Make best use of standards
Standards can help you ensure your products, services or business systems meet fixed specifications or quality benchmarks. Many different standards exist, but most widely known include:
- the ISO 9001 standard for quality management
- the ISO 27001 for information security management
- the ISO 14001 for environmental management
The use of standards is voluntary, but it can bring many business benefits. For example, standards can help you grow the market for your products and services, boost credibility with customers and suppliers, and manage your business more effectively. They can also ensure that your products are compatible with other related products, to allow you to make the most of your innovations.
This guide explains what standards are and their benefits to your business. It describes the most common standards for achieving the best business practice, and tells you how to show that your products meet EU legal requirements.
What is a standard?
Standards are an accepted measure of the reliability of materials, products, methods and services people use every day. They can also:
- ensure product functionality and compatibility
- facilitate interoperability
- support consumer safety and public health
Standards establish protocols that any business can easily understand and adopt in their product development. You can use standards across a wide range of business, industry and technology.
Types of standards for business
There are two main types of standards:
- technical standards - these are made up of technical specifications or other precise criteria that set quality benchmarks for products, manufacturing processes and services
- management system standards - these provide a framework for businesses to manage their business processes and activities - see quality management standards
Are standards a legal requirement?
No - standards are voluntary. But you may need to meet certain standards to comply with particular industry or legal requirements. For example, motorcycle helmets must conform to certain standards before you can offer them for sale in the UK. You're free to find another way to fulfil your legal obligations - but meeting a standard is normally the best way of doing this.
Compliance with standards may also help you compete for contracts from larger businesses or government departments. Many have strict criteria that they expect their suppliers to meet. In some instances, customers may insist that you comply with a standard before they feel comfortable purchasing your products or services.
Find out more about the business benefits of standards.
Who develops standards?
There are many national standards bodies throughout the world. As the UK's national standards body, the British Standards Institution works closely with businesses, government, consumer and other groups to ensure that they get the standards that they need.
Standards for best business practice
You can use a number of recognised standards to promote best business and organisational practice. Many businesses adopt certain management systems to ensure they stay competitive.
Quality management standard
ISO 9001 is an internationally recognised standard for quality management of business systems. It benefits businesses by helping them improve customer satisfaction, internal efficiency and employee involvement. See more on ISO 9001 quality management standard.
Environmental management standard
ISO 14001 is the international standard that specifies a process for controlling and improving a business' environmental performance. It can help you manage your environmental responsibility and ensure that you comply with legal requirements. See how to set up an environmental management system.
Businesses that are seeking to adopt a phased approach to implementing environmental management systems will find the BS 8555 standard appropriate.
Energy management standard
ISO 50001 is the European standard that sets out the requirements for energy management systems. It can help your organisation save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and comply with legislation.
Occupational health and safety management standard
All businesses must comply with a range of regulations on health and safety in the workplace. Senior managers may also bear legal responsibility for this. One way of ensuring that you meet these requirements is to follow standards on occupational health and safety.
Information security management standard
An information security management system provides a systematic approach to managing and securing information - one of your business' key assets. The ISO 27001 IT security management standard is a key standard in this area.
Business continuity management standard
The ISO 22301 standard provides guidance for businesses on how to reduce the impact of disruptive events, such as IT viruses and supply chain disruption, as well as extreme incidents such as flash floods or terrorism. Find other best practices for business continuity and crisis management.
Business benefits of standards
There are many different technical, management or best practice standards you can choose to embrace in your business. Each performs a different role and comes with specific advantages for business.
Standards can, for example:
- differentiate your products, services and business
- help you access new markets
- increase efficiency and improve the quality of your products and services
- ensure you comply with regulations
- manage your business more effectively
If you are not sure what standards do or how they are used, see what is a standard.
Product and business differentiation
Customers often understand the importance of products that adhere to recognised standards. Using standards can:
- increase the perceived value of products and services
- build customer confidence with new clients
In some markets, purchasers use standards to show that suppliers are providing the correct products and services. They may stipulate standards as a requirement, against which they invite businesses to compete. In these markets, you may require to comply with an acknowledged standard before customers will buy from you.
Cost and time-effectiveness
Using the knowledge that is contained in standards can save time and money during a product's research and development. You can also reduce the risk of ending up with a substandard or unsuccessful product. If you, your suppliers and customers are all working to specified standards there will be fewer misunderstandings - saving time and money all around.
Conforming to standards can help you comply with a wide range of legal obligations in areas such as product safety and environmental management.
Health and safety
Using standards in areas such as quality and health and safety management can help you manage your business more efficiently and reduce mistakes and problems. Find out how to set up a health and safety management system.
A growing number of standards are based on European and international standards, which enable easier access to export markets. See how to show your products meet EU legal requirements.
Discover more about the standards for best business practice.
How to show your products meet EU legal requirements
Many types of products must satisfy European product directives before you can sell them on the single market in the European Economic Area (EEA). These directives aim to protect the health and safety of product users. They also remove technical barriers to trade.
Products subject to the European directives normally have to carry CE marking when on sale in the EEA. Harmonised European standards provide the simplest way of demonstrating that your products comply.
Putting the CE marking on your product acts as your declaration that the item meets the relevant legal requirements. How you go about getting CE marking and putting it on your product depends on the product and EU directive in question.
Are EU standards relevant to my products?
Standards can help you comply with EU directives covering a wide range of products, including:
- appliances burning gaseous fuels
- construction products
- electrical and electronic apparatus in terms of their electromagnetic compatibility
- equipment and protective systems in potentially explosive atmospheres
- gas appliances
- household appliances in terms of the noise they emit
- low voltage equipment
- machinery, mechanical equipment and safety products
- medical devices
- new hot water boilers fired with liquid or gaseous fluids
- non-automatic weighing instruments
- outdoor construction and gardening equipment in terms of the noise they produce
- personal protective equipment such as gloves, helmets and protective clothing
- pressure equipment such as industrial pipework and pressurised storage containers
- radio and telecommunications terminal equipment
- recreational craft
Testing and certification for products
Each individual directive generally specifies how you must show your product meets the relevant requirements. You may have to:
- produce a self-declaration that your product complies - usually backed up by your own, or independent test results
- get your product inspected or tested by an authorised independent testing body
Using a standard helps ensure you comply with the law when manufacturing products for sale in the EU. But standards aren't obligatory - you can use a different way of meeting your legal requirements if you wish.