The development of voluntary national standards in South Africa is carried out by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) the official National Standards Body (NSB), which is authorized to do so in terms of the Standards Act (Act 8 of 2008).

This is the third revision of the Standards Act and this revision was done to separate the standards development and conformity assessment functions carried out by the SABS from its regulatory functions which is now covered by Act No. 5 of 2008: National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications Act, 2008 and conducted by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS).

In terms of South African legal practice, reference to standards in national legislation can declare the voluntary standards as compulsory standards, after this status change the standards are deemed to be readily available to all who might have a need to consult these standards. The development of two types of “Compulsory Specifications” (below discussed in greater clarity) are used by the South African regulators, the one being a front end specification referring to South African and / or adopted International standards the other, where the specification reflects all the relevant requirements without any reference to any other document or standard.

In this Internet age specifications are readily available on the Regulators websites. The supporting standards have however to be consulted or purchased via the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). Any legislator in South Africa has the right to incorporate any national standard into legislation under whatever terms and conditions it chooses. Normally the legislator concerned will consult the SABS regarding the implications, and will regulate using standards only in terms of the need to ensure compliance with standards at the point of use of a commodity (for example, in the mining industry it is important to ensure that miners’ head lamps always conform to relevant requirements when in use — not merely when they are purchased new). In some cases, however, where safety, market failures, unfair trade practices, etc. need to be prevented, it is necessary to regulate using standards, at the point of sale (for example, all automotive brake fluid sold in the country is required to conform to relevant standards at all points of sale, including at points of importation, wholesale and retail distribution. This type of regulation is normally the prerogative of the national Department of Trade and Industry, and is achieved through the means of “Compulsory specifications” referred to in Technical Regulation at national, provincial or even at lower levels.

ISO Member Body

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) is the ISO Member body in South Africa.

Regulation typical forms

A Regulation typically takes one of three forms:

  1. Full publication of all technical requirements, including administrative provisions, conformity assessment or deemed-to-satisfy requirements, in legislation per se. Often this type of regulation will exclude any reference to standards, although for practical reasons the “full publication” route is not used very widely. Modern regulatory good practice, as endorsed by government policies, would favour making use of reference to national standards, where they exist, over the full publication method, but examples of the latter still exist.
  2. Reference to national standards under relevant legislation (national or lower level). In this method, a legislator is free to choose under what conditions of use it wishes to regulate a commodity, to prescribe appropriate conformity assessment provisions and, if necessary, to require compliance with deviations from the referenced national standards, where such are deemed necessary. In this method, which is the most common, the national standard typically provides the technical requirements for the commodity and the administrative provisions would be given in the regulation. At national level the regulation would typically be published by the applicable government department in terms of an existing Act of Parliament. In this method the national standard, being readily available, is often the most convenient choice for the legislator as the basis for regulation; it can readily be amended to keep up with technology (via the national standards process) and has the benefit that it already represents a national consensus of experts as to the appropriate level of fitness for purpose (in the case of a physical product).
  3. Publication of a “Compulsory specification”. This is a mandatory standard, applicable to certain products and commodities at their point of sale, and is typically used to regulate safety-critical items where market failures would otherwise occur in the absence of regulation. Examples of the fields covered by compulsory specifications include electrical fittings, food safety, automotive components, etc.

The SABS Standards Division has developed around 80 compulsory specifications (compared to its voluntary national standards base of around 7 000 standards).

A compulsory specification has historically been developed by a SABS Technical Committee, sometimes initially as a national standard and sometimes as a separate document, and then recommended via the SABS Council to the Minister of Trade and Industry for implementation as a Compulsory Specification. After a public enquiry process, a Compulsory Specification is published in full in the Government Gazette (including provisions for the application of the technical requirements, administrative provisions, etc.). The Compulsory Specification then becomes law in its own right under the Standards Act. It is not a national standard and, typically, is applicable at the point of sale.

South African Policy / Regulation Reference to standard/s

Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993

(The example on the right is of direct incorporation of a national standard into legislation by reference in a Schedule to Regulations promulgated in terms of an Act of Parliament, followed by an extract from the actual regulation.)

Incorporation (abridged): “Under section 44 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act,1993 (Act 85 of 1993) I, MMS Mdladlana, Minister of Labour, hereby incorporate SANS 10019 Code of practice for portable metal containers for compressed gasses’ into the Diving Regulations 2001”

Extract from Diving Regulations 2001: “The employer must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the air supplied to the divers is pure and that it meets the requirements of SANS 10019.”

National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977 (as amended)

Regulations under Section 17 (1), Regulation F5

F5. Soil poisoning

“Where so required by the local authority, the soil in all areas within the site as defined in code of practice SANS 10124 shall be treated in accordance with the recommendations of SANS 10124.”

Water Services Act 108 of 1997

– Regulations under sections 9(1) and 73(1) (j) – Regulation 8 “Use of effluent”, subregulation 8 (3)

8 (3)

“A notice contemplated in subregulation (2) must be in more than one official language and must include the PV5 symbolic sign for non-potable water as described in SANS 1186, Symbolic Safety Signs: Part 1: Standards, Signs and General Requirements.”

National Examples Overview
Non-governmental bodies establish a contract or private regulatory regimens that can bring economic, social or environmental benefits.
Federal departments and agencies are to assess regulatory and non-regulatory instruments for achieving public policy objectives.
One of the main forms of China’s technical regulation is mandatory standards at national, professional and local levels.
European standards developed are implemented identically by all member bodies, with conflicting standards withdrawn.
In recent years, with the progress of regulatory reform, an increasing number of voluntary Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) are being adopted.
South Africa
The development of voluntary national standards in South Africa is carried out by SABS, which is authorized to do so under the Standards Act.
United States of America
As a signatory of the WTO, the US is responsible for pursuing standardization activities that are in full compliance with the WTO/TBT.