I've recently been thinking about Standards.
Standards, also known Standards Documents or Technical Standards. Those documents designated with strange codes such ISO, BS, AS, NZS, ASTM, EN, UL and so many other word combinations.
This post is going to be fairly introductory. There are some specific issues with standards which I'd like to discuss in more detail, but they can wait for future posts.
Standards are very important documents and they can also be extremely expensive.
I may as well quote Standards Australia on the importance of standards -
Standards are voluntary documents that set out specifications, procedures and guidelines that aim to ensure products, services, and systems are safe, consistent, and reliable.
They cover a variety of subjects, including consumer products and services, the environment, construction, energy and water utilities, and more.
To ensure they keep pace with new technologies, standards are regularly reviewed by Standards Australia technical committees.
On their own, standards are voluntary. There is no requirement for the public to comply with standards. However, State and Commonwealth governments often refer to Australian Standards® (AS) or joint Australian/New Zealand Standards (AS/NZS) in their legislation.
When this happens, these standards can become mandatory. In addition, Australian Standards® are sometimes incorporated into legal documents, and considered as a ‘benchmark of acceptability’.
I recommend the rest of Standards Australia's 'What is a standard?' FAQ page as a good introduction to standards without too much jargon.
As a law librarian, I am particularly interested in those standards which have been invoked or referenced by legislation and are now legally binding. Most standards are not like this.
Brief digression: Although to say that otherwise standards are purely voluntary is not quite accurate either. Let's say that I want to start a business importing widgets and selling them for a profit in Australia. If there is an Australian standard for widgets, then I can't really say that this standard is voluntary - if I am in the business of selling widgets. Every distributor or retailer I try to do business with will probably insist that my widgets meet the standard, and will usually demand third party certification of this. I, in turn, will need to make sure that my overseas supplier meets, and continues to meet the relevant Australian standard.
When a regulation or statute references a standard, the actual legislation will name the specific clauses of the standard or standards which are mandatory. Just the numbers of clauses - not the contents of the clauses. So in this instance, if you want to find the actual laws which you must comply with, you need to do two things - find the relevant legislation and then find the relevant standards which are referenced in the legislation.
Governments all over the world have got very good at providing the public with access to the laws which they must obey. But standards are not made directly by government. They are made by independent organisations - most usually non-profit entities or for profit companies. They incur certain costs in creating standards* and keeping standards up to date, and so own copyright in their standards. This is why it costs money to purchase standards - sometimes a lot of money. From my observation, there are fewer full standards which costs less than $100. I see a lot in the $200 - $400 range. Some standards cost over $1000 US.
The availability of standards referenced in legislation is the issue I'm interested in exploring. It's on the fault line of two big discussions-
- The tensions between free access to laws vs the rights of copyright owners
- The 'user pays' concept. If a standard referenced in legislation is somehow made free to the public - somebody would still need to pay for that. One way is for the Government to pay the copyright holder to reproduce the relevant text from the standards in full. It leads to the question - is it fairer that we all pay for that standard, or is fairer that the people most likely to use standards, i.e. the people using the standards for their business or profession should pay - as a part of the cost of doing business?
I have a couple more things to write about standards, which I'm saving for later -
- Are there any situations when regular Australian citizens are inconvenienced by not having free access to standards referenced in legislation? I'm thinking not so much about people who need standards for their business or trade, but people who are just wanting to ride a motorcycle or transport their child in their car …
- A summary of some of the arguments about access to standards which have been occurring in Australia during the last 5 or so years. These arguments led to even lead to a parliamentary inquiry by the State of Western Australia. I've digging around in the documents relating to this inquiry and would like to share some of the good bits.