BSI: Why standards are so valuable

What is a Standard?

A standard is an agreed way of doing something. It could be about making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials – standards can cover a huge range of activities undertaken by organizations and used by their customers.

Standards are the distilled wisdom of people with expertise in their subject matter and who know the needs of the organizations they represent – people such as manufacturers, sellers, buyers, customers, trade associations, users or regulators. They are powerful tools that can help drive innovation and increase productivity. They can make organizations more successful and people’s everyday lives easier, safer and healthier.

Our portfolio extends to more than 30,000 current standards. They are designed for voluntary use so it’s up to you – you’re not forced to follow a set of rules that make life harder for you, you’re offered ways to do your work better.

The Role of Standards

Standards cover a wide range of subjects from construction to nanotechnology, from energy management to health and safety, from cricket balls to goalposts. They can be very specific, such as about a particular type of product, or general such as management practices.

The point of a standard is to provide a reliable basis for people to share the same expectations about a product or service. This helps to:

  • facilitate trade
  • provide a framework for achieving economies, efficiencies and interoperability
  • enhance consumer protection and confidence

To learn more about the positive impact of standards, read our article The Benefits of Standards.

Names and Numbers

Each formal standard has a unique number and a prefix which shows where the standard applies. British Standards have the prefix ‘BS’, while European standards carry the ‘EN’ prefix. International standards are preceded by the letters ‘ISO’ or ‘IEC’.

Standards can be a combination of British, European and international: the three prefixes in ‘BS EN ISO 9001’ show that this standard is simultaneously an international, European and British Standard.

How are Standards Developed?

A standard is a collective work. Representatives of organizations having an interest and expertise in the subject matter are brought together by BSI to form a technical committee to draw up the standard, with our staff facilitating their development and review. Typically, our technical committees comprise representatives of industry bodies, research and testing organizations, local and central government, consumers and standards users.

We have more than 100 years’ experience of shaping standards – leading and facilitating the process of reaching consensus among experts. We ensure standards committees are representative, inclusive and accessible and the process is rigorous and transparent.

We apply specific principles for drafting standards that help to ensure that our standards are authoritative and widely respected. To view these, click here.

Most British Standards are developed at an international level, either through organizations that work globally (i.e. ISO and IEC) or just within Europe (i.e. CEN, CENELEC and ETSI). BSI is closely involved with these organizations at all levels and its technical committees almost always nominate members to participate in the development of international standards.

BSI is obliged to adopt all European standards (ENs) developed by CEN, CENELEC and ETSI and to withdraw any exiting British Standards that conflict with them. This obligation does not apply to international standards, although there is a general presumption that we will adopt them unless there are strong reasons for not doing so. Adoption entails giving the special status of “British Standard” (BS) which indicates that the standard has been developed according to the principles set out in BS 0.

We also develop British Standards entirely within the UK, covering subjects not covered by international standardization.

The development time for a British Standard is between one and four years, depending on the complexity of the subject and the range of stakeholders involved. For this reason, international standards usually take longer to develop than those produced locally.

British Standards are not the only type of standard we produce. Some of these, particularly Publicly Available Specifications (PASs) can often be developed in much shorter timescales.

Key Business Standards and How They’re Used

Organizations might use:

Browse our huge range of standards and start working to best practices today.