What is a standard?

A standard is an agreed way of doing something. It can be about making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials.

Standards are developed by 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.

Standards are almost always voluntary (except in very few cases where they are directly called up in legislation). They can be cited in contracts, making the application of a standard a commercial necessity, but this is at the discretion of the parties to the contract.


Standards exist principally to provide a reliable basis on which common expectations can be shared regarding specific characteristics of a product, service or process.


The purposes of British Standards include:

  1. facilitating trade, particularly in reducing technical barriers and artificial obstacles to international trade;
  2. providing a framework for achieving economies, efficiencies and interoperability;
  3. enhancing consumer protection and confidence; and
  4. supporting public policy objectives and, where appropriate, offering effective alternatives to regulation.

British Standards

All British Standards have the defining characteristics of:

  1. development by balanced and broadly representative standing committees that retain responsibility for them indefinitely, and that reach agreement by consensus;
  2. being made subject to unrestricted open consultation; and,
  3. remaining subject to systematic periodic review as to their continuing validity.

Voluntary status

British Standards are voluntary in that there is no obligation to apply them or comply with them, except in those few cases where their application is directly demanded by regulatory instruments. They are tools devised for the convenience of those who wish to use them. In certain circumstances the actions of third parties might have the effect of making the application of a standard a commercial necessity, but BSI has no control over these actions and is not a party to them.

Authority and reliability

For a British Standard to be a useful and attractive tool for conducting business or supporting public policy, it has to command the trust and respect of all those who are likely to be affected by it.

The reliability of a British Standard rests not just on its technical accuracy and the sound judgement of those responsible for its text. There needs also to be a widely held confidence that:

  1. it is desirable, practical and authoritative;
  2. it offers no particular nor exclusive advantage to any party;
  3. it serves the needs of the wider community;
  4. in application it will be consistent with regulations and legal principles established at the time of publication.

The measures that are necessary to underpin this confidence are set out in Clause 5 [of BS 0:2011]. It is the responsibility of all parties involved in the development of a standard to ensure that these are not compromised.

Adherence to BS 0

Adherence to the principles set out in BS 0 is a condition of participating in the development of British Standards.

Help to shape the future

Share your experience and work with us to create the standards of tomorrow. If you'd like to become part of a national or international committee call our Knowledge Centre on +44 20 8996 7004 or email knowledgecentre@bsigroup.com for more information.

Share your experience and work with us to create the standards of tomorrow. Find out the best way to get involved with standards.

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