A look at the adoption process of international and regional standards

One of the most perplexing areas of the standardization process for our U.S. customers and staff is the sudden proliferation of multiple republications of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and EN (European Norm [Standard]) documents. To Americans, it seems as if harmonization has gone completely wrong!

Yet, when I'm talking with European standards users, they are just as confused about our standards processes. They tell me they don't understand why Americans join ISO committees when Americans don't use the ISO standards once they are written!

So, first we'll review the globalization process as understood by Americans. Then, we will tackle the same topic, but from a European perspective. Hopefully, when we're done, you'll understand the differences in the two viewpoints and more about the many documents you're running into lately.

American companies have been looking towards "one world, one standard" for quite some time. Towards this end, we participate on International committees, and would participate in the European regional standardization too if we could. When a standard is complete, American companies feel they've been a part of the process, and are hopefully pleased with the result. The standard is voluntarily used in business practices. The goal has been achieved.

However, in the European arena, developing a standard either on the International level (ISO) or Regional level (EN) is just the beginning. In Europe only the national publication of a standard can show that the document has been accepted for use by a country. And the adoption of specific standards are mandated by law to promote the single European market.

The Use of the Administrative Cover Sheet

When we see these European documents, we should think of them as sandwiches. The source document is the meat of the standard, between administrative layers of "bread." For each publication, the meat remains the same — roast beef is always roast beef, and EN-45002 is always the same EN-45002. However, the administrative layer changes depending on what country is doing the publishing (France, Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, etc.). 

What does the administrative layer signify? 

The administrative cover sheet tells users that the publishing country has meet the legal requirements of the European Union. 

For the European regional organizations CEN (Comite Europeen de Normalisation) and CENELEC (Comite Europeen de Normalisation Electrotechnique), the only publication of the standard is at the national level. CEN/CENELEC does not print any of the EN standards, but forwards them on to the member nations of the European Union (EU) for adoption and publication.

When a standard (EN) is developed by CEN or CENELEC, all EU member countries are required to adopt the EN document. All conflicting national standards must be withdrawn or modified. And any national standard on the same subject/technology must be withdrawn in favor of the EN document. In order to assure that this process has taken place, the publication of the EN document with a national cover sheet is mandatory.

For the member bodies, this has been a painful political process. Americans have a hard time understanding that to reach the goal of a single unified market, Europeans have decided that for better or worse, they are all going to use the same standards. This means that if a standard is developed by CEN or CENELEC that is not as good as your national standard, you, as a member of the EU, are obligated to withdraw your superior standard in favor of the European document anyway.

Since CEN/CENELEC is not a primary publisher, the original EN document without a cover sheet is not a legally valid document. The official English language editions of EN documents are published by BSI, German language by DIN (Deutsches Institut fur Normung), and French by AFNOR (Association Francaise de Normalisation). Remember: This means that every EN publication has two dates: The original EN document date when the standard was finalized by CEN or CENELEC, and the cover sheet date when the standard was adopted by the particular EU member nation.

The national publication is a benefit of membership

FISO and CEN/CENELEC membership consists of the standards bodies of the various member nations, and the revenue from the sale of standards is important to these institutions.

For the U.S., the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) represents our interests, in Britain the British Standards Institute, and so on. When ANSI sells an ISO document, part of the revenue goes to ANSI and part to ISO.

However, when ANSI adopts and republishes an ISO document as an ANSI/ISO, then no royalty payment is due to ISO and ANSI or its issuing body (like ASQ) can keep it all. So, ASQ-Q9001 is the American translation of the ISO-9001 and is identical to the ISO edition, with the exception of American spellings for the original British spellings of the original ISO publication. 

Which version should I use?

Since the "meat" of the document is the same in all cases, the answer lies in the administrative notes that matter to you. We advise customers to determine why they are getting the document in the first place. If you have an auditor or a particular customer in mind, check with that person to determine their preference. Or you may be working on marketing your product into a specific country.

If there is no political reason to prefer one copy over another, then you can choose based on speed of delivery or cost.

Concept Roundup

In summary, the DIN-EN-ISO-9001 is the European adoption of ISO-9001, as adopted and published by DIN. If it is a German language publication, it is the official EN German language publication. If it is in English or French, it is unofficial unless registered, but textually identical to the official publications in those languages.

The BS-EN-ISO-9001 is the official English language version of the same document, with the same ISO inside the same EN administrative layer, but with the British administrative outer "bread."

Of course, the EN-ISO-9001 will be published by all the EU nations that adopt it, so now there are many where originally we only had one. Each publication will have it's own cover sheet, specifying how the adoption has been implemented.

With the high level of effort that it is taking the Europeans to create a harmonized marketplace and the challenge of the candidate nations who are looking for entry into the European trade region, the internal political reality is the driving force behind European standards at the present time. Much to America's surprise, our "one world, one standard" has turned out to be "one world, one standard many times!"

Claudia Bach is President of Document Center, Inc., an information delivery service based in Belmont, CA. The company has complete collections of specifications and standards from both government sources and industry associations. She can be reached by phone at (650) 591-7600, by fax at (650) 591-7617, by e-mail at, or on the web at