Standards information: Overview


What are standards?Audi car doors by Carlos Aranda is used under Unsplash licence

Standards are key documents that set out agreed ways of working (BSI, 2022).  This agreement can be in the form of how to manage a project or process, to something more specific like the angle of incline of a screw thread.  They can be basic guidelines or very specific and descriptive documents.  They usually contain a "scope" of what the standard covers. Occasionally, what the standard doesn't cover can be just as important as what it does.

Standards are created by the collective wisdom of experts in the subject area.  They are updated as and when new ways of working and technologies are adopted.  As such, standards maybe withdrawn or become superseded by other standards.  It is therefore important to ensure you are working to the latest version of a standard.

Why do we have standards?

By using standards we mitigate risk, follow the latest expert consensus on how to do things, and ensure interoperability of products and services. For example, if it wasn't for the standard BS EN IEC 62680-1-3:2022 - Universal serial bus interfaces for data and power. Common components. USB Type-C® cable and connector specification we couldn't use USB-C type connectors across multiple types of devices from phones to laptops.  By ensuring companies work to this agreed standard, we can enjoy the greater interoperability of devices, and in some cases the more economical cost of buying replacement cables!

Who writes standards?

Most countries have a national standards body - in the UK we have the British Standards Institution (BSI) - but there are also international standards which are agreements on ways of working on a global scale. For example the International Organization for Standardization (known as ISO) is a body of 167 national standards organisations (ISO, 2022) around the world.

In some cases international standards are "adopted" and ratified by national bodies, and so you may find a British Standard "equivalent" to an ISO standard.  Take the well known ISO 9001 on Quality management systems - this has been adopted as a British Standard known as BSI EN ISO 9001.  Where we don't have access to the International version - we may have access to the British standard equivalent via our BSOL subscription (See databases tab above).

In addition there are many "professional bodies" which publish standards in their respective areas of expertise.  See the Standards Organisations tab for some examples.  

What standards are not

Standards should not be confused with Legislation or Regulations.  Legislation/Regulations are published by the government and are enforceable by law.  The Working at Height Regulations 2005 sets out the responsibilities of companies to protect their employees who are working at height - outlining the safety precautions that are required to be taken.  The regulations will specify, for example, the steps to be taken to reduce the risk of falling objects.  While the law can only enforce that steps are taken, standards are a great way of ensuring you meet those requirements.  For example you could use the collective wisdom in BS 8411:2019 - Safety nets on construction sites and other works. Code of practice, to help you erect netting to catch potential falling objects.

Another example is the suite of regulations about pollution control.  To prove you are meeting the regulations you may make use of standard testing methodologies for testing your waste outputs from a chemical plant. 


BSI (2022) What is a standard?. Available at (Accessed 28 November 2022)

IEEE (2022) IEEE at a glance. Available at: (Accessed: 28 November 2022)

ISO (2022) About us. Available at: (Accessed: 28 November 2022)

Picture credits

Audi car doors by Carlos Aranda is used under Unsplash licence

Useful FAQ answers

Got a question about Standards you want to see answered here?  Let me know by emailing me!


Come along to my Introduction to Standards Information LibSmart session which covers:
•    What is a standard?
•    Who publishes standards?
•    Structure of standards
•    Why use standards?
•    British Standards Online (BSOL)
•    IEEE standards (via IEEE Xplore)
•    Other standards
•    Referencing standards

To book a place - please go to the links below.


It is best practice to check you are using the latest version of a standard before using it.