As a company, chances are high that at some point or other you’ll need to have an inspection done. This could be a financial audit, an analysis of the working conditions or health & safety inspections of equipment. Insurance companies, for example, may require a specific certification for certain benefits. And because we trade goods and services globally, it’d be extremely helpful if everyone would understand each other when talking about quality and standardisation. There’d be a ton of hassle if they used a completely different set of rules and standards at the other side of the globe. To make this process easy and streamlined, Standardisation Bodies exist.
There are many different organisations that develop standards (standardisation bodies), and almost all of them work together in some capacity. Since there are so many -and sometimes similar- organisations, committees and standards, I started to wonder how they all fit together. How they prevent duplicate or even conflicting standards from existing? Is there a ranking of authority between them? In short: how do they make sure they get out of each other’s way?
I went around and did some digging on who these organisations are and how they work together on a Dutch, European and global level. What became clear very quickly, is that it is a world with many different key organisations, joint committees and levels of cooperation. There are some blurred lines between all of these cooperative constructions. In this light -and before you read on- I think it is very important to keep the following in mind: developed standards are agreements between economic operators; they are not legally binding in and of themselves.
One last thing to note: since we’re a company that’s mostly active in a technical market, I’ll focus on technical standardisation bodies in this piece. Things such as electrical engineering, the built environment and communication technology.
Without further do, let’s get started with a list of standardisation bodies:
NEN (Nederlandse Norm)
NEN exists since 2000 as a close partnership between the Royal Dutch Standardisation Foundation (Stichting Koninklijk Nederlands Normalisatie Instituut) and the Royal Dutch Electrotechnical Committee (Stichting Koninklijk Nederlands Elektrotechnisch Comité). While both organisations still exist independently, they operate under the NEN-name. Since its inception, it has become the Dutch representative in several international standardisation organisations (e.g. CEN, described below). They currently manage over 34.000 (inter)national norms.
The dutch foundation SCIOS (“Stichting Certificering Inspectie en Onderhoud van Stookinstallaties” – Foundation for the Certification, Inspection and Maintenance of Combustion Plants/Heating Systems) owns an important standard in The Netherlands: the SCOPE-standard. It was developed in the late 1990s and has been continuously updated since. It consists of three parts: Combustion-based Machinery (SCOPE 1-7), Electrical Equipment (SCOPE 8-10 & 12) and Explosion Safety Inspection for Machinery (SCOPE 11). SCOPE is a variant on the corresponding NEN-standards but has additional requirements. Because of these additional requirements in certification, the SCOPE-inspections are quickly overtaking the traditional NEN-inspections (where applicable) in popularity.
Europe has three distinct, officially recognised bodies for standardisation: CEN, CENELEC and ETSI. They continue to exist independently up until today; in 1999 the European Parliament accepted a resolution declaring that merging the three organisations would have no considerable benefits.
CEN (European Committee for Standardisation)
Founded in 1961, the CEN is the overall European organisation for the development of standards and comprises the national committees of its member states, such as the Dutch NEN, the German DIN and the Italian UNI. Together, these committees develop standards for e.g. accessibility, environment and artificial intelligence.
CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization)
A separate, private institution that develops standards in the area of electrical engineering. CENELEC was founded in 1973, taking over from the two separate European committees (CENELCOM and CENEL). CENELEC specifically focuses on electrotechnical standardisation.
ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute)
ETSI was established in 1988 by the CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications). ETSI is concerned with standardisation in the fields of telecommunication protocols and networking services. Some examples of technologies that ETSI has developed standards for are TETRA (communication standard used by security services) and UMTS (like 3G and 4G mobile connection).
ISO (International Organization for Standardization)
ISO is perhaps the most well-known of international organisations that develop and manage standards. You’d be forgiven for thinking their name is an acronym for “International Standardisation Organisation” (I know I did, at least). However, the name is derived from the Greek word “isos”, which means “equal”. The organisation was formed in 1947 and published its first, international standard in 1951. Many European and national committees base their standards on ISO.
IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission)
The International Electrotechnical Commission is one of the oldest organisations on this list. It was founded in 1906 and currently has 89 international members. As the name suggests, the IEC is responsible for the fields of electrical and electronic engineering. Their work ranges from power systems to nanotechnology and kitchen appliances.
ITU (International Telecommunication Union)
When it comes to lifetime, the ITU takes the crown! It was founded in 1865 to “facilitate connectivity in communications networks”. Initially, this just meant connecting telegraph networks of different countries. As communication technologies evolved over the next century-and-a-half, their responsibilities extended. Nowadays, the ITU is concerned with anything involving communication at a distance, including standards for phone calls and online connections.
With so many standardisation bodies on all these different levels, there has to be a form of cooperation. Otherwise, every country, government and business would be drowning in an unclear swamp of disparate, duplicate and conflicting standards and regulations. And that’s got to be bad for business everywhere! To prevent this from happening, several agreements and regulations have been put into place. I’ll go through the most important ones here. Beware: things are about to get a little muddy here and there.
Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade
Firstly, the World Trade Organization -the global organisation that makes agreements on international trade- has set some rules in the “TBT-Agreement”; the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. This agreement has a few different purposes, all to ensure fair trade between nations. Article 4 specifically focuses on the development of (inter)national standards and it describes the relation between national and international bodies (for the enthusiasts; Annex 3F):
“Where international standards exist or their completion is imminent, the standardizing
body shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for the standards it develops, except where such international standards or relevant parts would be ineffective or inappropriate, for instance, because of an insufficient level of protection or fundamental climatic or geographical factors or fundamental technological problems”
This clause ensures that international standards will always serve as the groundwork for the regional and national development of standards.
The Vienna Agreement was signed by CEN and ISO in 2001 to prevent duplication and possible conflicting of standards between the two parties. The agreement describes how the two parties should work together and when, where and how decisions should be made between the two parties. CEN has adopted some ISO standards that have replaced corresponding CEN standards.
ISO/IEC JTC1 and ITU
Naturally, with multiple key players for international standardisation, you’d expect some overlap. ISO and IEC cooperate closely in the area of Information Technology (IT) through the JTC1, the Joint Technical Committee. The JTC1 consists of various advisory groups and subcommittees. Their main objective is to “play a role in recommending baselines and standards for safety features, acceptable quality measures and testing, for example.” In short: together, they develop protocols and standards for the IT field.
But… Hang on… Aren’t IT and telecommunications very closely related? And didn’t we just say the ITU responsible for international standards when it comes to telecommunications?
Yes and yes. I told you things would get a bit muddy. Here’s how it works:
To establish proper cooperation between JTC1 and ITU, all three parties (ISO, IEC and ITU) have composed a guide document. In this document, the three parties define the role of both committees as follows:
ITU has responsibilities for “studying technical, operating and tariff questions and adopting recommendations on them with a view to standardizing telecommunications on a worldwide basis.”
JTC1 has a the task of “standardization in the field of information technology.”
The document also describes modes of working together in case one of the two parties want to develop a new recommendation or international standard: with one party as ‘liaison’ or in full collaboration. These modes of cooperation again ensure no duplicate work for either organisation and makes sure that international standards for IT and telecommunications are unified.
The final method to identify relationships between standardisation bodies that I want to point out today, is compound naming. By compound naming, I mean that any national standards that are implementations of European or international standards will have a reference to that standardisation body in its code. For example:
NEN-EN 361 is a standard for protective equipment against falls from height. It’s a Dutch NEN-standard, based on the European EN 361-standard.
DIN EN ISO 128 is a standard for technical drawings. It’s a German DIN-standard based on the international ISO 128-standard.
As you can see, this compound naming adds some clarity as to the origin of standards and whether they’re national, regional or international.
I’m not going to lie: my head is still slightly spinning from the different standardisation bodies and the relations and the various forms of cooperation between them. Coordinating between all these different parties and making sure none of them do duplicate work or contradict each other, seems like an enormously daunting task!
I think the most important thing we’ll have to remember is that, ultimately, all of these organisations have the same goal: to make life safer and easier for everyone. As long the standards that they develop contribute to that and indeed lead to a safer, happier (working) environment for everyone, I’d consider that mission accomplished!