Spare a thought for those trying to find their way around learning the English language. The word ‘standard’ has almost a dozen different meanings:1

  • a level of quality or attainment, a grade of proficiency;
  • something used as a measure or norm in comparative valuations;
  • a principle of honest decent behaviour;
  • the prescribed weight of fine metal in gold or silver coins;
  • a measure for timber, equivalent to 4.67 cubic metres;
  • a tune of established popularity, particularly in jazz;
  • a military or ceremonial flag;
  • a tree that grows on an erect stem of full height;
  • an upright water or gas pipe;
  • something used or accepted as normal, average;
  • something, usually a writer’s work, viewed as authoritative.

And then we get a standard lamp, standard time, standard of living, standardbred, and whatever else. Including the Standards Act 2008, which has very little to do with most of these things and descriptions.

The Act, which falls under the authority of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, establishes the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), whose mandate is to be the ‘national institution for the development, promotion and maintenance of standardisation and quality related to commodities and the rendering of related conformity assessment services’.2

The SABS is based in Pretoria. It provides standards that enhance the competitiveness of South Africa, and which are the basis for consumer protection, health, safety and environmental issues. With more than 50 years of experience in the development of national standards (SANS), and the maximisation of benefits of the internationalisation of standards, the Bureau has more than 450 technical committees and subcommittees. Approximately 6 500 standards are maintained by the Standards Division, and new standards are developed at a rate of approximately 500 a year.3

Reference material

What happens is that products/commodities seeking certification or compliance, are measured against ‘reference material’. This is a generic term, internationally applied, meaning ‘material, sufficiently homogeneous and stable with respect to one or more specified properties, which has been established to be fit for its intended use in a measurement process.’4

  1. It is a criminal offence falsely to represent any material or substance to be reference material supplied by the SABS.5
  1. See the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 

  2. – ‘SABS’. 

  3. – ‘Standards-Overview’. 

  4. See – ‘Terms and Definitions’. ISO is the International Organisation for Standardization, a worldwide federation of national standards bodies (such as the SABS). 

  5. Section 32(1).