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 August 2005 ASTM Standards Around the World
Christopher M. Meyer is the standards communicator of the South African Bureau of Standards. In his role at the SABS, he is responsible for ensuring that information on newly published standards reaches the right public.
Memorandums of Understanding

ASTM International has signed 39 memorandums of understanding with the national standards bodies of developing nations around the world. The purpose of the program is to promote communication between ASTM International signatory NSBs, promote knowledge of each other’s standards development activities, facilitate greater worldwide participation in the ASTM standards development process, and facilitate the development of national standards that will aid each country’s health, safety, environmental and economic conditions.

The Use of ASTM Standards in South Africa

This piece begins a series of articles on the use of ASTM International standards by the countries with whom it has signed memorandums of understanding.

As a former British colony occupying the southernmost tip of Africa, South Africa has, for historical reasons, been far closer commercially to the United Kingdom and Europe than to the United States.

The beginning of large-scale standardization in South Africa grew out of the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand at the turn of the century. As mining began, so did the need to import a wide range of diverse machinery from around the world. Mine managers soon realized that they had to standardize their purchases and specify requirements in order to bring together and use equipment from different sources.

One of the first attempts to formalize standardization occurred in 1905, when the Transvaal Chamber of Mines appointed a committee to investigate problems in connection with the standardization of machinery and other mine equipment. This committee failed, largely due to a lack of scientific and technical backup. In short, there were no facilities to undertake the necessary tests and no reliable, standardized test methods.

A similar problem surfaced again in 1909, when a committee was established to test engineering and building materials and to adapt British materials specifications for local conditions. The work of this committee, the Committee for the Standardization of Specifications for SA Materials, soon ground to a halt during its first project, the standardization of building bricks. Because the government of the day would not allow its equipment, the only equipment available at the time, to be used on the thousands of bricks that had been prepared for testing, the project had to be abandoned.

Subsequently, various local initiatives in standardization emerged, including:

• The formation of an Engineering Standards Committee in 1910;
• The South African branch of the British Engineering Standards Association, formed in 1918 and renamed the South African branch of the British Standards Institution in 1931; and
• The establishment of the South African Standards Institution in 1934.

The South African Bureau of Standards, or SABS, founded officially on Sept. 1, 1945, was modeled on the British Standards Institution’s “one-stop shop,” whereby testing, certification and the writing of standards were integrated into one national organization. Only in 2002 was there a formal separation of the commercial and non-commercial components of the SABS, a move that led to the establishment of Standards South Africa as the standards-generating arm of the SABS.

Thus, although Standards South Africa (abbreviated to StanSA) technically only dates from 2002, it has more than 50 years of experience in its core function, namely, the development of national standards and subsequent internationalization of standards, which will enhance the competitiveness of South African industry and improve international trade.

As a founding member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1947, the SABS also has more than 50 years of experience in working with international standards bodies and their technical committees, a vital function in ensuring that international standards appropriate to national needs can be adopted as smoothly as possible. Several project leaders at StanSA also sit on the ISO or International Electrotechnical Commission technical committees responsible for drafting international standards. The SABS also has an excellent working relationship with the IEC, since the SABS’ former director, Clif Johnston, was also a former vice president of the IEC. Links between South Africa and the IEC actually go back to that organization’s first council meeting, held in London, England, on Oct. 19, 1908, where South Africa was a founding member and one Lee Murray represented South Africa.

International Standards

Standards are needed for trade, and, as South Africa is returning to its rightful place in the world economy, it becomes evident that standards aligned with international standards and best practices must be incorporated into our standards.

While most international standards adopted by South Africa are from ISO or the IEC (or, to a lesser extent, those of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and Codex Alimentarius), internationally used test methods are becoming increasingly important.
For this reason, SABS signed a memorandum of understanding with ASTM International on May 29, 2003, to strengthen the relationship between the two organizations.

ASTM Standards

The signing of the MOU has facilitated the increasing use of ASTM standards by South African industry. There is a growing recognition in South African industry that certain ASTM standards provide a leading edge in many current technologies. And, in many cases, ASTM test methods are the required and only available ones for a particular technology.

For example, at a meeting of a StanSA committee responsible for water test methods, it was decided to adopt several ASTM standards, as they best suited the needs of the South African water industry. This means that StanSA merely puts national front pages onto the ASTM method and uses the method “as-is.”

In another example, a recently published standard on geomembranes (SANS 10409, The Design, Selection and Installation of Geomembranes) makes extensive reference to ASTM tests for geomembranes.

In some other industries, such as the paint industry, ASTM methods are still widely used even though they do not have “national standard” status.

While most of the standards sold by the SABS are product or system standards (the latter being, for example, those required to implement management systems like the ISO 9000 or 14000 series), the tendency for South African industries to use ASTM standards can be expected to grow, as the South African economy increasingly becomes a global player. This is borne out by recent statistics, where more than 800 South African national standards contained cross-references to ASTM standards. //

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