Standards are significantly important as they influence the lives of many in every country and at all times. Telephone apparatus, washing machines, our cars, as well as our children’s toys, all are made according to specific standards which help ensure that the product is safe and easy to use, that it works as it should and without causing any damage to our health.
Standards are not only related to products we use but also to services such as healthcare, tourism, provision of energy, banking services, as well as insurance services. These services deal with issues such as personnel training, provision of information, consumer services, complaint management and bills. There are also standards that address main points such as social responsibility, management of sustainable meetings, as well as the accessibility of public buildings.
Therefore, standards are very important for everyone as they protect us and give us the information we need to be able to make informed choices. Standards help make the products and services we buy safer by decreasing accidents and saving lives, for example by establishing minimum safety standards for products such as toys and electronic equipment.
Standards improve the quality of the products as well as services for the consumer, such as by providing companies with a guide on how to produce clearer bills or how to handle complaints in a more effective manner.
Standards ensure that products and services are accessible to all consumers, including people with disability or the elderly.
What is a standard?
A standard is a document that establishes the guideline and good practice for various organisations. While organisations are not obliged to use a standard, standards that support legislation can help a manufacturer or supplier to demonstrate conformity to the requirements of the law by making use of the same standards. As standards are voluntary, consumers can feel confident that organisations that use them take issues such as safety, accessibility, environmental considerations and consumer services seriously. Organisations can provide proof of conformity to specific standards by advertising the title and reference of the standard or by showing the relevant certification mark.
How are standards developed?
Standards are written by a committee of people who are experts on the subject and who, after a number of discussions, come to an agreement about the content of standards. Therefore, the work carried out is based on the principle of consensus, and the committees that participate in the creation of the standard may include industry experts, academics, manufacturers, merchants as well as consumer representatives.
The Standards and Metrology Institute (SMI) at the MCCAA is the national standards body in Malta and is responsible for the publication of Maltese standards. Some of the standards are only developed for use by organisations in Malta.
The SMI also contributes to the development of several European standards as well as international ones that are of interest to Malta.
The SMI is a full member of CEN and CENELEC, which publish European standards, as well as ISO and IEC, which publish international standards
The involvement of consumers
For standards to have a real and positive impact, it is vital that the end-users of products and services – consumers – are involved in the creation of standards. Accordingly, the SMI speaks to consumers during the formulation of standards. This ensures that new standards address consumer issues and problems they encounter.
Standards that deal with services are increasingly becoming more important for consumers. This is because, on a daily basis, consumers are making use of a wide range of organisations that offer services in important sectors such as finance, energy and health. Consumers also have a primary role in the development of standards that deal with services when they request a higher level of quality, safety and a more adequate provision of information.
Standards can help in the improvement of the quality of services by offering guidance to organisations regarding processes such as personnel training, bills, complaints management and consumer services. All these are important to consumers as they help them make more informed decisions on which organisations they should use.
Odette Vella is director, Information and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.