The value of standards

The value of standards

What is a standard?

A standard is an agreement about a product, a service or a process. Standards reflect best practices in many areas of activity in industry, the service sector and the public sector. 

What is a Belgian standard?

A Belgian standard can be:

  • a standard developed by a Belgian standardisation committee to meet the needs of the Belgian market
  • a European standard transposed into a Belgian standard
  • an international standard transposed into a Belgian standard

What is a European standard?

A European standard (EN standard) is developed by the members of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and must be transposed into a Belgian standard (NBN EN) once it has been approved by the CEN members. It can be identified by the use of ‘EN’ in its reference (for example: NBN EN 672).

What is a harmonised European standard?

Harmonised European standards are developed under a mandate issued by the European Commission and/or the European Free Trade Association, in order to provide a means to comply with a European directive or regulation. They are drafted and adopted by the European standards organisations, i.e. the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) or the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

The references of these standards are published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

List of harmonised European standards.

What is an international standard?

An international standard (ISO standard) is developed at global level by the members of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). There is no obligation to transpose an international standard into a national standard.

What are the principles of standardisation ?

Openness -  Transparency - Consensus 

Standardisation is a process open to any stakeholder who has a vested interest in the standardised field. Transparency is required since any stakeholder participating in the development of standards has access to Belgian, European and/or international working documents, depending on the standardisation project. The decision-making process underlying standardisation is consensus. Each stakeholder around the table tries to reach a compromise with the other participants. This compromise is what constitutes the consensus on the future draft standard. 

What is the difference between standards and regulations ?

Regulations are government documents and their application is mandatory for everyone. Standards, on the other hand, are applied voluntarily. They are therefore intrinsically not binding. Standards reflect good practices relating to a product, service, method or process. They are developed on the basis of consensus between the relevant stakeholders. Companies and organisations implement them to meet their customers’ quality and safety requirements. However, a standard may be made mandatory by a regulation, contract or technical specification. 

What is certification?

In the context of standardisation, certification refers to the attestation by a third party that a product or service meets the specific requirements of a standard.

You can apply for an attestation by a third party (laboratory, certification/inspection body) of the conformity of your product or service. This means that the conformity of this product or service is verified against the requirements of the applicable standard. Here you will find a list of accredited bodies that can certify your products.

NBN is not a certification body, so it does not issue certificates.

Which ISO standards can be certified?

NBN does not deal with certification. You will find clear information on management standards and certification on the ISO website:

In principle, a standard is never drafted for the purpose of being certified (see explanations about ISO certification). In theory, a standard is applied voluntarily, but legal and/or contractual requirements may make compliance with a standard mandatory. However, certification serves as a marketing or sales tool: companies with a higher number of certificates have a competitive edge in the market. If you wish to develop certification activities, you must be accredited for that purpose. The Belgian government department responsible for the accreditation of certification bodies is  BELAC. If you have questions regarding certification, you should contact this department to get answers, as it is the most knowledgeable. A certification body will have to meet one or more ‘ISO/IEC conformity assessment’ standards (CASCO standards). 

How many Belgian companies are ISO 9001-certified?

Many Belgian companies are certified according to the ISO 9001 standard. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides certain data on the number of companies certified according to ISO 9001 and other management standards.

I would like my organisation to become a standard certification body/auditor.

An organisation seeking to develop certification activities must be accredited for this purpose. In Belgium, BELAC is the competent public body for the accreditation of companies. You will find more explanations (only available in Dutch and French) on the subject on the BELAC website, which has compiled information on the accredited organisations. The following types of conformity assessment bodies are currently listed on the website: 

  • Testing laboratories (TEST)
  • Environmental management certification bodies (EMS)
  • Persons certification bodies (PERS)
  • Product certification bodies (PROD)
  • Quality management certification bodies (QMS)
  • Calibration laboratories (CAL)
  • Inspection bodies (INSP)
  • Medical biology laboratories (MED)
  • Environmental auditors (EMAS)
  • Interlaboratory testing organisers (PT)
  • Reference material manufacturers (RM)
  • Validation and verification bodies (GHG)

On the ISO website, you will find explanations on the subject of certification that may be useful. A distinction is made between standards for which certification is necessary and those for which it isn’t. 

What is NBN ?

The Belgian Bureau of Standardisation (NBN) is the body responsible for developing and selling standards in Belgium. In addition, NBN organises training on the use of management standards. NBN represents the interests of Belgian standardisation stakeholder at Belgian, European and international levels.

I want to have my product tested or inspected. Can NBN assist me?

NBN is not a testing laboratory or an inspection body. Please visit the BELAC website, where you will find a list of all Belgian testing laboratories and inspection bodies.

I am looking for a certification body, for instance for ISO 9001 or ISO 14001. Can NBN assist me?

NBN is not a certification body. Please visit the BELAC website, where you will find a list of all Belgian certification bodies.

Are standards available free of charge ?

No, there are no standards available free of charge, as their development entails costs. The price of a standard may vary according to the country where it is sold.

Are standards mandatory ?

A standard is not a law, but it can be voluntarily applied by all stakeholders: producers, suppliers, customers, service providers, etc. This does not mean that compliance with a standard cannot become mandatory. On the one hand, public authorities can refer to standards in legislation and regulations. On the other, contracts can also refer to the application of standards.

Are standards protected by copyright?

Yes, standards are protected by copyright and, as such, may not be reproduced and/or distributed. When buying a paper or digital version of a standard, you are only entitled to make personal use of it. Copying or reproducing all or part of the content of a standard (e.g. text, illustrations or tables) is prohibited without permission from NBN.

Am I allowed to copy standards?

No, because standards are protected by copyright and, as such, may not be copied.

Am I allowed to reproduce text from a standard?

No, because standards are protected by copyright. Reproducing all or part of the contents of a standard is prohibited without permission from NBN.