High-quality standards help ensure our safety

The standards group ASTM meets in Dubai this week, highlighting how correctly applied technical standards across the region give people confidence that their property and lives are protected when they go about their daily lives.

The fire at The Address Downtown on New Year’s Eve revealed the importance of maintaining building standards. Dubai Police via AP
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Last year, people around the world paused their New Year’s Eve celebrations when they saw images of the multistorey fire at The Address hotel in Dubai. Thankfully, fewer than 20 people suffered injuries, most of them minor.

In the days and weeks that followed, this newspaper published stories that brought to light the importance of using and correctly applying technical standards in the construction industry.

Indeed, standards play a crucial role in giving people and businesses confidence that their property and lives are protected when they enter buildings, drive on roads and go about their daily lives.

As Gulf cities and countries continue to thrive, it is natural to expect that more and more high-quality standards are being applied across all industries to ensure strong, safe and sustainable growth.

Seemingly each day, we hear of new skyscrapers, infrastructure, mass transit and amusement parks, as well as projects to support major events such as Expo 2020. This is an exciting moment for this dynamic region.

Importantly, Gulf leaders are taking steps to ensure that standards are part of the foundation for this growth.

For example, in the early 2000s, the GCC launched the GCC Standardisation Organisation (GSO), a coordinating entity that involves the national standards bodies of each GCC member. The text of the GSO’s bylaws reflect that this region understands the many benefits and goals of standardisation: to strengthen manufacturing, services, and agricultural sectors; to minimise trade barriers; to protect consumers, public health and the environment; and more.

In the years since, Gulf leaders continued to send a clear message that the best technical standards are grounded in solid science that transcends borders.

With that vision in mind, what are the next steps that the Gulf should take on standards?

First and foremost, we must continue to raise awareness among government and business leaders of the enormous value of international standards that are of high technical quality and market relevance.

According to the US department of commerce, standards and conformity assessment affect more than 80 per cent of global commodity trade. Gulf nations – and other countries – that understand the value of using globally-accepted standards will therefore have a competitive edge.

The organisation of which I am part, ASTM International, one of the world’s largest non-profit standards developers, is an example of an increasingly active Gulf partner in this regard. We have Memorandums of Understanding with every Gulf nation, and ASTM standards are cited more than 4,000 times in this region’s laws, regulations and codes.

To draw attention to these growing ties, our board chose to have its 2016 meeting in Dubai. The meeting begins today and lasts all week.

On Tuesday, the board, which includes the GSO’s secretary-general, Nabil Molla, will hold dozens of events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For example, the board will meet the Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council and Dubai Central Laboratories to discuss how standardised methods can support the UAE’s leading testing laboratories.

Other board members will hold a day-long workshop with companies interested in using ASTM standards to build and operate amusement parks. We will also meet leaders from major companies such as building-materials manufacturer Knauf.

Finally, on Thursday, ASTM (in partnership with the International Code Council and the US International Trade Administration) will hold a day-long workshop focused on sustainable construction, a crucial issue for the Gulf’s future.

ASTM’s goal this week is not to send the message that our standards are the only solution to all of the Gulf’s standardisation needs. Instead, we want to do all we can to empower Gulf nations and their leaders to weigh the technical merit of various international standards and apply them as appropriate.

I firmly believe that businesses and citizens throughout the Gulf deserve high-quality, market-relevant standards regardless of where those standards originate.

And we can’t stop there.

As awareness of the value of standards grows, we must also engage more and more Gulf experts in the actual creation and revision of standards.

The global standards community needs more technical experts from this region to get involved. Collaboration is crucial to ensuring that global standards are as robust as possible.

Already, at ASTM, 26 technical committees have members from the UAE. And some Gulf companies, such as Saudi Aramco, have multiple ASTM members across several committees. These members often attend in-person meetings and – just as importantly – they have the ability to collaborate and cast votes through our web-based tools.

Altogether, about 200 ASTM International members live in the region, making contributions to standards development in the oil and gas industry as well as other areas such as cement, concrete, steel, water, and more.

International standards groups and Gulf nations must jointly support more and deeper exchanges of technical knowledge and ideas. With more input from the Gulf at in-person and online meetings of standards groups – not limited to ASTM – we can ensure that global standards meet the unique needs of this region while also ushering in new technologies and innovations that help people worldwide.

Everyone wants standards in place that boost safety, commerce, and quality of life for all people. I believe that we can achieve that goal if we continue to invest in person-to-person relationships while also supporting the great standards work under way at places like Dubai Civil Defence and the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology.

Together, let’s build a solid technical foundation for the Gulf, upon which businesses and citizens will continue to flourish, and where the risk of another fire like the one on New Year’s Eve is steadily reduced.

Kathie Morgan is executive vice president of ASTM International.


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