National standards body, the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), reports that the need for national standards has been highlighted during the outbreak of Covid-19 as the disruption of global supply chains has impacted the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE), related medical equipment and infrastructure to deal with the containment and management of the pandemic.
In the past few weeks, the SABS has transitioned to convening online technical committee meetings to ensure the important work of developing national standards continues with fewer interruptions.
“One of the priority projects that has emerged during the pandemic is to fast-track the development of an industry technical agreement (ITA) on fabric face masks, notes SABS standards executive Sadhvir Bissoon.
“It is important that the publication addresses minimum requirements and test methods for fabric type, reusable face masks,” he explains.
The SABS is mandated to develop, promote and maintain South African National Standards (SANS), which provide knowledge and support technical aspects of societal and environment policies and contribute to sustainable development.
It further serves as a vehicle for the dissemination of new technologies and innovative practices, facilitating trade while supporting industrialisation objectives.
Bissoon says that, given the lockdown measures in place, the SABS has had to review its operational model to ensure it continues to develop SANS and provide access to SANS during these unusual times. “The development of SANS is as a result of the voluntary participation and scientific input of various subject matter experts.”
He adds that the members of the SABS technical committees aspire to achieve consensus on the technical requirements to ensure that SANS are relevant and in the best interest of the country.
Further, the SABS states that standards do not exist in isolation and the need for conformity assessment, that is testing and certification, of products is equally important for quality assurance purposes.
“SANS can take anything from six to 24 months to be developed, depending on the complexity of the standard, stakeholder engagement process and achieving a consensus driven publication,” says Bissoon.
He says that standards are developed through an open, transparent and consensus process within technical committees and are subjected to a public enquiry process. In some cases draft standards are subjected to several rounds of public enquiry processes and SABS has the responsibility of ensuring that the comments are addressed where relevant.
“These are some of the factors that determine the length of time a standard takes to be developed,” he notes.
SABS currently has a collection of 7 400 SANS and continues to develop more standards.