3rd party institutions are the key to maintaining standards

Standards are recognised in this region but without third party certification they may be just hollow claims

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By  Colin Foreman Published  October 16, 2004

3rd party institutions are the key to maintaining standards|~|43 Vis A Vis Body.jpg|~||~|STANDARDS ARE a vital part of the construction industry. Construction Week speaks to John Glackin, business auditor, BSI, about why standards are so important, and why it is essential that third-party institutions maintain those standards. When did British standards begin? BSI began life in 1901 when Sir John Wolf Barry brought together a group of six people to look into the problem of the different tram rail gauges that were in use in cities throughout the UK at the time. The committee set up what was in effect a standard and it successfully reduced the number of tram rail gauges in use from 75 down to just five. Building on that, the Kitemark was registered as a trademark in 1903 and first appeared on a product in 1906 when GEC used it for reflectors and light fittings. In 1946 BSI was instrumental in the formation of ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation), which brought together the leading national standard bodies at the time. Then in 1979 BSI wrote BS 5750, which was the precursor to ISO 9000, which is commonly used today. Why have standards been set up? It depends really, because standards can be driven from any angle. The need for a standard can be identified by the government or through industry in general. That need is then fed through BSI who will facilitate the writing of the standard. It is important to note that BSI does not write the standard in isolation, it is written by a committee of all interested parties. If you look at something like personal protection equipment for example, manufacturers, charities, institutions and medical experts would all be invited to sit on the committee to represent their specific field and ensure that all of that is covered in the standard. What benefits do standards bring? Standards obviously give a tangible set of criteria that the product has to conform to. If you ask for a British or European Standard, you know that there is a set level of achievement that the product has to reach. The standard forms the basis of the product approval so if someone wants to achieve the Kitemark the standard forms the test criteria for that, and until the product meets the criteria then the product can’t be approval. Do standards remedy the problem of asymmetric information between a buyer and a seller? Yes they do. The difficulty comes when someone has a product and says this product conforms to BS or EN or ISO but it isn’t always substantiated by independent endorsement. So even if a supplier claims to meet a standard a customer still needs to err on the side of caution. Standards are great, but until there is third party approval, it’s just a claim made by the seller. For product approval the standard has to be publicly available to stop a cartel or monopoly situation developing. Although Kitemark status can be used as an advantage because people can use it as an effective marketing tool, it still needs to be available to all manufacturers. How aware of standards and kitemarks are people in the UK? There have been surveys where the general public is asked what the Kitemark is and 80% of people are aware of what it is and what it is for. I would imagine that the awareness amongst traders and contractors is equally as high. What is the awareness like in the Middle East? I would say that everyone is aware of BSI and their good reputation. I have yet to meet someone who had no idea what standards or the Kitemark are. In the market many complain about a lack of standards. If the awareness is high, why does the market lack standards? I think it goes back to not fully understanding the difference between claims of conformity and independent endorsement. As I said before, anyone can claim a product meets a standard, but it should mean that specifiers and contractors ask for the piece of paper that actually shows that the product has been tested against the standard by an independent body. How can you check the certificate is authentic? Each certificate has its own unique reference number, but unfortunately that can be fraudulent. It’s a difficult one though, because there are many companies with good reputations and I wouldn’t want to say anything that detracts from that reputation, but as we are all aware, especially when dealing with the markets in the far east, everything can be copied and everything can be reinvented so I would say if there is any doubt they should contact us by fax, because we have access to the register of all approved products. Alternatively, one of the things that BSI has developed recently is its website which, includes an online directory of approved products, which would mean if you have a certificate you could just go online and check its authenticity. How much credibility does a certificate give a product? I think it gives a lot of credibility. Manufacturers can use it as a product differentiator. There are an awful lot of products in the market and we believe from talking to manufacturers who have achieved Kitemark status, that it does give a huge market advantage. This is because people know that the symbol is independent and that the supplier has voluntarily submitted their product for annual testing, opened up their doors and allowed inspectors to audit them. Do standards level the playing field? They can certainly raise the level of the playing field. If you have two or three players in a market and their products are recognised for being extremely good then it can give a level for the other competitors to aspire to. However, it will also restrict the market for companies who do not meet the standards. There are a lot of tenders going out that stipulate Kitemark products and if a supplier hasn’t got it then it’s proving problematic for them. How important are standards for the construction industry compared with other industries? It’s definitely important because there is nothing worse than building something using substandard products and six months to 18 months later having to rip it all out and start again. Things like electrics cabling, if faulty substandard goods are used it can create huge problems later on. The same goes for fire protection. There are some areas where you simply can’t afford to cut corners. Why do people in this market go for accreditation if there are no governmental regulations stating that they should? It goes back to the fact that they see the real benefit of having the integrity associated with Kitemark and BSI. If they want to sell products into Europe the Kitemark opens an awful lot of doors. We find that suppliers based here deal with the local emirati market, the Middle East market and are also dealing with Europe and the wider global market. Does the internationalisation of business mean that standards are more important than before? I think it does. It’s all part of the global market place and I think that is why we are seeing the adoption of product approval in a lot of tender documents. There is no point in reinventing the wheel, and if there isn’t a Kitemark for the Middle East and they know the British model is good, then why not adopt it? What can be done if people in this market feel that a British standard doesn’t reflect the requirements of this market? Every standard contains a reference number for the committee secretary, so if someone has an issue with a standard that needs to be addressed then they can correspond with the secretary about it. One thing we experienced recently in Kuwait was that they thought the high temperature test for aerosol fire extinguishers wasn’t high enough. That is obviously something that can be fed back to the committee secretary who can then act on it. ||**||

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