Will the new metric clothing standard work?

A new international standard for sizing clothes would overcome many of the problems of incompatible size labelling. But will it be undermined by the British retail and clothing industries because it is metric? – article based on contribution by M-V.

During the last few days there have been various newspaper articles describing proposed new labelling for clothing. This labelling is in fact the EN 13402 European standard for labelling clothing sizes and is expected to come into widespread use by the end of 2007. The work was sponsored by CEN (European Standards Organisation – an organisation that draws its membership from various European bodies), while much of the fieldwork was done by the BSI (British Standards Institute). The photograph below (by Markus Kuhn and downloaded from the Wikipedia site) shows an actual label used for a high-visibility jacket.

This example shows that the garment is designed to fit a man with a chest measurement of 118 to 124 cm and a height of up to 1.94 m.

The standard works as follows.
(Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EN_13402
has a full description – also written by Markus Kuhn). Firstly, it should be remembered that measurements on the garments refers to the wearer, not to the garment itself. Thus the chest measurement on a vest label and on an overcoat label for a particular person have the same value.

The standard comes in four parts:

  • EN 13402-1 defines how the body should be measured (using centimetres and kilograms where appropriate). For example, the length of the hand girth is measured “maximum girth measured over the knuckles (metacarpals) of the open right hand, fingers together and thumb excluded”. This results in a pictogram (diagrammatic picture) of the individual customer – as illustrated below:

Ideally, everybody should have a little card bearing this pictogram, and they can use this whenever they go shopping for clothes (or borrow their partner’s if they are shopping for them!) Enterprising clothing retailers might offer a free measurement and card-issuing service.

  • EN 13402-2 defines the primary and optional secondary measurements for various garments. For example, the primary measurement for men’s trousers is the waist girth, while the wearer’s height and inside leg length are optional additional measurements. The author has spotted one omission is the list of garments â?? there is nothing about men’s kilts, though manufacturers might use the same parameters as are used for women’s skirts.
  • EN 13402-3 defines the standard interval sizes for various measurements. For example men’s chest sizes will be in 4 cm intervals and a 100 cm chest would be suitable for men with chests between 98 cm and 102 cm.
  • EN 13402-4 defines a five character manufactures coding system.

If UK retailers adopt the system (it is optional), then there will be a big change – conversion of the sizes of existing clothing lines will be difficult because the traditional British interval for men’s chests (for example) is 2 in, not 4 cm. This will mean that manufacturers will have to offer the public a wider range of measurements to accommodate the smaller interval. Unless there is some coordination, one can see chaos on the high street if one retailer or manufacturer uses the EN 13402 while another sticks to traditional sizing.

“Units” of alcohol

How should the alcohol content of drinks be measured? – asks M-V

The unit of alcohol is defined as 10 ml of pure alcohol and is unique to the UK (and possibly Eire). Other EU countries have developed their own “units of alcohol”, and Wikipedia lists seven or eight different units for different countries.

Should there be a standard “unit of alcohol” (defined as one centilitre which is the UK definition) or should each country continue to define its own unit of alcohol. If so, who should take the lead in making this definition – the EU, WHO, UN?

Fixed package sizes to remain for 5 years – EU compromise

The European Commission has proposed a compromise which would effectively retain fixed sizes for a limited number of prepackaged goods until 2013 or 2014. [article originally drafted by Robin Paice for UKMA News]

In 2005 the European Commission published a proposal which would have deregulated package sizes (aka “prescribed quantities” or “PQs”) for most goods, with the exception of wine and spirits, sugar and instant coffee. This proposal would have ended the nonsense whereby jam packed in the UK must be sold in the UK in multiples of 57 g (e.g. jars of 454 g), whereas jam imported from France may be sold in jars of 400 g or 500 g.

However, in February 2006, led by Conservative MEPs, and egged on by British tabloid newspapers, the European Parliament proposed a series of amendments which would have retained a range of fixed sizes for a variety of goods – notably the venerable “pint” of milk. The same newspapers portrayed this vote as a defeat for the Brussels Bureaucrats’ attempts to abolish the good old British pint – although actually the Commission’s proposals posed no threat to the pint.

Following a series of negotiations involving the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, a compromise has emerged which would achieve the Commission’s original intention of general deregulation (with limited exceptions) but with a delay of 5 years for milk, butter, pasta and coffee, and six years for sugar. It now appears that this revised proposal will be adopted by the three legislative institutions of the EU. For full details see http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2006/com2006_0811en01.pdf

One of the Commission’s arguments for abolishing fixed sizes was that “unit pricing” (per kg, L, etc) enables consumers to compare value for money, and therefore fixed sizes are unnecessary. Unfortunately, neither the Commission nor the UK Government has attempted to explain or popularise the little understood concept of unit pricing – the small print which appears at the bottom of price labels. So whether the consumer will be well served by this decision is debatable.

In the meantime, the UK Government is now faced with a dilemma. In 2005 it proposed that the various Food Orders (as they are called), which regulate the sizes of packages which may be manufactured and sold in the UK, should be consolidated into a single Order – albeit without changing the content of the Orders. (These are the Orders which determine that, for example, jam must be sold in multiples of 57 g but instant coffee in multiples of 50 g).

Assuming that the Commission’s proposals come into force in 2008, and that the Food Orders also could not be revised until the same year, the revised Orders would only be in force for a maximum of five years – and only for the limited range of products listed above. This may not be enough to warrant the expense of churning out the necessary secondary legislation and occupying scarce Parliamentary time.

What about the pint of beer?

There remains, however, one minor but iconically important issue raised by the DTI in its consultation paper but not covered by the Commission’s proposal: the pint of beer. UKMA had proposed that draught beer and cider should be permitted (not required) to be dispensed in metric quantities, as long as the price per litre was displayed. As this would be an additional option and not a new and onerous regulation, there should be no problem about introducing this measure immediately.

In its response in September 2005, the DTI simply commented: “We will consider the options for revision of specified quantities for alcoholic drinks …., taking into account comments received.”

A call to legalise distance signage in metres on UK roads

Road signs in Britain closely follow international norms as laid out in the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals. Where possible, language-independent symbolic signs are used so as to be as universally understood as possible. (Article contributed by Martin Ward).

Continue reading “A call to legalise distance signage in metres on UK roads”

Are UK height, width and weight restrictions enforceable?

A contributor asks whether the failure of UK signs to use the correct international symbols could enable lawyers to get their clients off fines for motoring offences.

One of the guiding principles of the SI Brochure [the manual of the BIPM – International Bureau of Weights and Measures, who regulate the metric system) is that each unit of measure should have its own unique symbol. All units of measure that are included have been allocated symbols. These symbols include:

  • T (upper case) – teslas (strength of a magnetic field)
  • t (lower case) – tonnes
  • ‘ (single apostrophe) – minutes of arc
  • ” (double apostrophe) – seconds of arc

(No symbol was allocated for “mile”, which should be written in full.)The SI manual formed the basis of the EU directive on metrication. When the British Government negotiated with the governments of our partners in the EU to retain the foot and inch, one of the clauses of the agreement extended the catalogue of units to include feet and inches for use in certain circumstances and subject to specified conditions. When they were incorporated into the catalogue, they were allocated the following symbols:

  • ft – Feet
  • in – inches

What has the UK Government done?
On height and width restriction signs, one sees feet and inches denoted by single and double apostrophes respectively, while on weight restriction signs, one sees “T” (upper case) used to denote tonnes on weight restriction signs (OK, the law permits a lower case “t”, but I have yet to actually see one on a road sign in Britain – the law in question is – Statutory Instrument 2002 No. 3113 – The Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 – the “TSRGD”).

The TSRGD also allows the use of the symbol “m” sometimes to denote “mile” and sometimes “metre”.

To the best of my knowledge, this has yet to be tested in a United Kingdom court – if it were, would the court rule that these signs are unenforceable due to the technicality of the incorrect use of symbols? One must remember of course that under the European Communities Act 1972, the courts would be obliged to pass judgement “in accordance with the principles laid down by and any relevant decision of the European Court”.

If such a case heard in a UK court and the road signs declared unenforceable, the first people to be affected would be those people who live on a “rat-run” where heavy vehicles are prohibited by width and weight restriction signs. The councils representing such people can take preventative action against the these signs being declared unenforceable by ensuring that weight restriction signs use the lower case “t” to denote “tonnes” and that width restriction signs clearly display both metric and imperial units.

[Please note:
Neither the author nor UKMA are able to offer any formal legal advice. The views published above are the views of the author who has not had formal legal training. The UKMA do not necessarily endorse these views. If somebody wishes to pursue a matter based on these views through the courts, they should seek proper legal advice from their solicitor.]

[article submitted by MV]