Standards are an invaluable resource. Globally there are well over half a million published standards from over 1,000 recognised standards development organisations.

A brief history of standards

Standards have been around a long time. There is evidence of standards being used 7,000 years ago by the civilisations of Babylon and ancient Egypt.

Standards started as a benchmark for weights and measures. They provided a single reference point against which all other weights and measures in that society could be standardised. As societies evolved, the need for mutually-agreed standards grew too. With the development of trade and commerce, standards extended into agriculture, ships, buildings and weapons.

A uniform set of criteria evolves

Initially, standards were unique documents and part of a single contract between the supplier and purchaser. Later, the same standard could be used across a range of transactions. This uniform set of criteria, using common knowledge, requirements and needs, is the basis of modern standardisation.

After the Industrial Revolution

After the rapid industrialisation of the early nineteenth century, the lack of national standardisation caused huge inefficiencies. Proof of this lack of conformity is still apparent today, for example, in the number of different railway gauges that exist.
After the Industrial Revolution, occupational injury became a major issue for many workers. By the late 1870s, workplace explosions were causing more than 50,000 fatalities each year. In response to this, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), one of the first voluntary standardising bodies, was established in 1880.

Standards in contemporary society

By the end of the nineteenth century, the value of standardisation was recognised as a national priority. From then on, standardisation started to flourish and is now intrinsic to modern society. From its industrial roots it now includes consumer safety, occupational health, energy management and more – all with the purpose of improving the quality and comfort of everyday life.