What is ISO?

ISO is the International Organization for Standardization,  a worldwide federation of national standards bodies from more than 140 countries..

It is a non-governmental organization with the mission of "promoting the development of standardization and related activities in the world with a view to facilitating the international exchange of goods and services, and to developing cooperation in the spheres of intellectual, scientific, technological and economic activity". It was established in 1947.

Its work results in international agreements which are subsequently published as International Standards.

At time of web site publication, ISO comprised: 146 national standards bodies, 2937 technical bodies and an equivalent full time staff of over 500 persons. Around 30 000 experts participate in meetings each year. It is clearly a substantial body.


What are Standards?

Officially (BSI) a standard is defined as "a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results".

Standards areof course  varied. They can exist for physical items and for 'making things happen' (services). They often represent an indispensable level of knowledge/expertise in any specific area. In the context of public contracts or international trade, standards are often essential to simplify and clarify contractual relations.

Committees of manufacturers, users, research organizations, government departments and consumers work together to create standards that evolve to meet the demands of society and technology. Staff (eg: BSI) act as secretaries to these committees and project manage the production of the standards.



BSI is the oldest national standards body in the world and a major contributor to internation standards. Last year, for instance,  1400 new standards were published and some 3000 technical committees and working groups covering 16,000 standards were supported. BSI's library has access to over 500,000 different standards


Types of Standard

Standards are sometimes prefixed by different codes - which can be confusing. However, the following may help:

  • All British standards use the product identifier "BS"
  • All British adoptions of European Standards are identified with "BS EN"
  • All International standards are identified with "ISO"
  • All International standards adopted as British standards are identified with "BS ISO".

ISO Standards


Why have Standards?

A common question! However, consider the following:

  • what if credit cards were different sizes?
  • what if light bulbs didn't fit into lamps?
  • what if railway lines were different widths?
  • what if microwave ovens emitted large amounts of harmful radiation?
These are just a handful of issues that are covered by standards - standards designed to create a common framework to ensure both widespread usability and safety. You can see just from these examples how they help facilitate consistency and therefore benefit both suppliers and consumers.


Finally: What's in a Name?

We started by stating that ISO is the  International Organization for Standardization.  But should this not be IOS? Well... no!

ISO is actually a word. To quote ISO themselves, it is: derived from the Greek isos, meaning "equal", which is the root of the prefix "iso-" that occurs in a host of terms, such as "isometric" (of equal measure or dimensions) and "isonomy" (equality of laws, or of people before the law).


Individual Standards

The rest of this web site provides information and background on a selection of the most popular standards. It also provides an official source (BSI) from which to obtain the standards themselves.




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