By Jane Wilson
Here’s a brief overview of how standards are developed worldwide.
The primary route for the development of international standards is managed by the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO (www.iso.org). The ISO system recognizes a single member body from each participating country in the consensus standards development process. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the ISO member body for the United States.
Any ISO member country can propose a new standards development project. A project can move forward if it is supported by a sufficient number of additional ISO member countries. A new Technical Committee, the ISO consensus body, is formed if the standards project does not fall within the scope of an existing Technical Committee. To form a new Technical Committee, ISO requests each member body to determine if it would like to be designated as a Participant or an Observer in the Technical Committee process. During the standards development process, each Participant country has a single vote in determining consensus on a standards project. Negative votes are circulated to all participant countries for consideration.
At the completion of the ISO standards development process, a country may chose to adopt the ISO standard as its own national standard. A country may also chose to make country-specific amendments to the ISO standard, in order to provide sufficient specificity for implementation or to reflect unique needs of its government, industries, and economy.
Regional standards development systems are very influential in some parts of the world. An example of a regional standards development system is the European Union (EU). One of the functions of this regional organization is to develop standards that are then adopted by all EU member countries. A mechanism also exists for EU standards to be introduced into the ISO standards development process.
At the national level, standards development processes usually follow one of two models. Many countries use a centralized model, in which a single organization, usually a government agency, develops or adopts the national standards for that country. In the United States, a decentralized model is used, where many diverse types of organizations have the ability to develop national standards. ANSI is the designated administrator of the development of American National Standards and provides an accreditation process for organizations that express an interest in developing such standards. ANSI’s coordination serves to discourage the development of duplicative or conflicting American National Standards.
NSF International is an ANSI-accredited standards organization and focuses on development of standards that protect public health and the environment. NSF standards are developed by committees of external volunteers who have a material interest in the development and maintenance of a standard. NSF standards committees typically consist of representatives from regulatory and public health, the industry and user communities. Membership is balanced with respect to the number of volunteers in each category to avoid dominance of the process by a single interest. A unique aspect of NSF’s standard development process is review by the NSF Council of Public Health Consultants, an advisory body that provides a public health validation for each standard developed by NSF.