Is it time to privatise?

By Vollie Brink

The SABS has played an important part in our lives for many years. The standards it produced were excellent and the services it rendered were outstanding.

The body’s in-house competency has been high, but perhaps we need to ponder the continued role and need for the services of this institution.

The main role of the SABS is to develop standards for the manufacturing of material and equipment. In this instance, it concerns the plumbing industry, and if you are a PIRB registered plumber, it affects the piping, fittings, and fixtures you work with daily. It also applies to standards that govern the installation of plumbing equipment and systems, such as geysers and drainage systems.

The regulatory role and function of the SABS have been transferred to the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS). Technical committees and working groups have observed the resultant confusion and problems, but these should be cleared up over time.

However, I believe the solution is to make a clear distinction between the two institutions: the building regulations should resort with the NRCS, whereas the SABS should contain the standards relating to the building regulations.

My question is: are the SABS standards still relevant for the engineer — and specifically for the competent registered engineer?

The competent engineer will undertake a rational design. This engineer mostly does not need to comply with SABS standards, as SABS standards are only compulsory if they have been specifically promulgated as regulations.

Engineers are permitted to use any relevant standard, which includes any acceptable international standard that will result in institutional regulatory outcomes and performance requirements.

Many engineers make use of international design standards, which they find have a better fit for purpose and relevance. This especially holds true for the fire safety design of buildings.

No specific water building regulations exist under the National Building Regulations in South Africa. Since 1997, no progress has been made, except to promulgate a design manual under the National Water Act. Yet, this is excluded from the mandate of the building control officer’s Building Inspectorate, and they are not competent to address the water aspects of a building. How much longer do we still have to wait?

We face a future with dwindling water resources and an ever growing population, yet we do not have national water services regulations for the developing building industry.

We do not have water design drawings for buildings; no as-built drawings for the water systems of buildings; no maintenance requirements; no standards and regulations for water saving devices; no standards and regulations for using wastewater; and no standards and regulations for rainwater harvesting.

Perhaps we need to form a new group to develop standards and regulations for all of these, to be used as design and construction standards by the SABS and the NRCS. Standards like these already exist across the world. We could follow the same route and learn from them.

The South African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA) is such an institution where all the relevant technical information for design and construction have been documented.

The Automatic Sprinkler Inspection Bureau (ASIB) is another example of a private institution that has developed design and installation rules, as well as certify installations.

I have come a long way with the SABS. I have reached the point where I have to question the future: Is it time to privatise?

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