|Standards are a fundamental part of our daily lives for a multitude
of reasons. They open channels of communication and commerce,
promote understanding of products, ensure compatibility, enable
mass production, and most importantly they form the basis of achieving
health, safety, and a higher quality of life.
We are literally surrounded by standards. The buildings we live
in, the airplanes we fly on, the roads we travel, the computers
we operate, even the clothes we wear are all manufactured in accordance
with standards. All these things work smoothly and efficiently
if the standards to which they were manufactured were properly
developed and applied.
Because of the ever-growing importance of standards, this booklet
has been developed to provide a better understanding of how and
why standards are initiated and used. It explains how standards
are developed by the private and public sectors, and gives an
overview of the major organizations involved with standards. When
examples are given to illustrate a point, ASTM International will
be cited. ASTM International is one of the worlds largest and
most diverse standards developing organizations (SDOs).
What Is a Standard?
A standard is a common language that promotes the flow of goods
between buyer and seller and protects the general welfare. One
example comes from building design. When architects design a building,
they stipulate exactly what steel is required by referencing a
standard specification on the drawing. They may, for example,
refer to ASTM A 36, which is a specification for structural
steel. This one document is the simplest and best possible way
to communicate to a contractor the type of steel desired in terms
of composition, strength, and quality. ASTM Specification A 36
is a three-page publication describing the requirements that the
steel must meet. Architects do not have to consult volumes of
reference books and expend reams of paper and costly hours describing
steel thickness, tensile strength, and other characteristics.
Thousands of such standards are readily available, and thanks
to the common language of standardization, buyer and seller have
little difficulty communicating.
How Do Voluntary Standards Get Written?
A full consensus standard is developed by a cross-section of stakeholders
with an interest in its use. When there is a need for new standards,
requests can come from trade associations, government agencies,
and professional societies that do not create their own standards;
or manufacturers, consumer groups, and even individuals. The exact
process of forming technical committees and developing and approving
the draft standard varies from SDO to SDO.
Generally, standards-writing committees are groups of experts
who volunteer their time in draft-development sessions. They are
seeking the mutual benefit of all concerned through consensus.
As an illustration of how SDOs develop standards, well follow
the ASTM system.
ASTM InternationalThe diversity of ASTMs membership is perhaps
its most distinct quality and is a large part of what distinguishes
the ASTM development and approval process from other organizations.
Standards development at ASTM means working alongside competitors,
customers, regulatory bodies, and other stakeholders from around
the world to debate technical issues, share research data, and
exchange knowledge. Through the ASTM process, these stakeholders
learn to capitalize on their diversity and work in partnership
with each other to resolve their differences during the standards
development process rather than after. Coupled with this cooperative
system of standards development is the ensuring of fairness through:
1) a required balance of interest between producers, users, and
general interest members and
2) a voting process that ensures due process.
The ASTM process transcends what entities could do individually
because it bridges gaps of technology, combines resources and
overcomes lines of competition. The result is a product of the
highest credibility, integrity, and marketplace acceptance.
Understanding the hierarchy within ASTM is integral to appreciating
the value of the ASTM standards development and approval process.
The hierarchy comprises three basic levels: main committees, subcommittees,
and task groups. Task groups perform most of the leg-work and
research that forms the basis of draft standards. Once the group
completes its work, it forwards these drafts through the hierarchy
for review and voting. The standard must gain subcommittee, main
committee, and Society approval before becoming an official ASTM
At each level, voting requirements are enforced to ensure fairness.
When the draft has been reviewed and accepted at all levels, the
draft becomes an ASTM standard and is published. Depending upon
the need for the standard, drafting and approval can occur in
a few months, a year, or more.
The U.S. Standards System
The United States is very different from other countries of the
world, where usually one organization is designated as the major
standards developer and that organization is closely tied to,
if not a part of the government. There are many organizations
that comprise the U.S. standardization system including government
and non-government organizations.
In the United States, there are essentially two broad categories
of standards with regard to regulationmandatory and voluntary.
Mandatory standards are set by government and can be either procurement
or regulatory standards. A procurement standard sets out the requirements
that must be met by government suppliers; regulatory standards
may set health, safety, environmental, or other criteria.
Voluntary standardsIn the United States, the voluntary standards
development system is called voluntary for two reasons. First,
participation in the system is voluntary. Second, the standards
produced usually are intended for voluntary use. Voluntary consensus
standards are developed through the participation of all interested
stakeholders including producers, users, consumers, and representatives
of government and academia.
In the United States, the distinction between voluntary and mandatory
standards is not clear cut. Often, government standards developers
refer in their regulations to privately developed standards, and
in that reference give the standard the force of federal, state,
or local law.
Building codes, for example, reference hundreds of standards developed
by voluntary standards organizations. Since building codes are
the province of government, the referenced standards have the
force of law and must be adhered to. Regulatory agencies such
as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration,
and the Department of Housing and Urban Development also reference
hundreds, if not thousands of voluntary consensus standards in
lieu of developing their own documents. These too, have the force
of law once they are referenced in a government regulation. In
the wake of the U.S. National Technology Transfer and Advancement
Act (Public Law 104-113), which requires government agencies to
use privately developed standards whenever it is at all possible,
this practice is on the increase, saving taxpayers millions of
dollars in formerly duplicative standards development efforts.
Following is a breakdown of some of the major players in the U.S.
standards development system.
ANSIThe American National Standards Institute is as close as
the United States comes to a central voice for standards development.
A not-for-profit, non-governmental organization headquartered
in Washington, DC, ANSI does not develop standards; its major
role is to serve as the U.S. member body to the International
Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical
Commission (IEC), coordinating the U.S. position in the development
of ISO and IEC standards. In addition, ANSI accredits standards
developing organizations according to their consensus processes
and accredits standards developed by SDOs as American National
NISTThe National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
has the explicit mission of assisting U.S. industry to advance
its performance in the development and application of technology.
Today, NIST is the U.S. government agency with leading expertise
in the area of technology standards and industry standardization
issues and its staff is actively involved in voluntary consensus
standards development activities. (www.nist.gov)
Government AgenciesAs mentioned above, the U.S. government is
also a standards developer. While the National Technology Transfer
and Advancement Act encourages less and less actual development
of standards within government agencies, government employees
participate in the development and referencing of standards developed
in the private sector. U.S. government agencies that rely on standards
run the gamut from the Department of Agriculture, through the
General Services Administration, to the Department of Veterans
Other Standards Developing OrganizationsOther types of SDOs in
the United States include professional societies, industry associations,
membership organizations, and consortia.
Standards Development Abroad
ISOThe International Organization for Standardization, a private
agency headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is dedicated to the
development of voluntary standards. Its membership consists of
the recognized national standards bodies of 140 nations. ISO has
over 180 technical committees devoted to almost all areas of standardization
except for electrical and electronic standards (covered by the
IEC, see below) and telecommunications (covered by the ITU, see
below). The final publication of an ISO standard requires the
majority consensus of technical committee members and two thirds
of the ISO voting membership. (www.iso.ch)
IECThe International Electrotechnical Commission, a voluntary
organization headquartered in Geneva, is responsible for standards
in the area of electrical and electronic engineering. Its main
concern is the development of specification standards for products
and devices. Its membership consists of over 60 participating
countries. IEC issues publications and recommendations for standards,
and promotes safety, compatibility, interchangeability, and acceptability.
ITUThe International Telecommunications Union is a treaty organization
run under the auspices of the United Nations. Governments, not
industry, administer and enforce the regulatory telecommunications
standards that come out of the ITU. The U.S. Department of State
is the U.S. representative to the ITU. (www.itu.int)
For both ISO and IEC, ANSI is the member body representing the
United States. ANSI coordinates technical advisory groups (TAGs)
that represent U.S. interests at both ISO and IEC. ASTM International
holds over 200 TAGs in ISO technical committees and subcommittees.
The Standards Incentive
We have seen how the impetus for standards development can come
from many different sources, but what are the incentives that
bring these groups into the standards arena?
Standards are seldom the products of altruism. Individuals and
organizations become involved in standards writing for very specific
reasons. Among them are:
The Economic IncentiveBoth producers and consumers reap the benefits
of standards, which are the ability to manufacture and purchase
more economically through mass production, to lower inventories
by eliminating unnecessary grades, and to improve quality control.
The Public Service IncentiveVirtually every government agency
is active in the standards forum because each has an obligation
to act in the public interest. In the development of standards,
representatives of government often serve as the spokesmen or
voting voice of the consumer.
The Individual IncentiveParticipation on a standards committee
provides an outstanding opportunity for individual professional
growth. Participants become more proficient in their fields and
develop broader understanding, which often leads to wide recognition
among their peers.
The Shared Work IncentiveSimply stated, it is far easier to arrive
at solutions when the knowledge and practical skills of many are
brought to bear on a problem. This is precisely what happens at
the standards tablethe participants lend their collective expertise
to producing meaningful documents and at the same time, by their
participation, they preclude the development of standards that
would serve only narrow interests. Inevitably, the final product
is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Standards provide a way to speak an international language that
ensures product consistency and compatibility, enhanced competition,
technology diffusion, and the public welfare across international
borders. For example, because they can improve the technical quality
of products and are widely used by the global market, forty percent
of ASTM standards distributed go outside the United States. Standards
development and use, therefore, is an important subject to learn
about and master as everyone, from small business entrepreneur
to CEO, from engineer to government official, grapples with the
broad bottom-line implications of standards.
About ASTM International
Founded in 1898, ASTM International is a not-for-profit organization
that provides a global forum for the development and publication
of voluntary consensus standards for materials, products, systems
and services. ASTM standards are accepted and used in research
and development, product testing, quality systems, and commercial
transactions around the globe.
Access to Standards
An online index of 11,000 ASTM standards enables you to locate
ASTM standards in 130 varying industry areas. Available on the
ASTM Web site (www.astm.org), the online index facilitates searches
by keyword or standard number, and viewers can access the titles
and scopes of all ASTM standards. The full text of any ASTM standard
is available electronically or in print via the web site or through Customer Service at ASTM International (610/832.9585).