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International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

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The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies at present comprising the national standards bodies of 120 countries as of 1996. The object of ISO is to promote the development of standards in the world with a view to facilitating international exchange of goods and services and to developing mutual cooperation in the sphere of intellectual, scientific, technological and economic activity. The results of ISO technical work are published as International Standards.

The scope of ISO is not limited to any particular branch; it covers all standardization fields except standards for electrical and electronic engineering, which are the responsibility of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

ISO brings together the interests of producers, users (including consumers), governments and the scientific community in the preparation of International Standards.

ISO work is carried out through some 2,800 technical bodies. More than 100,000 experts from all parts of the world are engaged in this work which, to date, has resulted in the publication of over 10,000 International Standards, representing some 188,000 pages of concise reference data in English and French.

Origin and Membership

International standardization started in the electrotechnical field some 90 years ago. While some attempts were made in the 1930s to develop International Standards in other technical fields, it was not until ISO was created that an international organization devoted to standardization as a whole came into existence.

Following a meeting in London in 1946, delegates from 25 countries decided to create a new international organization “whose object shall be to facilitate the international coordination and unification of industrial standards”. The new organization, ISO, began to function officially on 23 February 1947.

A member body of ISO is the national body “most representative of standardization in its country”. It follows that only one such body for each country is accepted for membership in ISO. Member bodies are entitled to participate and exercise full voting rights on any technical committee of ISO, are eligible for membership in the Council and have a seat in the General Assembly. By September 1995 the number of member bodies was 83. More than 70% of ISO member bodies are governmental institutions or organizations incorporated by public law. The remainder have close links with the public administration in their respective countries.

A correspondent member is normally an organization in a developing country which does not yet have its own national standards body. Correspondent members do not take an active part in the technical work, but are kept fully informed of it. Normally, a correspondent member becomes a member body after a few years. Nearly all the present correspondent members are governmental institutions. By September 1995 the number of correspondent members was 24.

A third category, subscriber membership, has been established for countries with smaller-scale economies. These subscriber members pay reduced membership fees that nevertheless allow them to maintain contact with international standardization. By September 1995, the number of subscriber members was eight.

Basic data on each ISO member body are given in the publication ISO Membership.

Technical Work

The technical work of ISO is carried out through technical committees (TC). The decision to set up a technical committee is taken by the Technical Management Board, which also approves the scope of the committee. Within this scope, the committee determines its own programme of work.

The technical committees may, in turn, create subcommittees (SC) and working groups (WG) to cover different aspects of the work. Each technical committee or subcommittee has a secretariat assigned to an ISO member body. At the end of 1995 there were in existence 185 technical committees, 611 subcommittees and 2,022 working groups.

A proposal to introduce a new field of technical activity into the ISO working programme normally comes from a member body, but it may also originate from some other international organization. Since resources are limited, priorities must be established. Therefore, all new proposals are submitted for consideration by the ISO member bodies. If accepted, either the new work will be referred to the appropriate existing technical committee or a new committee will be created.

Each member body interested in a subject for which a technical committee has been authorized has the right to be represented on that committee. Detailed rules of procedure are given in the ISO/IEC Directives.

International Standards

An International Standard is the result of an agreement between the member bodies of ISO. It may be used as such or implemented through incorporation into national standards of different countries.

An important first step towards an International Standard takes the form of a committee draft (CD), a document circulated for study within the technical committee. This document must pass through a number of stages before it can be accepted as an International Standard. This procedure is designed to ensure that the final result is acceptable to as many countries as possible. When agreement is finally reached within the technical committee, the draft proposal is sent to the central secretariat for registration as a draft International Standard (DIS); the DIS is then circulated to all member bodies for voting. In many countries, the DIS is made available for public enquiry, thereby ensuring the widest possible consultations. If 75% of the votes cast are in favour of the DIS, it is accepted for further processing as a Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) which is circulated to all member bodies for formal adoption by ISO. Again, 75% of the votes cast must be in favour of the FDIS in order for the International Standard to be published. Normally the fundamental technical issues are resolved at the technical committee level. However, the member body voting procedure provides assurance that no important objections have been overlooked.

The greater part of the work is done by correspondence, and meetings are convened only when thoroughly justified. Each year some 10,000 working documents are circulated. Most standards require periodic revision. Several factors combine to render a standard out of date: technological evolution, new methods and materials, and new quality and safety requirements. To take account of these factors, ISO has established the general rule that all ISO standards should be reviewed every five years. On occasion it is necessary to revise a standard earlier.

A full list of all published ISO standards is given in the ISO Catalogue.

ISO Work in the Field of Occupational Safety

Every ISO International Standard is prepared with concern for safety; the safety factor is an integral part of the work of ISO.

The more than 10,000 International Standards already published by ISO cover a wide spectrum, from aerospace, aircraft and agriculture to building, fire tests, containers, medical equipment, mining equipment, computer languages, the environment, personal safety, ergonomics, pesticides, nuclear energy and so on.

Many International Standards are easily recognized as important in preventing occupational risks: examples are the basic symbol for signifying ionizing radiation or radioactive materials (ISO 361), safety colours and signs (ISO 3864) and the industrial safety helmet (ISO 3873) specified for medium protection in mining, quarrying, shipbuilding, structural engineering and forestry, and so on. Other International Standards are not so easily identified as being directly relevant, but have an equal impact on the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases; one example is ISO 2631, Evaluation of human exposure to whole body vibration, published in three parts, which grades the “reduced comfort boundary”, the “fatigue-decreased proficiency boundary” and the “exposure limit” according to varying levels of vibration frequency, acceleration magnitude and exposure time, and according to the direction of vibration relative to recognized axes of the human body. This Standard, like all others, is continuously updated in the light of research and experience, and relates to such forms of transport as dumpers, tractors, excavators and many other vehicles and worksites.

The ISO technical committees listed in table 1 are among the most prominent in the work for safety and accidents and disease prevention.

Table 1. ISO technical committees most concerned with prevention of occupational accidents and diseases



Typical example of ISO standard


Technical drawings, product definition and related documentation

ISO/DIS 11604

Technical product documentation—Data sheets for drawing materials and equipment and related documentation


Equipment for fire protection and fire-fighting

ISO 3941

Classification of fires


Tractors and machinery for agriculture and forestry

ISO 3776

Tractors for agriculture—Seat belt anchorages


Paints and varnishes

ISO 3679

Paints, varnishes, petroleum and related products—Determination of flashpoint—Rapid equilibrium method



ISO 4872

Acoustics—Measurement of airborne noise emitted by construction equipment intended for outdoor use—Method for determining compliance with noise limits


Welding and allied processes

ISO/DIS 10882-2

Health and safety in welding and allied processes—Sampling of airborne particles and gases in the operator’s breathing zone—Part 2: Sampling of gases


Building construction

ISO/TR 9527

Building construction —Needs of disabled people in buildings —Design guidelines


Materials, equipment and offshore structures for petroleum and natural gas industries

ISO 10418

Petroleum and natural gas industries—Offshore production platforms—Analysis, design, installation and testing of basic surface safety systems



ISO 3155

Stranded wire ropes for mine hoisting—Fibre components—Characteristics and tests


Nuclear energy

ISO 1709

Nuclear energy—Fissile materials—Principles of criticality, safety in storing, handling and processing



ISO 5149

Mechanical refrigerating systems used for cooling and heating—Safety requirements


Fire safety

ISO 1716

Building materials—Determination of calorific potential


Personal safety—Protective clothing and equipment

ISO 2801

Clothing for protection against heat and fire—General recommendations for users and for those in charge of such users



ISO 10245-1

Cranes—Limiting and indicating devices—Part 1: General


Bases for design of structures

ISO 2394

General principles on reliability for structures


Continuous mechanical handling equipment

ISO 1819

Continuous mechanical handling equipment—Safety code—General rules


Mechanical vibration and shock

ISO 2631-1

Evaluation of human exposure to whole-body vibration—Part 1: General requirements


Industrial trucks

ISO 1074

Counterbalanced fork-lift trucks—Stability tests


Compressors, pneumatic tools and pneumatic machines

ISO 5388

Stationary air compressors—Safety rules and code of practice


Air quality

ISO 8518

Workplace air—Determination of particulate lead and lead compounds—Flame atomic absorption spectrometric method



ISO 7243

Hot environments—Estimation of the heat stress on worker, based on the WBGT index (wet bulb globe temperature)


Safety of machinery

ISO/TR 12100-1

Safety of machinery—Basic concepts, general principles for design—Part 1: Basic terminology, methodology


These technical committees and others have prepared or are preparing International Standards concerned with occupational risks in such areas as building construction sites, factories, docks, agriculture and forestry, nuclear installations, handling of materials and personal protective clothing and equipment.

The field of building provides a very clear example of the intensive concern for accident and disease prevention in the work of ISO. Of the more than 50 ISO technical committees dealing with some aspect of building or building materials, ten deal with the problems of the working environment. The physical factors in the building field cover aspects such as personal safety, vibration and shock, noise, plant and equipment, earth-moving machinery, cranes and lifting devices, and ergonomics. The chemical factors cover air quality, paints and varnishes, protection of welding workers, and protective clothing and equipment.

ISO TC 127 (Earth-moving machinery) has set up a subcommittee to deal specifically with safety requirements and human factors in respect of all the current basic types of earth-moving machinery such as tractors, loaders, dumpers, tractor scrapers, excavators and graders. Standards are already in existence for safe access to driving cabs via steps, ladders, walkways and platforms, and the dimensions of cabs have been established for both large and small operators, sitting or standing and in arctic clothing or not, as appropriate.

Sitting positions and the sizes and shapes of seats for different operators are also the subject of International Standards. Sitting positions are now being related to areas of comfort and to reach for both hand and foot controls, and Standards have been prepared to determine the field of view available to operators of earth-moving machines, based upon determination of the shape, size and position of areas of invisibility caused by obstructing parts of the machines.

To prevent machines from crushing their operators in the event of accidental overturning, roll-over protective structures (ROPS) have been developed and standardized. Falling rocks, trees and parts of buildings in the process of demolition can prove hazardous, so falling-object protective structures (FOPS) have been standardized so as to minimize the possibility of injury to the operator.

ISO 7000, Graphical symbols for use on equipment—Index and synopsis, provides a synopsis of several hundred internationally agreed graphic symbols to be placed on equipment or parts of equipment of any kind in order to instruct the persons handling the equipment as to its use and operation.

ISO work in the building field is both intensive and extensive, just as it is in other fields covered by ISO. (The scope of ISO includes most industrial, agricultural and maritime activities except the electrotechnical field, which is handled by the International Electrotechnical Commission, and pharmaceutical products, handled by the World Health Organization.)

On the factory floor, International Standards take on a special meaning as persons seeking work migrate from one country to another and often to jobs where they cannot speak or read the local language. Easily recognized graphic symbols for controls on machinery that conform to International Standards are vital here as in the building industry; so are standardized locations for foot and hand controls and International Standards for guards to moving parts.

An ISO safety code for compressors covers a wide range of safety and environmental factors, such as the prevention of oil inhalation and the control of toxic oil inhibitors, the prevention of oil coke ignition and of crankcase explosion, and the use of relief and safety valves.

The safety of continuous mechanical handling equipment is the subject of nearly 40 International Standards. They cover such aspects as safety and safety codes for the different kinds of equipment, such as belt conveyors, vibrating feeders, overhead chain conveyors, hydraulic conveyors, pneumatic handling equipment, and roller and screw conveyors.

In the field of agriculture and forestry, ISO has developed important International Standards that protect the worker. Anchorages for seat belts for farm tractors are the subject of a well known standard that is making the import-export trade easier for manufacturers as it is implemented, replacing a plethora of national standards and regulations on the subject. ISO standards even provide rules for presenting operators’ manuals and technical publications for agricultural tractors and machines, making them easy to read and understand.

On the docks the worker is protected by International Standards that determine the stability of cranes and mobile cranes in action and determine the effect of wind loads on crane structures. Other Standards cover indicators and safety devices that will operate in the event of an operator’s misjudgement. Still others cover indicators such as wind gauges, overvoltage annunciators and mass, slope and slew indicators and “automatic cut-off”, such as derricking limiters, load-lifting capacity limiters and slack rope stops. The Standards produced and in preparation should not only assist operators in their work, but enhance the working environment by inspiring confidence in all works personnel moving under and around cranage. A related International Standard provides discard criteria in relation to wear, corrosion, deformation and wire strand breaks, and is intended to guide competent persons involved in the maintenance and examination of cranes and lifting appliances. New Standards under development include out-of-service anchoring devices, maintenance, condition monitoring, safe use and safety signs.

Safety for the worker and others at or near nuclear installations is covered by a number of International Standards, and the work continues in this area. Subjects covered are methods for testing exposure meters and dosimeters, a test for contents leakage and radiation leakage, and the general principles for sampling airborne radioactive materials.

International Standards for protective clothing and equipment are the responsibility of ISO TC 94. In addition to the Standard for industrial safety helmets, it has developed a standardized vocabulary for personal eye-protectors, established utilization and transmittance requirements for infrared filters for eye protectors, and general recommendations for users and those in charge of users of clothing for protection against heat and fire.

The production and use of ISO International Standards such as these, produced through worldwide cooperation, have unquestionably improved the quality of the workplace.



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