What are ISO standards?

The International Organisation for Standardization is a non-governmental organisation comprised of national standard institutes of 183 member countries and is responsible for the establishment of standards for businesses and organisations in throughout the globe. A standard is an agreed way of making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials. 

Standards can be agreed for all aspects of how we live, from standards for quality, product performance and safety to standards for building design and services. Standards create a climate of trust in the marketplace for goods and services. For customers, a product or service which is certified to a standard is a badge of quality. For businesses, compliance with standards can provide protection against unfair competition and help instil consumer confidence. ISO makes documents with required standards, specifications, guidelines or characteristics. These can consistently be used by organisations and ensure that materials, products, processes and services are suitable for their purpose. Additionally, it ensures that these requirements are accepted in all connected countries, thereby ensuring standardization. With an ISO certification, organisations show that their products, services or systems meet the agreed specifications.

Why are ISO standards useful?

ISO was founded with the idea of answering a fundamental question: “what’s the best way of doing this?” It started with the obvious things like weights and measures, and over the last 50 years has developed into a family of standards that cover everything from the shoes we stand in, to the Wi-Fi networks that connect us invisibly to each other. Addressing all these and more, International Standards mean that consumers can have confidence that their products are safe, reliable and of good quality. ISO’s standards on road safety, toy safety and secure medical packaging are just a few of those that help make the world a safer place. 

Regulators and governments count on ISO standards to help develop better regulation, knowing they have a sound basis thanks to the involvement of globally-established experts. With International Standards on air, water and soil quality, on emissions of gases and radiation, and environmental aspects of products, they protect the health of the planet and people, beyond bringing economic benefits.

The different types of ISO standards

The ISO develops technical and industrial standards across a wide array of disciplines that allow for organisations across the globe to be measured by an international norm. Standards are in essence formulas that describe the best way of doing something. It could be about making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials – standards cover a huge range of activities. 

Standards are the distilled wisdom of people with expertise in their subject matter and who know the needs of the organisations they represent – people such as manufacturers, sellers, buyers, customers, trade associations, users or regulators. For instance, Quality management standards to help work more efficiently and reduce product failures. Environmental management standards to help reduce environmental impacts, reduce waste and be more sustainable. Health and safety standards to help reduce accidents in the workplace. Energy management standards to help cut energy consumption. Food safety standards to help prevent food from being contaminated. IT security standards to help keep sensitive information secure.

ISO 9001 : 2015

ISO 9001 : 2015 is an international standard that establishes the criteria for a quality management system. (QMS) ISO 9001 sets out the requirements for a quality management system (QMS) and it can be used by any organisation, large or small, regardless of its field of activity. It helps businesses and organisations to be more efficient and improve customer satisfaction. In fact, there are over one million companies and organisations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001. 

The ISO 9001 : 2015 Quality Management standard is based on a number of quality management principles including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, the process approach and continual improvement. Using ISO 9001 : 2015 helps ensure that customers get consistent, good-quality products and services, which in turn brings many business benefits to any organisation. All the requirements of ISO 9001 : 2015 are generic and are intended to be applicable to any organisation, regardless of its type or size, or the products and services it provides. The 2015 version is also less prescriptive than its predecessors and focuses on performance. This was achieved by combining the process approach with risk-based thinking, and employing the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle at all levels in the organisation. Some of the key changes include:

  • High-Level Structure of 10 clauses is implemented – Now all new standards released by ISO will have this high-level structure, greater emphasis on building a management system suited to each organisation’s particular needs, a requirement that those at the top of an organisation be involved and accountable, aligning quality with wider business strategy, risk-based thinking throughout the standard makes the whole management system a preventive tool and encourages continuous improvement.
  • Less prescriptive requirements for documentation: the organisation can now decide what documented information it needs and what format it should be in. Alignment with other key management system standards through the use of a common structure and core text such as Inclusion of Knowledge Management principles Quality Manual & Management representative (MR) are no longer mandatory

ISO 14001 : 2015

ISO 14001 is the international standard for an effective environmental management system (EMS) ISO 14001:2015 specifies the requirements for an environmental management system that an organisation can use to enhance its environmental performance. ISO 14001:2015 is intended for use by an organisation seeking to manage its environmental responsibilities in a systematic manner that contributes to the environmental pillar of sustainability. ISO 14001:2015 helps an organisation achieve the intended outcomes of its environmental management system, which provide value for the environment, the organisation itself and interested parties. Consistent with the organisation’s environmental policy, the intended outcomes of an environmental management system include:

  • Improvement of environmental performance
  • Fulfilment of compliance obligations
  • Achievement of environmental objectives

The standards emphasise a commitment to comply with environmental laws and to prevent pollution. The goal of the standard according to the ISO is to help identify and control the environmental impact of its activities, improve performance and develop a systematic approach to setting and meeting objectives. ISO 14001 : 2015 is applicable to any organisation, regardless of size, type and nature, and applies to the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services that the organisation determines it can either control or influence considering a life cycle perspective. ISO 14001 follows the High Level Structure of other ISO standards, such as ISO 9001 : 2015 and ISO 45001 : 2018 which makes integration of these standards easier.

ISO 45001 : 2018

ISO 45001 is an ISO standard for management systems of occupational health and safety (OH&S). The goal of ISO 45001 is the reduction of occupational injuries and diseases, including promoting and protecting physical and mental well being. ISO 45001 : 2018 specifies requirements for an occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system, and gives guidance for its use, to enable organisations to provide safe and healthy workplaces by preventing work-related injury and ill health, as well as by proactively improving its OH&S performance. ISO 45001 : 2018 is applicable to any organisation that wishes to establish, implement and maintain an OH&S management system to improve occupational health and safety, eliminate hazards and minimize OH&S risks (including system deficiencies), take advantage of OH&S opportunities, and address OH&S management system nonconformity associated with its activities. ISO 45001 : 2018 helps an organisation to achieve the intended outcomes of its OH&S management system. Consistent with the organisation’s OH&S policy, the intended outcomes of an OH&S management system include:

  • Continual improvement of OH&S performance
  • Fulfilment of legal requirements and other requirements
  • Achievement of OH&S objectives

ISO 45001 : 2018 is applicable to any organisation regardless of its size, type and activities. It is applicable to the OH&S risks under the organisation’s control, taking into account factors such as the context in which the organisation operates and the needs and expectations of its workers and other interested parties. ISO 45001 : 2018 enables an organisation, through its OH&S management system, to integrate other aspects of health and safety, such as worker wellness/well being. ISO 45001:2018 can be used in whole or in part to systematically improve occupational health and safety management. However, claims of conformity to this document are not acceptable unless all its requirements are incorporated into an organisation’s OH&S management system and fulfilled without exclusion. ISO 45001 follows the High Level Structure of other ISO standards, such as ISO 9001 : 2015 and ISO 14001 : 2015, which makes integration of these standards easier.