The Importance of Voluntary Standards

Posted by Lisa Trofe on Jun 20, 2019 11:26:52 AM

From building materials, to food and clothing, to home appliances, consumer products and laptop computers, nearly every item that we interact with on a daily basis is subject to compliance with a voluntary or mandatory safety standard. 

So, what are standards? 
Standards are published documents that establish performance requirements and testing specifications and procedures, all designed to maximize the reliability of products, materials, and services people use every day. Standards make products work better, ensure compatibility with other products, safeguard consumer safety, simplify product development, and increase speed to market.

Who creates standards?
There are a number of standard development organizations (SDO) in the world, including ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), ISO (International Standards Organization), UL (Underwriters Laboratory) and ANSI (American National Standards Institute), among others. Some trade associations even create their own standards. ASTM is likely the most familiar name, as its designations appear on every day things from toys (ASTM F963) to shopping carts (ASTM F2372), although ASTM also creates standards for manufacturing processes, various materials, systems and services. ASTM membership comprises more than 33,000 technical experts in 150 countries, working on over 12,000 standards.

How does standard development work?
Nearly all SDOs are consensus-based standard setting bodies. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) via its Circular A-119 defines the Voluntary Consensus Standards Development Process to include FIVE elements:

  • Openness (Open to all interested parties)
  • Balance (Involving all, not one single dominating interest group)
  • Due Process (adequate meeting notices, public policies/procedures, etc.)
  • Appeals Process (required for any impartial handling of procedural appeals)
  • Consensus (general agreement, but not necessarily unanimity)

By nature of these elements, the standard development process operates in a fair and transparent manner. All stakeholder groups can participate, including manufacturers, testing facilitates, government agencies, advocates/NGOs (non-governmental agencies) and consumers. The varied expertise and perspectives shared by these stakeholder groups make for the best possible standard.

If not “mandatory” – what is the significance of a voluntary standard?
The Consumer Product Safety Act directs the Consumer Product Safety Commission to rely on voluntary standards rather than issue a mandatory standard when the voluntary standard would eliminate or adequately reduce risk of injury AND substantial compliance with voluntary standard is likely.

Additionally, the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 and OMB Circular A-119 state that federal agencies should use private sector standards, whenever possible, in lieu of creating government-unique standards.

Where voluntary standards are not adopted into law, they still carry significant weight in a number of different ways. Manufacturers rely on the performance specifications and labeling recommendations in voluntary standards to ensure their products are best in class. Retailers will require adherence to voluntary standards when mandatory requirements do not exist. Consumers make purchasing decisions based on visual indicators (an ASTM compliance designation, for example) on a product or packaging.  Finally, in instances of litigation, many courts will hold manufacturers to a standard as generally accepted product design requirements as agreed to by industry.

What are the benefits of standards?

MANUFACTURERS

  • Distinguishes high quality/safe products
  • Demonstrates company’s commitment and accountability to safety and quality
  • Increases speed to market (new technology and markets)
  • Provides liability protection
  • Increases credibility with retailers and consumers

RETAILERS

  • Increases confidence in manufacturing partners and products they’re purchasing
  • Decreases risk knowing that products meet the highest industry standards
  • Increases credibility with consumers

CONSUMERS

  • Increases confidence in quality, safety and operability of the products they’re purchasing
  • Makes comparison shopping and purchasing decisions easier

How can associations get involved in an SDO on behalf of their industry?
AH client partner The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) has been involved in the ASTM standard setting process for decades. It has a unique role as the facilitator for all ASTM juvenile product subcommittees. JPMA staff supports the subcommittees by scheduling meetings, creating agendas and typing meeting minutes. JPMA is also responsible for supporting task group activities within those subcommittees. This role ensures that JPMA remains updated on standard development for the Certification Program participants. JPMA staff can stay informed on changes to testing requirements and advocate on behalf of program participants.

If you’d like to learn more about the importance of voluntary standards or how you can get involved on behalf of your association, please contact Lisa Trofe or Meredith Birkhead at JPMA.

Lisa Trofe, CAE is an Account Executive at AH and Managing Director of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association

Topics: Association Management