Although a measurement from our past, since the Republic went metric in the early 1970’s, some of us still know about ‘feet and inches’; and, that there are 12 inches1 in a ‘foot’, and three feet in a ‘yard’. Well, it depends where you happen to be, for this measurement standard is – or has been – not so standard after all.

In 1628, crowds in Sweden watched in horror as a huge new warship, VASA, sank less than a mile into her maiden voyage. VASA was one of the most fearsome vessels in the world.2 As well as being richly decorated, she was armed to the brim with 64 bronze cannons – and dangerously top heavy as a result.3 But that wasn’t the problem.

Experts have since discovered that the ship is asymmetrical, being thicker on the port side than the starboard side, and that the workmen were using different systems of measurement. Indeed, archaeologists have found 4 rulers used by the workmen – two are calibrated in ‘Swedish feet’, which had 12 inches, and two are calibrated in ‘Amsterdam feet’, which had 11 inches.4 Brilliant.

Well, we are a bit more clever now.5 The Legal Metrology Act 20146 regulates all things concerning measuring in the Republic – whether it be weighing, distance, volume, and so on. The Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Trade and Industry, but the administration of the Act is attended to by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, and his staff.7 They work closely with the SABS – the South African Bureau of Standards.

The Act contains many prohibitions, but actually does not specify that many offences.

A. Type approval

Every type of measuring instrument is subject to ‘type approval’8 by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications. This means that the type of instrument complies with the Act, and is suitable for use in such a way that it can be expected to provide reliable measurement results over a certain period of time.9

  1. It is an offence to sell, or make available for use any new type of measuring instrument before the issue of a type approval certificate by the National Regulator.10

  2. If you alter any type of certified measuring instrument (either in the material of or mode in which it is made, or the principle according to which it was made, or its intended use) and then represent that it is the type that was certified, you commit a criminal offence.11

  3. It is a crime to represent that a measuring instrument may be used for a particular purpose or in a particular manner, for which it does not have the certificate of type approval.12

B. Verification officers

This is an employee of the National Regulator (or any designated verification body) appointed to verify13 measuring instruments of any particular kind in accordance with the Act.14

  1. A verification officer commits an offence if he fails to reject a measuring instrument which is found not to comply with the requirements of the Act; or he consents to the continued use of a measuring instrument that he rejected because it did not comply with the Act.15
  2. If he issues a document to the effect that a measuring instrument has been verified, but it has not been verified, he commits an offence.16

  3. It is an offence for a verification officer to use a verification mark for any purpose other than the intended purpose.17

  4. If a verification officer repairs and verifies a measuring instrument which he is not permitted to repair and verify, or repairs an instrument for which he is not registered to repair, he commits an offence.18

  5. A verification officer commits an offence if he falsely creates the impression that a measuring instrument is subject to verification by him.19

  6. It is also a crime to compel any owner or user of a measuring instrument to have it verified by him.20

C. Forbidden measuring instruments

  1. Any person who manufactures, or sells any false, defective or inaccurate measuring instrument commits a criminal offence.21

  2. Any person who manufactures, or sells any measuring instrument which does not comply with the requirements of any notice issued by the Minister concerning the International System of Units, or with the requirements of any legal metrology technical regulation22 commits a criminal offence.23

  3. It is an offence to use a measuring instrument which has not been verified unless you have the permission of the CEO of the National Regulator.24

  4. If you acquire a measuring instrument from someone who obtained the CEO’s permission you may use it, but you must have it verified before the permission expires. If you continue to use it after the expiry date, and it has not been verified, you commit an offence.25

D. Falsification

  1. It is a criminal offence to:
    • forge or counterfeit any stamp or die used for the verification of any measuring instrument;26
    • falsify or tamper with a measuring instrument;27 or
    • sell, or dispose of any measuring instrument which has been tampered with, or which has been falsified, or on which the verification mark has been defaced.28
  2. Except if you are a market surveillance inspector, a verification officer or a repairer, it is an offence to obliterate or remove from any measuring instrument any verification mark or any part thereof.29

  3. No one, except a verification officer, may place upon any measuring instrument a mark purporting to indicate that such measuring instrument has been verified. You commit an offence if you contravene this prohibition.30

E. Seller’s guarantees

You may not sell an unverified measuring instrument unless you have first obtained permission from the CEO of the National Regulator. He will only issue that permission if, amongst other things, you (or the supplier) furnishes a guarantee in accordance with the prescribed format and conditions. If that guarantee is furnished in respect of a measuring instrument which is not correct and verifiable in terms of the Act, you (or the supplier, if applicable) commit an offence.31

F. Repair of measuring instruments

  1. It is an offence to repair a measuring instrument if you are not registered with the National Regulator.32

  2. It is an offence to repair any measuring instrument unless you have, first, permanently obliterated any verification mark on the instrument.33

  3. The Minister can issue regulations which could prevent someone who repairs the measuring instrument from also verifying it. It is an offence to contravene any such restrictions.34

  4. The National Regulator can designate organisations, companies, etc. as a ‘repair body’ for the purposes of repairing measuring instruments in terms of the Act. It is an offence for such an organisation to repair a measuring instrument if it is not designated by the CEO as a repair body.35

  5. Any person who has repaired any measuring instrument shall (unless it is immediately thereafter verified) furnish the user or owner with a signed guarantee that such measuring instrument is correct and verifiable. It is an offence to fail to do this.36

  6. It is an offence to use any measuring instrument which has been repaired, unless it has immediately after repair been verified or it is covered by that signed guarantee.37

  7. It is also an offence to use a measuring instrument after the repairer’s signed guarantee has expired, unless the instrument has been verified before the expiry.38

G. Short Selling and measuring units

  1. Any person who, directly or indirectly, makes any false, incorrect, misleading or untrue declaration or statement as to the quantity or a measurement value of any item, in connection with its purchase, sale, counting or measurement, commits an offence.39

  2. The same applies to the computation of any charges for services rendered (or for any other measurement of a legal nature) on the basis of number or measurement.40

  3. It is a crime to express the quantity of any product for sale in a manner, or in terms of a measuring unit, not prescribed by regulation.41

  4. It is a criminal offence to advertise any measurable product or service otherwise than in terms of a manner or measuring unit prescribed for that product or service.42

H. Market surveillance inspectors

These are employees of the National Regulator (or any organ of state) who have certain qualifications and are appointed in general or for a specific purpose.43 As with most inspectors appointed in terms of statutes, they have far-reaching powers of entry, seizure, inspection, interrogation, stopping vehicles and so forth.

  1. It is an offence to hinder or obstruct any market surveillance inspector in the exercise of his powers.44
  2. If an inspector demands that you produce (or place at his disposal) any measuring instrument, product or other related evidence, including documentation, it is an offence if you fail to do so.45

  3. If you refuse to permit an inspector to open any products or instrument in order to inspect, examine, test or analyse them, you commit an offence.46

  4. It is an offence to fail to render any assistance to an inspector if requested.47

  5. You commit an offence if you falsely hold yourself out to be a market surveillance inspector.48

  6. If you are offering for sale any measuring instrument or product, or offer any services to which a legal metrology technical regulation applies, a market surveillance inspector can order you to stop doing so if what you offer is not in accordance with the applicable regulation. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with such an order.49

  7. Similarly, if the non-compliant measuring instrument, product or service is on your premises (or in your vehicle or possession) he can order you, or your agent or employee, to withdraw it from further use, or sale, or to take such other steps as he may deem necessary. It is an offence to fail to comply with such an order.50
  1. An inch being 2,54 cm. 

  2. Salvaged with a largely intact hull, in 1961, she is now one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions.Wikipedia – ‘Vasa (ship)’. 

  3. Ibid. 

  4. ‘Great Miscalculations: The French railway error and 10 others’. 

  5. Although perhaps not. In 1999 NASA lost the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft after a 286 day journey to the planet. It went 100 kilometres off course, and disappeared into the void, because the thrusters (which point a craft in space) had been fired incorrectly. This is because Lockheed Martin was performing the thruster data calculations, and sent them to NASA in Imperial units; but NASA’s navigation team was reading them as metric units -

  6. This Act replaced the Trade Metrology Act 1973 with effect from 1 August 2014. 

  7. The offices of the National Regulator are at SABS Campus, 1 Dr Lategan Road, Groenkloof, Pretoria (tel: 012 482 8700) and

  8. Unless it is exempted by regulation. 

  9. See the definition in section 1. 

  10. Section 23(1)(a). 

  11. Section 23(1)(b). 

  12. Section 23(2). 

  13. This means the procedure of examination and issuing of a verification certificate; and, if required, marking with a verification mark, that ascertains and confirms that the measuring instrument complies with a legal metrology technical regulation, and includes initial verification and subsequent verification. See the definition in section 1 of the Act. 

  14. See the definition in section 1 of the Act. 

  15. Section 26(1)a read with section 25(3)a. 

  16. Section 26(1)(b). 

  17. Section 26(1)(c). 

  18. Section 26(1)(e). 

  19. Section 26(1)f(i). 

  20. Section 26(1)f(ii). 

  21. Section 31(1). 

  22. This is a document which sets out product and measuring instrument characteristics (or their related processes and production methods), as well as applicable administrative provisions. The regulation must be complied with. 

  23. Section 31(2) read with section 29. 

  24. Section 31(3)b read with section 30(2). 

  25. Section 31(3)(c). 

  26. Section 26(2)(a). 

  27. Section 26(2)(b). 

  28. Section 26(2). 

  29. Section 26(2)(c). 

  30. Section 26(2)(d). 

  31. Section 31(3)(a) read with section 30(1)(b)ii. 

  32. Section 28(1)(a). 

  33. Section 28(1)(c) read with section 27(5)a. 

  34. Section 28(1)b read with section 27(2). 

  35. Section 28(2). 

  36. Section 28(1)(c) read with section 27(3)b. 

  37. Section 28(1)d. 

  38. Section 28(1)(e). 

  39. Section 33(1). 

  40. Section 33(1). 

  41. Section 34(6). 

  42. Section 35(3) read with section 35(1). 

  43. See Section 6 of the Act. 

  44. Section 21(a). 

  45. Section 21(b). 

  46. Section 21(d). 

  47. Section 21(e). 

  48. Section 21(f). 

  49. Section 21(c) read with section 20(2)c. 

  50. Section 21(c) read with section 20(2)d.