected by standards and technical regulations. Standards therefore cover nearly all products or services that are delivered today and have significant impact on how products are designed, developed, assembled and introduced.
Standards describe products and services that are intrinsically safe and fit for purpose. To achieve this, standards cannot be developed in isolation. They require the participation and contribution of people representing the interests of all significant parties who will be affected by the standard when it is completed.
The true benefits of a standard are often only realised once it’s been implemented and someone claims that one or more of the requirements of the standard are met – often verified by testing. This conformity can form the basis of regulations or of contracts between parties.
Advantages of standards
Standards give the marketplace several advantages, including:
• Providing common terminology, symbols and measurement units to allow for communication;
• Standardising test methods, reporting units and acceptance criteria to facilitate comparisons and to make claims of conformity regarding the product in the marketplace;
• Providing the parameters and frameworks that allow for interoperability; and
• Providing the basis for acceptable safety levels and fitness-for-purpose performance criteria.
Through this, standards enhance the possibility of better communication; simplification; economies and cost saving; interoperability; safety, health and the protection of life; consumer protection; and reducing barriers to trade.
National and international standards
South Africa is part of the global community, and we need to be aware of developments in other countries – especially those with which we trade. In order to reduce barriers to trade, we often endeavour to align our standards and our work with international standards. As a member of both the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) participates in several international technical committees, often taking the lead in projects that are important to the local industry and stakeholders. The international standards-setting process also provides a forum for the exchange of information and trends, providing useful information to the South African community, thereby providing possible insight to allow us to proactively respond to changes in different markets.
From standards which describe terminologies, symbols and units of measurement through to those that describe codes of good practice, South African national standards and the process of participating in their development are an important part of the application of science and technology.
The resource offered by standards enables innovators to demonstrate that products or components meet specified requirements, and allows their claims to be independently verified. It is through this that efficiencies and quality can be achieved, which ultimately leads to better profitability and growth.