I've heard the word `standard', but how would I know an ISO standard if I saw one?
An ISO standard can be anything from a four-page document to one several hundred pages' long. It is usually also available in electronic form. It carries the ISO logo and the designation International Standard. In most cases, the paper version is published in A4 format - which is itself one of the ISO standard paper sizes. The standardization of paper sizes is a typical example of ISO's work: agreement on a sufficient number of variations of a product to meet most current applications allows economies of scale with cost benefits to both producers and consumers.
Are ISO standards mandatory?
ISO standards are voluntary. ISO is a non-governmental organization and it has no power to enforce the implementation of the standards it develops. A number of ISO standards - mainly those concerned with health, safety or the environment - have been adopted in some countries as part of their regulatory framework, or are referred to in legislation for which they serve as the technical basis. However, such adoptions are sovereign decisions by the regulatory authorities or governments of the countries concerned. ISO itself does not regulate or legislate. Although voluntary, ISO standards may become a market requirement, as has happened in the case of ISO 9000 quality management systems, or ISO freight container dimensions.
How can I find out which standards are equivalent to ISO standards?
ISO itself does not have data on equivalent standards (such as national or regional standards). However, a number of ISO members are able to provide this information. Therefore, please contact the ISO member in your country.
Can I access ISO standards on ISO.org or some other electronic database?
You can find out what standards exist in ISO's portfolio by accessing the ISO Catalogue and you can download electronic versions of the ISO standards you need via the ISO Store. There is no electronic access to the content of the whole collection of ISO standards or its parts. However, some ISO members provide such a possibility through their subscription services.
Are any ISO standards available electronically?
All ISO standards are available online as electronic files, most of them in PDF format. Those which are not in PDF format are available in HTML. Some standards which contain electronic inserts in various file formats are also available on CD or DVD.You can order these through the ISO member in your country or via the ISO Store.
Where can I obtain technical assistance on standards?
Contact the ISO member in your country. A list of members can be accessed on this site. The ISO Central Secretariat does not provide technical assistance, but the enquiry service (firstname.lastname@example.org) may be able to help you save time by directing you to appropriate sources of information.
Can I order ISO standards and publications via ISO.org?
Can I reproduce material from ISO standards?
All ISO publications, including ISO standards, are protected by copyright. See the ISO copyright guide page for further information. Formal permission is always required to reproduce material (email@example.com).
What can I expect to find in an ISO standard?
An ISO standard is a documented agreement containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose. It is a living agreement that can have a profound influence on things that deserve to be taken seriously - such as the safety, reliability and efficiency of machinery and tools, means of transport, toys, medical devices, and so on.
Could you give me a few practical examples of ISO standards?
Take a look at the graphical symbols on the dashboard of your car or at the pictorial symbol on a package marked with handling instructions such as "This way up". Various ISO technical committees have developed or adopted hundreds of carefully researched signs and symbols that convey clear-cut messages which cross language boundaries.
On the inside cover of nearly every book, there is something called an ISBN number. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Publishers and booksellers are very familiar with ISBN numbers, since they are the keyway that books are ordered and bought. Try buying a book on the Internet, and you will soon learn the value of the ISBN number - there is a unique number for the book you want! And, it is based on an ISO standard.
Almost everything you need and use for work and home comes from somewhere else. Whether departure and destination points are as close as A to B, or as far apart as Antwerp and Bangkok, freight containers ensure a smooth passage for your goods and materials. From truck to train, from boat to plane, there are more than five million freight containers transiting across the globe. This has become possible principally through international standardization.
Yet another example: the chair that you're probably sitting on, or the desk your computer is perched on, are held together by bolts and screws. Humble bolts and screws also hold together our children's bicycles - and also the aircraft we trust our lives to during business trips or holiday travel. The diversity of screw threads used to represent big problems for industry, particularly in maintenance, as lost or damaged nuts and bolts could not easily be replaced. A global solution is supplied in the ISO standards for metric screw threads.
Also, the credit card you may have used to buy your computer can be used worldwide because all its basic features are based on ISO standards. We are so familiar with many objects, like credit or telephone cards, that we tend to assume they just "fell out of the sky". In fact, the ease with which we can use them can be traced back to an ISO standard.
Technology moves on - what about ISO standards?
ISO standards represent, by an international consensus among experts in the technology concerned, the state of the art. To ensure that ISO standards retain this lead, they are reviewed at least every five years after their publication. The technical experts then decide whether the standard is still valid, or whether it should be withdrawn or updated. In some fields, the pace of development is such that when an ISO standard is published, the experts who developed it are already thinking about the next version!
Does ISO have standards for everything?
Not quite! Scroll through the list of our technical committees on this site to get an idea of the huge range of technologies, industries and business sectors for which ISO develops standards.
ISO's work programme ranges from standards for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering to the newest information and communications technology (ICT) developments, such as the digital coding of audio-visual signals for multimedia applications. We collaborate on ICT with our partners, IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union), which are specialized in the domains indicated by their names.
What are ISO's `new deliverables'?
ISO standards are developed according to strict rules to ensure that they are transparent and fair. The reverse side of the coin is that it can take time to develop consensus among the interested parties, and for the resulting agreement to go through the public review process in the ISO member countries. For some users of standards, particularly those working in fast-changing technology sectors, it may be more important to agree and publish a technical specification quickly, before going through the various checks and balances needed to win the status of a full International Standard. Therefore, to meet such needs, ISO has developed a new range of "deliverables", or different categories of specifications, allowing publication at an intermediate stage of development before full consensus.
What other products does ISO offer?
In addition to International Standards and the "new deliverables" (see previous question), ISO develops guideline documents, manuals for developing countries, standards compendia and handbooks and a whole range of standards-related publications. Listings of these can be found in the ISO Store. We also publish a magazine: ISO Focus+.
How does ISO decide what standards to develop?
Working through the ISO community, it is the people who need the standards that decide. What happens is that the need for a standard is felt by an industry or business sector, which communicates the requirement to one of ISO's national members. The latter then proposes the new work item to ISO as a whole. If accepted, the work item is assigned to an existing technical committee. Proposals may also be made to set up technical committees to cover new scopes of technological activity. In order to use resources most efficiently, ISO only launches the development of new standards for which there is clearly a market requirement.
Who actually develops ISO standards?
ISO standards are developed by technical committees comprising experts on loan from the industrial, technical and business sectors which have asked for the standards, and which subsequently put them to use. These experts may be joined by others with relevant knowledge, such as representatives of government agencies, testing laboratories, consumer associations, environmentalists, and so on. It is estimated that, every year, some 30 000 such experts participate in the development of ISO standards. The experts participate as national delegations, chosen by the ISO member for the country concerned to represent not just the views of the organizations in which the experts work, but a full national consensus on the issues involved.
How are ISO standards developed?
The national delegations of experts of a technical committee meet to discuss, debate and argue until they reach consensus on a draft agreement. This is then circulated to ISO's membership as a whole for comment and balloting. Many members have public review procedures for making draft standards known and available to interested parties and to the general public. The ISO members then take account of any feedback they receive in formulating their position on the draft standard. Finally, if the voting is in favour, the document is published as an International Standard. Every working day of the year, some 15 ISO meetings are taking place somewhere in the world. In between meetings, the experts continue the standards' development work by correspondence. Increasingly, their contacts are made by electronic means and some ISO technical bodies have already gone over entirely to electronic working, which speeds up the development of standards and reduces travel costs.
What should I do if I want to take part in the development of a standard?
The business sectors most interested in implementing the eventual standards are the ones who provide experts to develop the standards. Your own interest may be such that you would like to provide input, or even participate in the work. In fact, there are channels and opportunities for you to have a say in the development of future ISO standards through the ISO members for your country.
Who chooses the experts that participate in the standards' developing committees?
The national delegations that make up ISO technical committees are chosen by the national standards institute of that country, which is an ISO member. According to ISO rules, the standards institute is expected to take account of the views of the range of parties interested in the standard under development and to present a consolidated, national consensus position to the technical committee's work.