National standards during Covid-19

The need for national standards has been highlighted since the outbreak of Covid-19, as disruption of global supply chains has impacted the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE) and related medical gear. Practices dealing with the containment and management of this pandemic have also been placed under the spotlight.

According to Sadhvir Bissoon, standards executive at the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) – the national standards body mandated to develop, promote and maintain South African National Standards (SANS) – the SABS has had to review its operational model to ensure that it continues to develop national standards and provide access to these standards during the unusual times we are experiencing.

“The development of SANS is as a result of the voluntary participation and scientific input of various subject-matter experts,” Bissoon says. “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.”

In the past few weeks, SABS has transitioned to convening online technical committee meetings to ensure that the important work of developing national standards continues with minimal 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-type face masks. It is important that the publication addresses minimum requirements and test methods for fabric type, reusable face masks,” explains Bissoon.

Standards do not exist in isolation and the need for conformity assessment, which includes 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 processes and achieving a consensus driven publication,” Bissoon notes. “Standards are developed through an open, transparent and consensus process within technical committees and are subjected to a public enquiry process.”

He adds that 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 time it takes for a standard to be developed,” says Bissoon.

SABS currently has a collection of 7 400 SANS and continues to develop more standards. SANS are available for purchase via the SABS webstore.

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