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Malta - where standards are as old as its history

By Francis E. Farrugia, Malta Standards Authority Chairman

In this month's International Organisation for Standards' monthly bulletin, MSA Chairman Francis Farrugia wrote at length on Malta's involvement in standards - from the Neolithic times to the present day. Following are extracts from his column. A recent interview with Ing. Farrugia can be found on our web site.

Temples made to measure
Standardisation activities in Malta in one form or another go back quite some time. The Maltese have always been acclaimed for their skills, and probably they were the first users of standards when they built their huge megalithic temples.

The architecture of these temples is both beautiful and inspiring, and their scale impressive yet human – small wonder, indeed, they have been declared a World Heritage. Although the Egyptians are considered the pioneers in the use of standards, it has been scientifically proven that these megalithic temples are over 1,000 years older than the pyramids and than Stonehenge (United Kingdom), and considering their symmetry and orientation, it can be easily deduced that some form of measurement and practices (standards) already existed. Furthermore, the temples themselves also served the purpose of measuring heavenly movements.

In fact, many researchers have studied the phenomena of celestial bodies’ alignments along the main axes of these megalithic temples. It has been established that the Mnajdra temple, in particular, is not only aligned with the sun, but also reads the equinox, summer and winter solstices, the cross-quarter days and the eighth days.

Closer to our times, one of the first pieces of legislation in the field of standardisation was the Weights and Measures Ordinance of 1910, which established the system of measurements on the island, and also introduced legal metrology.

One of its objectives was the establishing of uniformity of Weights and Measures. Its provisions ensured fair-trading and consumer protection. Being a colony at that time, probably one of the reasons behind the introduction of this legislation was to safeguard the interests of British services personnel against fraud... when ordering their pint of beer!

The standards scene in Malta – Malta Standards Authority
In 1965, the Malta Board of Standards was constituted by law. The aims of the Board were the preparation and publishing of standards, as well as the monitoring and granting of licenses for the use of the standard mark. The Board continued to operate until 1996 when it was replaced by the Malta Standards Authority (MSA). The Authority is the Maltese national standards body entrusted to adopt, publish and disseminate voluntary standards in all fields of standardisation. The Maltese standards adopted are made known either by:

• Announcement in the Official Government Gazette that the standard has been adopted as a Maltese standard.

• Publication of an endorsement page, noting that the standard is adopted with the standard enclosed.

Its actual publication is either a:

• Publication of the whole text in English.

• Publication of the whole text in Maltese.

• Publication of the whole text in Maltese and English.

MSA was accepted as correspondent member of ISO in January 1992 (see ISO Bulletin, Vol. 23/No. 5) and as full member since January 2001. MSA is also an associate member of IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), an affiliate of CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) and CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation), and full member of ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute). The Authority has taken all the steps to become a full member of CEN and CENELEC by the end of 2001.

Relating standardising to the needs of the country
The bulk of work in standards preparation is the transposition of International and European standards. Last October, over 5,000 European and International standards (CEN and ISO) were adopted as national standards, and another 3,000 (CENELEC/IEC) were adopted in February 2001. To date, over 9,000 standards have been transposed over into national standards. The transposition of the standards was subcontracted to British Standards Institution (BSI) with whom the Authority has always had a good working relationship.

On the domestic level, a number of technical committees have been set up, and presently work is being carried out on the preparation of various hygiene standards covering areas such as catering services, sale of foods from mobile stalls, butcher shops and others. Another TC is working on a Maltese Keyboard standard, the title of which is Keyboard allocation of graphic characters for data processing. This standard conforms to MSA ISO/IEC 9995-1, MSA ISO/IEC 9995-2.

After various discussions with the major interested parties, as well as after a number of practical sessions, the Technical Committee decided that the alphanumeric zone of the keyboard would be provided with 48 keys to which the graphic characters are allocated.

Various mirror technical committees have been set up to cover the standardisation work of CEN, CENELEC as well as of ISO. MSA is presently participating as an O-Member (Observer) in a number of ISO technical committees. Given the limitations of the island, full participation in the future is envisaged in those areas which are of direct interest. The areas identified include telecommunications, financial services, management systems and tourism.

As in most countries, the standard which tops the selling list is the ISO 9000 family on quality management, followed by ISO 14000 family on environmental management and ISO/IEC 17025:1999, General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. Use of standards is very widespread on the island, primarily due to the fact that the majority of the manufacturing companies are subsidiaries of major European and American organisations. Furthermore, penetration of international markets by local industry demands the use of standards. A recent research study by the author showed that over 10 per cent of the labour force are employed in ISO 9000-certified organisations.

Introducing standards into university courses
At University, undergraduates following the four-year Engineering courses are encouraged to make use of standards in their projects. In the Engineering courses a number of standardisation related modules are included. Engineering Metrology and Engineering Drawing modules covered during the first year of the course are considered as fundamental for all engineers. These modules are mainly based on the applications of standards. In the sub-sequent years, modules on Quality Management and Control (third year of the course) and Quality Engineering (final year) cover a wide range of standardisation topics.

In order to further propagate the use of standards, a Standards User Group was set up last year, where members are provided with a range of information and discounts when purchasing standards and attending courses and conferences. In October 2000, a seminar on the importance of standards was organised on World Standards Day. The theme chosen for the seminar was "The Benefits of Standardisation to Industry," and to deliver the key speech the Authority invited Paolo Morelli, Vice-Chairman of CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) and Director of UNI (ISO member for Italy). Preparations for this year’s seminar are already underway.

Who does the work?
The work of standardisation is entrusted to the Standardisation directorate. The work of the directorate is divided into five sections:

• ISO/CEN work
• Standards Notification Point
• Sales, awareness programs, information and training.
• Certification (conformity mark)

The operation of this directorate is overseen by the Board of Standards. This Board was established by the Authority to supervise the realization of the policy and decisions of the Council of the Authority in respect of voluntary standardisation issues. The Board of Standards is also responsible for examining proposals for new standardisation work; it makes recommendations on the setting up of technical committees, supervises the work of the committees and diffuses standardisation work prepared by the Authority.

Internal rules were drawn up as guidelines for the preparation, the transposition and final adoption of standards.

When the Board of Standards accepts recommendations for a new or revised national standard, an announcement is first made in the media so as to invite any interested parties to participate. The development of national standards is the responsibility of the technical committees.

These committees are constituted to be representative of all the interests in the standardisation programme. Wherever practicable, the committee structure is aligned with that of the corresponding international or European standards organisation, so that the Maltese mirror committee responsible for national work has responsibility for input to relevant international and European work.

Total immersion in standardisation at all levels
The challenge facing the MSA in the coming months is to continue to strengthen its infrastructure and to encourage economic operators to make more use of standards and standardisation activities so that they can penetrate and operate successfully in a liberalised and open market. It is also the intention of the Authority to participate fully at European and international level, and, possibly, to chair one of the ISO committees.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt