International Standards: An explainer

New Zealand Security Magazine - April-May 2020

Security guard post

Doug McCormick, Security Consultant at Gallagher and NZSA representative on the Joint Technical Committee that produced the new A/NZ access control standard, explains the importance of international standards regimes.

A standard is a document that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics. The use of the term ‘standard’ can be used by anyone. If an individual or company produces a standard document, then it will probably contain proprietary statements, meaning it will apply only to the individual or company’s situation.

In the national and international scenarios, a standard is a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognised body, that provides rules, guidelines or characteristics. The document will have been created by representatives from interested users and producers, who may also be competitors in the business environment. 

Local versus international

New Zealand could produce its own access control standard, but if it did so it would limit choices for the purchaser. If a prospective customer specified a New Zealand standard, then would international suppliers be able to meet this standard?  There would be a cost to show that their product met the standard, which may not warrant the cost of testing for conformance. This limits the customer’s choice.

Because the IEC 60839 standards have an international basis, New Zealand and Australian manufacturers have better access to international markets. Likewise, international manufacturers will have better access to Australasian markets. Also, only having to conform to a limited number of standards keeps conformance costs to as minimum.

By adopting an international standard such as IEC 60839, we are aligning our access control standards with many other countries who have also adopted these standards. 

For international standards, countries are represented to ensure the “playing field is level”. 

International standards bodies are recognised by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and are required to ensure that standards documents do not create trade barriers or anti-competitive activities.

The IEC 60839 standards were thus produced by an IEC sub-committee consisting of experts from several European countries, Canada and New Zealand. The proposed standard was circulated worldwide and voted in favour of being accepted as an international standard:

  • New Zealand (and Australia) have adopted these standards as AS/NZS 60839
  • Europe has adopted these standards as EN IEC 60839
  • Canada has adopted these standards as CAN/ULC 60839
  • South Africa are about to adopt the standard as SANS 60839

If there needs to be local modifications to the standard to meet local regulatory requirements, for example, then the modified standard would be referred to as ‘AS/NZS 60839-xx MOD’, however, this is not the case for the access control standard.

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If a product displays ‘IEC 60839 -xx’ with a different prefix such as AS/NZS, EN, BS EN, CAN/ULC etc, then the product will conform with the IEC document but may have local variations (MOD). The purchaser can rely on the fact that the product meets IEC 60839. Likewise, if a purchaser anywhere in the world specifies their national version, then the AS/NZS version is going to substantially meet their version.

For purchasers of systems, an international standard unlocks a wider choice of suppliers than would be the case if a national standard was imposed. Additionally, if the product indicates conformance with 60839, then under international agreements, you will know what you are getting!

Mandatory versus voluntary

Some standards require mandatory compliance. These usually relate to safety requirements and are dictated by an Act of Parliament. Electrical, fire protection, building etc standards are usually mandatory.

Other standards, such as AS/NZS 60839 and other security standards, provide for voluntary conformance. These standards provide guidance to the product conformance to assist both the manufacturer and the purchaser in determining what can or should be provided by way of product or service. 

Although voluntary, a purchaser may insist that a product conforms with a standard. And while a product will often display a Standards Mark to indicate that it conforms to a specific standard, a purchaser may ask for an independent laboratory report proving conformance.

Proving conformance with a standard can be done at different levels:

  • Self-assessed: the manufacturer or service provider has assessed conformance with the standard themselves.
  • Accredited laboratory assessment: carried out by an independent laboratory that has had its processes certified to comply with ISO/IEC 17011. If the independent laboratory carries IANZ or JAS-ANZ certification, then their testing of a product or service must be recognised internationally by any country who is signatory to the international Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA).

If a country refuses to accept the report, then there are processes through the International Laboratory Accreditation (ILA) or World Trade Organisation (WTO) to address this.

Doug McCormick, Security Consultant at Gallagher, has three decades of experience in electronic security. He is a member of the IEC Access Control Working Group (TC79, WG11) and New Zealand delegate to the IEC Technical Committee 79 (Electronic Access Control Systems), and he is the immediate past New Zealand Security Association Chair.