How are international standards developed?

KAN leaflet (1.6 MB)

Generally speaking, anyone can file a proposal for a standard to be developed if they explain why it is needed. Such proposals are known as new work item proposals. They are submitted via the national standards body in the country in question (the DIN in Germany’s case), which forwards them to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) (or the IEC).

If a sufficient number of ISO members give their consent and are willing to be involved in the development work and if the financing is secured, ISO assigns the project to a Technical Committee (TC), which in turn forwards the mandate to one of its Working Groups (WGs). At the national level, mirror committees follow the standard’s progress. The ISO members appoint delegates to the TC to act as a bridge between the international and national standardization levels and to represent the national opinion. The experts whom the ISO members appoint to the WGs primarily express their opinion as specialists.

The WG draws up a committee draft (CD), which the national standards bodies have to comment on within three months. If a consensus is reached, each ISO member passes the draft international standard (DIS) to the national public enquiry stage. The stakeholders then have five months to present their comments to their national standards body. The comments are incorporated into the DIS and the WG prepares a final draft international standard (FDIS). The FDIS is then presented to the ISO/IEC members for voting. Votes must be cast within two months.

There is no obligation to adopt international standards as European or national standards. However, where international standards are adopted as European standards, modifications can be made. The Dresden and Vienna Agreements are intended to encourage unaltered adoption of international standards as European standards. According to the official schedule, international standards should be completed within three years.

Video clip of ISO: Sock puppets explain: How ISO develops standards!

How can OSH stakeholders influence the international standardization procedure?

Whether a new work item proposal is actually accepted depends completely on the ISO members entitled to vote. It is therefore particularly important to secure the support of other countries in advance. The OSH position can be incorporated into standardization work by means of active observation of standardization work, cooperation with European OSH experts (e.g. via EUROSHNET), comments during the enquiry stage and active involvement in the national mirror committee or the ISO committees.

In order for technical matters to be considered in a standard, the comment should be submitted at the CD stage, as far as possible, and not at the DIS stage, when the standard is usually already at an advanced stage. When voting on whether to approve a draft standard, the national standards body (influenced by the interests of various stakeholder groups, e.g. the OSH sphere) can vote “No but…”. Whilst constituting a rejection, this vote also points to a solution which would change the negative vote into a positive one.

Standards are reviewed every five years, allowing new positions to be put  forward. But OSH stakeholders can also submit a proposal for revision at an earlier date if they explain why such revision is required.

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