When OSHA was enacted in 1970 one way Congress accelerated the development of safety and health requirements was to incorporate by reference into law mandatory compliance with national voluntary consensus standards developed by organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), ASTM (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials), the Compressed Gas Association (CGA), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Consensus standards are important because they establish quality and performance objectives for products or a process. According to ANSI, “standards are more essential today than any time in our nation’s history,” and “voluntary consensus standards are at the foundation of the U.S. economy.”

Influence of consensus standards

Few people are aware just how many of these standards there are and how influential they have become. Today hundreds of national and global organizations have developed more than 180,000 voluntary consensus standards. Old standards are being revised and new standards are being developed all the time.

The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 accelerated the conformance with voluntary consensus standards by U.S. government agencies. The law directs all federal agencies use, whenever feasible, consensus standards developed by standard-setting organizations rather than developing government-unique standards. In FY 2005, federal agencies used numerous consensus standards from 407 different standard-setting organizations.

U.S. strategy

The United States Standards Strategy, developed in August 2000, commits the U.S. to a sector-based approach to voluntary consensus standard activities, both domestically and globally. Under the strategy are 12 globally accepted principles for standard development. These principles are: Transparency; Openness; Impartiality; Effectiveness and Relevance; Consensus; Performance Based; Coherence; Due Process; Technical Assistance; Flexible; Timely; and Balance. The current strategy also includes 12 major objectives for improvement of standards. Of importance to EHS pros is objective #2: “Continue to address the environment, health, and safety in the development of voluntary consensus standards.”


Globalization has accelerated conformance with international consensus standards. For example, more than 750,000 sites around the world are certified to the ISO 9000 family of standards that relate to quality management systems. More than 110,000 sites worldwide are certified to ISO 14001 that relates to environmental management systems. Estimates suggest that ten times this number of sites follow the elements in ISO 9000 and 14001 but have elected not to seek conformance certification. ISO 26000 guidance on social responsibility (expected to be published as a final standard in October 2010) is expected to have wide appeal. It’s predicted that 88 percent of multinationals, 77 percent of major national companies, 45 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises, and 45 percent of public organizations will apply the guidance found in ISO 26000.

Impact on individuals

We should also recognize consensus standards now have a great impact on individuals, particularly in the quality and global acceptance of pro- fessional credentials. Consensus standard ANSI/ISO/ IEC 17024 conformity assessment general requirements for bodies operating certification of persons was issued in 2003. Credentialing organizations now seek accreditation under this standard to demonstrate the quality of their programs and distinguish their credentials among the growing competition. The CIH and CSP credentials were one of the first five certifications anywhere in any field to achieve the accreditation. Today, numerous credentialing organizations, that represent about one million certified people, including people holding the CHMM and other EHS professional certifications, are accredited to ANSI/ ISO/IEC 17024.

You should be aware that the CSP accreditation was suspended. ANSI suspended accreditation of the CSP in September 2009.

Editor’s Note: According to the Board of Certified Safety Professionals’ Executive Director Thomas Adams, in 2009 BCSP began its five-year recertification process with ANSI. Accreditation was suspended but not revoked because BCSP has been working to resolve issues brought up during the review. The final hurdle, says Adams, “deals with how to have individuals who obtained their CSP prior to our requiring a college degree to comply with that requirement retroactively. You may not ‘grandfather’ anyone under ISO 17024. The BCSP board was scheduled to vote on a proposal September 1 and, if approved, submit it to ANSI for their approval later this fall.

Certificate or certification?

Many EHS pros have attended a training course(s) and obtained a credential. ANSI/ASTM E2659-09 Standard Practice for Certificate Programs, issued in 2009, now controls this practice and accredits organizations that issue certificates. Among other requirements, clause (1) provides that, “The certificate issuer shall not state or in any way imply that the certificate holders are certified, licensed, accredited, or registered to engage in a specific occupation or profession.” Certificate vs. certification may come as a harsh reality to EHS pros who attended an IAQ training course to obtain various “certifications.” Accreditation under ANSI/ASTM E2659-09 is intended to enhance the credibility and value of certificates.

Keeping pace

The many consensus standards being revised, newly developed, and implemented make it a daunting task to keep pace with the flowing information. Professional organizations such as AIHA and ASSE do a good job in keeping members informed about standard changes or development within their field. Social media sites also help connect people with an interest on consensus standards. For example, I routinely receive updates about ISO 31000 – Risk Management from LinkedIn members.

Information at www.StandardsPortal.org will also help keep you abreast of consensus standards. A newly proposed ISO standard on human resource management has attracted my interest because HR usually has a significant impact on EHS issues. The U.S. Standards Strategy that includes principles of transparency and openness make it easy today to track and follow the development of a new consensus standard, such as HR management.


There are organizations that issue guidance to the EHS community but are not a standard-setting body. The ACGIH® TLV® process is an important example. ACGIH® is a private notfor- profit, nongovernmental corporation scientific association. Although widely used, TLVs® are not consensus standard because they do not address all issued raised by interested parties. This is an important distinction between the TLV® and a true consensus standard.

Best practices

Consensus standards reflect the best practices for making a product or conducting an activity. The full title for these standards includes “voluntary” but as we have seen, more organizations turn voluntary standards into requirements. ANSI says that voluntary consensus standards are at the foundation of the U.S. economy. As globalization progresses, however, conformance with consensus standards becomes more important for organizations and individuals.