What is a Standard?
A Standard is a formal, written document that usually contains requirements or specifications - these must be done or must exist. Some Standards also contain procedures. Every Standard represents a consensus on what is required or should be done. ISO 9001 is one of many international Standards produced by ISO; they are all recognisable by the ISO that appears before the number.
Standards are intended to ensure that systems, services, products and components are reliable, safe and fit for purpose. They establish common criteria. For business, they should reduce costs, by minimizing waste and errors and increasing productivity. They should also help companies access new markets, help level the playing field for developing countries and facilitate global trade.
- Traffic light colours: red = stop, amber = caution (wait or proceed slowly); green = go
- Nuts, bolts, screws and threads: a nut made in Melbourne Australia, fits a bolt made in Shanghai China and vice versa
- Containers - freight moves worldwide using containers of standard dimensions and thus can be shipped and moved with cranes and other freight-handling equipment in ports across the world.
The vast majority of Standards are very specific. By contrast, ISO 9001 is a generic Standard; another is ISO 140001 for environmental management. Because they are so generic, they can be applied to any organisation in any industry or field in any country, regardless of the type of service or product and size/type of the organisation.
Different Types of Standards
- ISO, country-specific and Joint Standards
- Handbooks, and
ISO Standards are international: developed and managed by ISO.
All ISO Standards have ISO in front of the number, for example:
- ISO 9000 Quality management
- ISO 31000 Risk management
- ISO 14000 Environment
Country-specific Standards apply only within a particular country. For example, Australian Standards are designated by AS in front of the number, such as AS 5812 for pet food for domestic dogs and cats. Sometimes a country-specific Standard may become an ISO Standard: the international standard for Risk Management, ISO 31000, began life originally as an Australian Standard.
How ISO Standards are Developed
The information following is based on that provided on the official website for ISO.
Guiding principles for ISO Standards:
- ISO standards respond to a need in the market; ISO does not decide when to develop a new standard, but responds to requests from industry or other stakeholders such as consumer groups
- ISO standards are based on global expert opinion; each Standard is developed by a panel of experts working within the structure of a Technical Committee to negotiate the Standard's content, scope and definitions
- Multiple stakeholders are involved in the development; the technical committees comprise not only experts from the relevant industry, but also representatives from consumer associations, academia, NGOs and government.
- ISO standards are based on a consensus; consensus must be reached and comments are taken into consideration, so every international Standard ultimately represents international consensus from many different stakeholders.
There is a formal process to develop and update Standards:
- The need for a new Standard must first be established
- The panel of experts meets to discuss and negotiate a draft standard
- Once developed, the draft is shared with members of ISO who comment and vote on it
- If consensus is reached, the draft becomes an ISO standard; if not it returns to the technical committee for further changes, and is re-released for comment and votes, and so on.
Author: Jane Bennett