The British Standards Institution was the world's first national Standards making body having started as the Engineering Standards Committee in 1901, evolving into the beginnings of what we know now by the early 1930s. The first Standards related to tramway steel and construction now makes up a substantial number of Standards in the current catalogue. Most people are only too aware that the coverage can sometimes be a bit daunting.

Having started the idea of reference Standards in order to promote safety and efficiency, the UK found itself leading similarly aspiring bodies worldwide, eventually rallying themselves through various evolutions into the International Standards Organisation in 1947. ISO is based in Geneva. In Europe (primarily here a geographical not political context) there is a further kind of interim level of Standards – 'Euro-norms'. In a perfect world this cascade of bodies would have been created starting with the (Worldwide) international through sub collections of cooperating territories (such as Europe) to the national, and Standards published in a similar way with high level and coordinating principles at ISO level and further clarifications reflecting local conditions at National level. Most work programmes in various subjects do attempt to adopt this hierarchy now but there has been little backdating of existing national catalogues to conform to the cascade – albeit there is guidance in place about attempting to respect and not overtly conflict at the different levels.

All Standards as of themselves are voluntary but there are various kinds of Standards which imply a degree of imperative. At the top there are those cited or referenced in regulation or legislation, effectively making their content mandatory. Topically, some fire standards serve this purpose. Others with a high degree of compulsion are Specifications and Methods which mostly get their authority through reference in contracts. They are more often seen in manufacturing and are written in a prescriptive manner making them suitable for reference and application in this way.

Codes of practice recommend sound practice as currently undertaken by competent and conscientious practitioners. They are drafted to incorporate a degree of flexibility in application, whilst offering reliable indicative benchmarks. They are commonly used in the construction and civil engineering industries and departures from 'compliance' might be seen as similar to failing to follow the highway code when driving.

Guides are published to give less prescriptive advice which reflects the current thinking and practice amongst experts in a particular subject.

Keeping the current catalogues (ISO, EN and BS [or the national body where you are]) and work streams under control and in harmony is a huge task and, to complicate matters further, expert representation is voluntary as is most drafting. Public consultation on the output is rigorous and very broad and very conscientiously dealt with.

In recent years, CIAT has responded to this challenge as never before and well beyond its 'punching weight' with a strongly driven and stoically supported view from HQ that to make things good and better we need to be in the creation and debate.

Just to name a few, CIAT has recently been invited onto the regenerated CB/1, Architectural Design and Construction, B/209/-/10 Guide to Accuracy in Buildings (BS/5606) and B/209 General Building Platforms, B/555, Design, Construction & Operational Data and process Management for the Built Environment. In addition to those managed by British Standards Institute, CIAT was delighted that three of its Chartered Members were appointed onto the Standards Setting Committee under the International Fire Safety Standards Coalition. With representation on the CIC Housing Panel looking at housing standards and quality, CIAT is in a good position to influence consistent quality and mitigating conflicts across the board.

So, what are 'standards'? Put simply they are all standards applicable to our work other than those published (as Standards) by a notified National or International Standards writing body.

Recently we have all heard much about PAS documents. A PAS is a Publicly Available Specification and is most often used where a discipline or industry wants its processes to be formalised independently, often using non-normative or even proprietary information. However, we have become familiar with the abbreviation because of the various PASs that supported the BIM programme. These have primarily been an expedient related to aspects such as the time available to get a huge amount of information formalised and published. It would just not have been possible to prepare, develop and deploy full Standards for everything. Also, they did involve some non-normative information. It was also always on the cards that within 6 or 7 years they would be overtaken by International Standards – which has now been implemented and is ever evolving. So, albeit prepared by a Standards writing body they are, in reality, standards with a small 's'.

Another example of a standard we have all heard of is BREEAM and there are many industry bodies and trade associations that prepare standards. You may find some of them like to use a capital 'S'. It is only a courtesy convention to help the likes of you that they shouldn't really do this in order that you can readily distinguish when documents are being described.