Measurement Units, Standards and Services Department – Need for restructuring

Continued from Wednesday
by Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri

Private sector organizations providing calibration service

There are also several private sector organizations in Sri Lanka providing instrument calibration services to the industry and other organizations. Among these are Lanka Calibration Services in Colombo 00700, Waga Trading Co Ltd in Maharagama, Electruments International (Pvt) Ltd in Ganemulla, and S.A.S. Engineering (Pvt) Ltd. in Mount Lavinia (Google search). The MUSS Act requires these organizations to have their reference standards calibrated against standards maintained at MUSS Dept. However, the current practice among these organizations is to send their reference standards overseas for calibration at high cost and inconvenience.

Some of these organizations have been accredited by Sri Lanka Accreditation Board (SLAB) for Conformity Assessment, to operate as a calibration laboratory, in-line with ISO/IEC 17025:2017 International Standard. Lanka Calibration Service Laboratory (LCS) is equipped with reference measurement standards that have been calibrated by internationally recognized ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratories.

MUSS Dept providing calibration services to industry

In view of the demand for calibration services from the industry, the MUSS Dept has been undertaking calibration and testing of instruments direct for industries, which is not the function of an NML. There is no provision in the MUSS Act for the Department to undertake such work other than for mass, length and capacity. However, the Minister in charge has gazetted regulations on 02 July 2015 listing the fees payable to MUSS Dept for undertaking calibration of all types on measuring instruments used in industry.


The calibration organizations described above are meant to provide this service to the industry and other organizations. Generally, the apex body such as the NML should not be undertaking calibration of low-precision instruments. It is the function of the MUSS Department to calibrate the reference standards used by the relevant calibration services, so that they need not seek this service from overseas laboratories. This is undoubtedly a more challenging task than calibrating non-precision instruments for the industry.

Type approval of measuring instruments

The MUSS Act also requires any measure of measuring instrument used in the trade or for legal purposes to have such measuring instrument type approved by the MUSS Dept. The Department does not appear to be doing this function, as its website lists only the weighing balances and fuel dispensers as type approved measuring instruments.

The Act also requires any measurement instrument used in industry or in the protection of health, the safety of any person, the control of pollution, the protection of the environment, be submitted for periodical verification or certification by the MUSS Dept, all of which come under industrial functions. According to this requirement, the Department should be verifying the performance of a large number of medical/clinical laboratories set up island-wide to test samples of blood and urine taken from patients.

With respect to this function, there seems to be a conflict between the functions in the MUSS Dept and those prescribed in the SLAB established under the Sri Lanka Accreditation Board for Conformity Assessment Act No. 32 of 2005. The Board has the responsibility to provide such services as accreditation of calibration and testing laboratories, certification and inspection bodies, and providing various types of services to the Industry and the Business community.

According to the SLAB website, it has been providing accreditation service to a number of testing and calibration laboratories, medical/clinical laboratories and certification & inspection bodies among others. The question is once a medical organization has been granted accreditation by the SLAB, should it again have its measuring instruments type approved by the MUSS Department?

Non-enforcement of metric units in land transactions

It was mentioned at the beginning that Sri Lanka has adopted the metric system of measurement in all sectors except in land transactions. Currently, both the real estate industry and the Surveyors still use the Imperial System of Acres, Roods and Perches for expressing land extents. The reason for this is the fact that the MUSS Act has prescribed only hectare (ha) as the unit for land measure which is equivalent to 2.471 Acres. Today, most land blocks are sold in 10 or 20 perches, and these are equivalent to 0.0253 ha and 0.0506 ha, respectively. Hence, for advertising through banners and cut-outs, expression of these land extents in decimals of ha is not suitable and naturally, the industry continues to use the Imperial units.

The Survey Department Regulations (SDR) specifies that boundary measurements while surveying a land should be carried out in metres to the nearest centimeter. The area worked out based on these measurements give the land area in hectares. However, to meet the needs of the industry and the public, the land extent is also given in Acres, Roods and Perches. The extent in hectares is converted into Acres, Roods and Perches using conversion factors given in the SDR for entering in the plans drawn by the surveyors.

This issue can be sorted out by using the basic metric unit for land measure for advertising purposes. The basic metric unit of area measurement is "Are" (A) (pronounced as "Air", in Sinhala as "Aara") which is equivalent to 100 sq. metres. However, the approved metric unit given in the schedule of approved units in the MUSS Act is hectare (ha) which is 100 Are. If the extents of 10 perch and 20 perch are expressed in "Are", these extents will be 2.53 A and 5.06 A, respectively. In practice, land can be blocked out in 2.5 A or 5.0 A extents. In order to make this system acceptable legally in the industry and trade, the unit "Are" has to be included in the relevant schedule of MUSS Act as an approved unit of measurement.

It should be possible to do this by a Gazette Notification issued by the Minister. For larger extents the metric unit of hectare could be used and this should be acceptable in the industry for advertising purposes. Even here, instead of expressing the extent in hectares with decimals, the whole number could be expressed in hectares and the decimal fraction expressed in Ares. For example, an extent of 2.540 ha could be expressed as 2 ha, 54 A.

Some suggestions for


From the foregoing, it is apparent that the MUSS Dept has failed to carry out satisfactorily the key functions assigned to it by the MUSS Act. The establishment of the national primary standards, which is the key function of the department, appears to be incomplete and whether they are periodically recalibrated is not known.

The inability of the MUSS Dept to undertake calibration of reference standards maintained at public and private sector calibration organizations is a serious lapse that needs to be corrected. This is another issue that the EC should look into, as it is one of the key functions mandated to the MUSS Dept.

The MUSS Dept should give priority for carrying out calibration of precision measuring instruments for other organizations, rather than undertaking calibration of low-precision instruments used by industry and general public. Though the MUSS Act requires the MUSS Dept to provide type approval for a variety of measuring instruments, it lacks capacity to undertake such work. The Dept should improve this capacity enabling it to undertake type approval of measuring systems used in various sectors including utilities, industries, health and environment which may have legal implications.

The functions of the MUSS Dept, like in other government department, are totally controlled by the Director, assisted by a Deputy Director. He is guided in particular by the provisions in the MUSS Act and in general by the government administrative and financial regulations. There is no provision for him to have a dialogue with secondary level organizations involved in calibration services and other stakeholder organizations. Had there been such a dialogue, many of the problems described in the foregoing could have been avoided. It is recommended that a suitable advisory body, comprising representatives from stakeholder organizations and independent experts, be appointed.

Another option which the EC could consider is to detach the NML from the MUSS Dept and allow it to operate as an independent entity. It could then focus on scientific aspects on maintaining national standards traceable to international standards, which is a challenging task. This would encourage the local calibration organizations and utility organizations maintaining in-house calibration systems to have their reference standards calibrated at NML, without seeking this service from overseas laboratories as done at present.

Concurrently, provision should be made for the scientific staff paid enhanced remuneration enabling the NML to attract the best candidates to fill its vacancies and to retain them after training. It is also important to allocate sufficient funding for the NML to improve its measuring systems in keeping with improvements taking place in international scenario.

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