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Using standards as quality benchmarks

Standards can help you ensure your products, services or business systems meet fixed specifications or quality benchmarks. Their use is voluntary, but can bring a range of business benefits.


6 min read

1. Overview

Customer satisfaction is essential for any business. Working to recognised quality management standards can help you to meet customer expectations and ensure a benchmark for your product or service.

Standards can help you:

  • build or grow the market for your products and services
  • make sure products are compatible and interoperate with other related products
  • boost credibility with customers and suppliers
  • manage your business more effectively
  • make the most of your innovations

This guide sets out what standards are and how they can benefit your business. It also covers the management system standards that can help you run your business more effectively.

2. What is a standard?

Standards can be used across a wide range of business, industry and technology.

The two main types of standards are technical and management system standards.

Technical standards ensure products, manufacturing processes and services meet fixed quality benchmarks. They can be used to:

  • ensure quality and safety requirements for products and services
  • improve compatibility and interoperability between products and services
  • provide information about products and services
  • make the most out of your innovations

Management system standards provide a framework for a business to manage its business processes and activities. They can help businesses improve their efficiency by providing a best practice model for them to follow.

Standards can be anything from a few pages to several hundred pages long.

Are standards a legal requirement?

No - standards are voluntary. But you may need to meet certain standards to comply with particular legal requirements. For example, motorcycle helmets must conform to certain standards before they can be offered for sale in the UK.

You're free to find another way to fulfil your legal obligations - but meeting a standard is normally the best way of doing this.

Showing that your company, product or service meets a specific standard can also help you compete for business from larger businesses or government departments, many of whom have strict standards or criteria that suppliers must comply with. In some instances customers may insist a business uses standards before they feel comfortable purchasing their products or services.

Who develops standards?

There are many national standards bodies throughout the world. As the UK's national standards body, the British Standards Institution works closely with businesses, government, consumer and other groups to ensure that they get the standards that they need.

3. How can standards help my business?

Use of standards can increase the perceived value of products and services to customers. A lot of customers often understand the importance of products that adhere to recognised standards.

Also, if a new client doesn't know exactly what they want from you, quoting them an appropriate standard and working to that is an excellent way of building customer confidence from the beginning of a relationship.

Winning business

In some markets, purchasers use standards to show that suppliers are providing the correct products and services. They may stipulate standards as a requirement, against which they invite businesses to compete. In these markets an acknowledged standard may be a prerequisite before customers will buy from you.

Cost and time-effectiveness

Using the knowledge that is contained in standards can save time and money during a product's research and development. You can also reduce the risk of ending up with an inferior or unsuccessful product. If you, your suppliers and customers are all working to specified standards there will be fewer misunderstandings - saving time and money all round.

Legal compliance

Conforming to standards can help you comply with a wide range of legal obligations in areas such as product safety and environmental management.

Health and safety

Using standards in areas such as quality and health and safety management can help you manage your business more efficiently and reduce mistakes and problems.

Exporting products

A growing number of standards are based on European and international standards, which enable easier access to export markets that use the same standards.

4. Standards for best business practice

There are a number of widely applied standards used to promote best business and organisational practice. Many businesses adopt certain management systems to ensure they stay competitive.

Quality management

ISO 9001:2008 is an internationally recognised standard for the quality management of a business' systems. It benefits businesses by helping them improve customer satisfaction, internal efficiency and employee involvement.

Environmental management

An environmental management system can help you manage your environmental responsibilities and ensure you comply with legal requirements.

ISO 14001 is the international standard that specifies a process for controlling and improving a business' environmental performance.

Businesses that are seeking to adopt a phased approach to implementing environmental management systems will find the BS 8555 standard appropriate.

Energy management

An energy management system can help your organisation save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and comply with legislation.

BS EN 16001 is the European standard that specifies the requirements for an energy management system.

Health and safety management

All businesses must comply with a range of regulations on health and safety in the workplace - and senior managers may also bear legal responsibility for this.

One way of ensuring that you meet these requirements is to follow standards on occupational health and safety. OHSAS 18001 provide recognised guidance on best practice in these areas.

Information management

Information - whether held in hard copy form or on IT equipment - is essential to any business. So it's important you safeguard your data.

An information security management system provides a systematic approach to managing and securing information. BS 7799 is a key standard in this area.

Business continuity management

Organisations face a variety of threats to their business continuity, some deliberately targeted and some as a result of external events. It is increasingly important that businesses can assure regulators, investors and stakeholders that their continuity plans will minimise any disruption.

The BS 25999-2:2007 standard provides guidance for businesses on how to reduce the impact of everyday events, such as IT viruses and supply chain disruption, as well as extreme events such as flash floods or terrorism.

5. European standards and your products

Many products must meet a range of requirements set out in European Union (EU) directives before they can be sold in the UK or anywhere else in the EU. For example, under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 certain machinery, equipment and safety components must conform to relevant standards and be CE marked before they can be sold within the UK and EU. The requirements are designed to protect the health and safety of product users and remove technical barriers to trade.

Harmonised European Standards provide the simplest way of demonstrating that your products comply. But standards aren't obligatory - you can use a different way of meeting your legal requirements if you wish.

Is this relevant to my products?

Standards can help you comply with EU directives covering a wide range of products, including:

  • appliances burning gaseous fuels
  • construction products
  • electrical and electronic apparatus in terms of their electromagnetic compatibility
  • equipment and protective systems in potentially explosive atmospheres
  • gas appliances
  • household appliances in terms of the noise they emit
  • lifts
  • low voltage equipment
  • machinery, mechanical equipment and safety products
  • medical devices
  • new hot water boilers fired with liquid or gaseous fluids
  • non-automatic weighing instruments
  • outdoor construction and gardening equipment in terms of the noise they produce
  • personal protective equipment such as gloves, helmets and protective clothing
  • pressure equipment such as industrial pipework and pressurised storage containers
  • radio and telecommunications terminal equipment
  • recreational craft
  • toys

6. How to show your products meet legal requirements

Products that must meet requirements set out in European Union (EU) directives normally have to carry CE marking if they are sold in the UK and the rest of the EU.

Putting the CE marking on your product acts as your declaration that the item meets the relevant legal requirements.

How you go about getting CE marking and putting it on your product depends on the product and EU directive in question.

Testing and certification

Each individual directive generally specifies how you must show your product meets the relevant requirements. You may have to:

  • produce a self-declaration that your product complies - usually backed up by your own, or independent test results
  • get your product inspected or tested by an authorised independent testing body

Read our guide on Developing new products and services.

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