SA Bureau of Standards: briefing

Science and Technology

23 August 2005
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Meeting report


23 August 2005

E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
SA Bureau of Standards briefing

The SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) presented the context in which it operated. Their core activities were standards, regulation, and running the Design Institute. Of the 5 000 standards, 70 were compulsory, and these standards were regulated by SABS. The SABS’ 2005 commercial revenue was R330 million and their budget for 2004/05 constituted R107 million. They also outlined their Workplace Programme for HIV/AIDS, aimed at providing a support programme to manage HIV/AIDS in the workplace.

The Committee discussed issues such as the standard of imported goods and international standards, non-compulsory standards and whether the SABS’ mandate should be broadened. Other topics of discussion included their recruitment and management’s demographic composition, the duplication of research and development and the SABS’ contribution to Small- and Medium-Enterprises.

Dr Zen Fourie (SABS Divisional Director: Research and Development) gave the briefing on behalf of the CEO. He sketched the context in which the SABS was operating. They reported to the Department of Trade and Industry, who also guided their policy and defined their goals. The Standards Act provided their mandate. They also had a defined commercial interest. The SABS’ core activities were standards, regulation, and running the Design Institute.

Their key priorities included:
- sustaining growth of the SABS;
– ensuring efficient, transparent and fair regulatory services;
– improving service delivery;
- improving market access and exports as the facilitators and emissaries of trade; and
- supporting national and regional imperatives, such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

The SABS’ research and development division focussed on the development of new standards for product quality and safety, updating and amending existing standards and standardising test methodologies. Several research and development projects were in progress.

Standards were being developed to promote the interests of industry and consumers, and to harmonise national standards with international standards. Standards South Africa, the part of the SABS that dealt with standards, had written 885 standards in 2004/05 and maintained over 5 000 standards.

Under the Standards Act, any part of a standard could be declared compulsory, in which case the SABS would act as regulator. There were more than 70 compulsory specifications, for among others, the electro-technical, food (particularly fish) and automotive industries. The SABS consumer protection covered health and safety, accurate measurement, short measurement, the environment and quality assurance.

The SABS’ Design Institute promoted South African design and was involved in strategies regarding a National Design Policy. The SABS’ commercial arm was involved in testing, certification and training. The SABS’ 2005 commercial revenue was R330 million, indicating a 6% growth from the 2004 figure of R312 million. Profit from operations had decreased by 22% from R24 million in 2004, to R19 million in 2005.

The SABS’ budget for 2004/05 was R107 million, with R49 million going to Standards and R34 million going to the Regulatory section. Of the SABS’ 1 189 employees in 2005, 58% were black people, compared to the previous year’s figure of 56%, and 42% were female, similar to 2004.

Dr Fourie also outlined their Workplace Programme for HIV/AIDS. This research programme provided a support programme to manage HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Any company following this programme should have a monitoring system in place, providing for management feedback and produce an Annual Report.

The steps of the programme included:
1) commitment from top management
2) establishing a workplace HIV Committee to devise a policy
3) implementing these policies
4) risk analysis
5) strategic planning and assessing legal requirements
6) a prevention programme
7) a treatment programme
8) an outreach programme
9) creating awareness and education through training
10) medical intervention

The Chairperson requested copies of the Workplace Programme for HIV/AIDS for the Committee.

Mr J Blanché (DA) said goods were coming onto South African markets that were not meeting South African standards, and consumers would suffer. Different types of cellphone chargers were used for different trademarks. He asked if the SABS were looking into such matters.

Dr Fourie replied that it was not within the mandate of the SABS to enforce all 5 000 standards; they only enforced the 70 mandatory standards. Market forces would dictate, unless the standards were compulsory. Cell phones were outside their mandate. Consortiums were driving for a new standard. It was thus left to market forces, but Dr Fourie admitted that it was a huge frustration. Mr Blanché said that the consumer would only realise the difference in standards after purchase. The SABS might need a new mandate. Dr Fourie said consumer unions were powerful.

Mr R Ainslie (ANC) asked how often, and in what manner, the SABS reported to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Dr Fourie said reporting to the DTI happened quarterly in the form of formal reports and a high-level discussion group.

Mr Ainslie asked how duplication was avoided in research and development. Dr Fourie said they had a very small research component. Their research was unique and totally focused on standards. They would have a feasibility study and then stakeholders, who were doing the research, would be brought in. Almost all their research was outsourced.

Referring to their human resource development, Mr Ainslie asked who they had trained. Dr Fourie answered that formal training was provided to the industry. Industries would send their people to the SABS for training. It was a major source of income for the SABS.

Mr Ainslie asked if the SABS had a problem recruiting senior staff. Dr Fourie said they had some difficulty. The technical people employed came mainly from the industry. These people were hard to get, and came at a price. Dr Fourie assured the Committee that they had good people.

Mr Ainslie wanted know how SABS standards applied to imports and to what food, other than fish, they were applying standards. Dr Fourie said they inspected all fish coming into South Africa. They also checked overseas factories for compliance with South African standards, which were often more strict that those of other countries. Other food was the responsibility of the Departments of Agriculture and Health, who had an overarching body dealing with food.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) enquired about the SABS’ checks. He asked how regularly they made checks, if they had sufficient people and if they made random checks. Dr Fourie said they did not check all 5 000 standards, only the compulsory ones. They had several methods of testing. Sometimes entry into premises was difficult, but they had a legal mandate and the support of the police. Their best allies were competitors in the industries. Complaints from the public also provided valuable feedback.

A Member asked what the SABS was doing for Small and Medium Enterprises. Dr Fourie replied that they supported Small and Medium Enterprises by sponsoring 50% of the cash required for quality management systems. They were also involved in the advancement of Black Economic Empowerment.

Professor I Mohamed (ANC) asked if the SABS was a member of one of the Science Councils. Dr Fourie was unsure if the SABS was still a Science Council. Their regulatory arm would move out of the SABS to the Department of Trade and Industry, who was also funding the SABS, and not the Science Vote.

Professor Mohamed asked if the SABS and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had gone to court due to the lack of seperation between commercial and non-commercial activities. Dr Fourie said their respective roles and responsibilities were now clearly demarcated. The court case had resulted in the restructuring of the SABS and the ringfencing of funds.

Regarding the importation of vehicles, Professor Mohamed asked if vehicles with coloured lights were stopped and if the drivers were charged. Dr Fourie replied that the bluish coloured lights were allowed.

Professor Mohamed referred to a briefing by the Department of Trade and Industry, and asked if all cans were standardised. He also wanted to know if all the cans that came into South Africa were standardised. Dr Fourie replied that the canning industry fell outside their mandate, except where fish was concerned. They made sure all fish cans complied with the compulsory standards.

Professor Mohamed wanted to know the meaning of the writing on products "this conforms to ISO", followed by a number. He knew ‘ISO’ referred to the International Standards Organisation. Dr Fourie said the only way to ascertain if the standard was dated would be to contact the SABS. They also had a problem with the SABS marks on packaging, when people thought the mark referred to the product, while it only referred to the packaging.

Professor Mohamed thought that crash simulations should also be done at 100 km/h, and not only at 50 km/h. Dr Fourie said crash tests were only done to test specific standards, not to improve the safety of the vehicle. Safety tests were done overseas.

Mr B Mnyandu (DA) asked if employee figures included the executive. Dr Fourie said they had eight top managers: four whites, four blacks and four females. Senior management was made up of 16 whites, and eight blacks, of which six were female.

The Chairperson asked how standards were benchmarked internationally. He also asked how new products with no comparable standards were tested. Dr Fourie said most standards, about 95%, came from the International Standards Organisation (ISO). Some standards, such as that for HIV, were home grown. In those instances they followed the procedures of the ISO.

The Chairperson said he had worked for an aluminium manufacturer after he left school. They manufactured bomb fins and were tested by the SABS on a monthly basis. Dr Fourie said that this must have been in the previous era. The regularity of the inspections suggested that it was a special focus group.

The Chairperson asked what the statistic "revenue per employee" meant. Dr Fourie said it was a measurement with which they tried to reach a certain amount of revenue per employee. Dr Fourie did not know the benchmark. It was an internal benchmark the SABS was striving to meet.

The Chairperson said that they had an interesting HIV strategy. He asked if this had been advised by the Department of Health. Dr Fourie said that the Departments of Health and Labour were unfortunately not supporting the project. It was a critical situation. The problem was that people in the departments would regularly change portfolio, and they did not understand how the standards worked. It was a management standard.

The Chairperson said non-compulsory standards did not make sense. Mr Blanché said in 1972, North American countries had instituted compulsory standards for the power consumption of appliances. Appliances were coming into South Africa that resulted in power stations having to be upgraded constantly. The SABS had to look at this, as it cost the country and consumers. Compulsory standards had to be readdressed. Dr Fourie said non-compulsory standards were in the marketplace for industries to use to improve the quality of their products. Consumers could insist on SABS approved products. Where health and safety concerns arose, the issue became critical. Consumers should decide. Dr Fourie said energy consumption was the domain of the Department of Minerals and Energy. They would identify which limits had to be set. The SABS would play a part in determining the standards, which the Department of Minerals and Energy would enforce. Minimum compulsory standards were under the SABS’ control. Dr Fourie said standards had to be reviewed, but they should not over regulate.

The Chairperson said small divisions had been created in the Department of Trade and Industry for innovation. Dr Fourie said their Design Institute played a significant role in the SABS, but they did not fit into their value chain. It was not only for the SABS to decide its future, but also the Department of Trade and Industry, who were investigating the issue.

Mr Ainslie asked if standards ensured that what was labelled, as tuna for example, was actually tuna. Dr Fourie said when a product was labelled as tuna, by specification it had to be tuna; it could not be substituted. To determine if it was tuna, DNA testing would have to be done. If queried, they would go to the plant and investigate.

The Chairperson enquired about the identification of Sudan Red. Dr Fourie said it was within the Department of Health’s mandate.

The Chairperson said that there had been a public outcry that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) products should be labelled. Dr Fourie agreed there was a need for labelling these products. It was agricultural produce and was therefore under the mandate of the Department of Agriculture.

The meeting was adjourned.


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