The birth of an IEC Standards

Last edit: 01/08/2023

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is an international standards organization that prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies. IEC can issue 3 main documents:

International Standards

International standard (IS): An international standard is a document that has been developed through the consensus of experts from many countries and is approved and published by a globally recognized body. It comprises rules, guidelines, processes, or characteristics that allow users to achieve the same outcome time and time again

Depending upon the maturity or completeness of the document, it goes through the following key stages:

  • Once the idea of a new standard is established, coming from a request from the European Commission or from the industry, a team of Experts is formed and they prepare a first draft of the new standard called Working Draft (WD).
  • The WD is not distributed among the NSOs (National Standardisation Organisations) like CEI in Italy or AFNOR in France or DIN in Germany. It is a working document to be used in discussions during the Working Committee meeting. Once at a good maturity stage, the Committee issue a Committee Draft (CD) that is distributed to the NSOs for comments. The committee stage is the principal stage at which comments from National Bodies (NBs or NSOs) are taken into consideration, with a view to reaching consensus on the technical content. National Bodies shall therefore carefully study the texts of committee drafts and submit all pertinent comments at this stage. A period of 8, 12 or 16 weeks as agreed by the technical committee or subcommittee shall be available for National Bodies to comment. Based upon the comments prepared each country is required to vote if the document has the correct CD maturity or it has to go through another round of discussions. In case the majority of countries give a negative vote, after a series of meetings of the Working Group of Experts, a second CD is issued. That often happens! Consideration of successive drafts shall continue until consensus of the P-members of the technical committee or subcommittee has been obtained or a decision to abandon or defer the project has been made.
  • When mature, the CD is circulated as a Committee Draft for Vote (CDV). At the enquiry stage, the enquiry draft (DIS in ISO, CDV in IEC) shall be circulated by the office of the CEO to all National Bodies for a 12-week vote. A positive vote may be accompanied by editorial or technical comments, on the understanding that the secretary, in consultation with the chair of the technical committee or subcommittee and project leader, will decide how to deal with them. If a National Body finds an enquiry draft unacceptable, it shall vote negatively and state the technical reasons. It may indicate that the acceptance of specified technical modifications will change its negative vote to one of approval, but it shall not cast an affirmative vote which is conditional on the acceptance of modifications. Therefore, also the DIS (ISO) or the CDV (IEC) can be issued a few times.
  • Once the CDV (or the DIS in ISO) was approved, the team meets to discuss the comments made by some of the countries who approved or voted negative. The aim is to issue a Final Draft International Standard prepared from approved CDV and NCs comments (FDIS). Once the FDIS is issued, only editorial comments can be made by the National Bodies. Votes submitted by National Bodies shall be explicit: positive, negative, or abstention. A National Body may submit comments on any FDIS vote. If a National Body finds a final draft International Standard unacceptable, it shall vote negatively and state the technical reasons. It shall not cast an affirmative vote that is conditional on the acceptance of modifications. A final draft International Standard having been circulated for voting is approved if

    a) a two-thirds majority of the votes cast by the P-members of the technical committee or subcommittee are in favour, and

b) not more than one-quarter of the total number of votes cast are negative.

All comments received for an FDIS document will be retained for the next review and will be recorded on the voting form as “noted for future consideration”. However, the Secretary along with the office of the CEO may seek to resolve obvious editorial errors. Technical changes to an approved FDIS are not allowed.

  • Within 2 weeks after the end of the voting period, the office of the CEO shall circulate to all National Bodies a report showing the result of voting and indicating either the formal approval by National Bodies to issue the International Standard (ISO or IEC) or formal rejection of the final draft International Standard. If the final draft International Standard has been approved in accordance with the conditions of it shall proceed to the publication stage. Within 6 weeks, the office of the CEO shall correct any errors indicated by the secretariat of the technical committee or subcommittee, and print and distribute the International Standard.

Technical Specification (TS)

They are used both in IEC and in ISO. For example:

  • ISO/TS 19837:2018. Safety of machinery — Trapped key interlocking devices — Principles for design and selection.
  • IEC TS 63394: 2023. Safety of machinery – Guidelines on functional safety of safety-related control system

A technical specification approaches an international standard in terms of detail and completeness but has not yet passed through all approval stages, either because consensus has not been reached or because standardization is seen to be premature. The format is used for new technical approaches to risk reduction for example

Similar to an international standard (IS), a technical specification is normative in nature and developed according to the consensus procedure. The final vote takes place at the draft technical specification (DTS) stage, immediately following the committee draft (CD) stage. Therefore the DTS is similar to the FDIS for an International Standard.

A TS is approved by 2/3 of participating IEC Members (P-members) of an IEC technical committee or subcommittee (TC/SC).

Technical report (TR)

They are used both in IEC and in ISO. For example:

  • ISO/TS 19837: 2015. Safety of machinery — Evaluation of fault masking serial connection of interlocking devices associated with guards with potential free contacts
  • IEC TS 61496-5: 2023. Safety of machinery – Electro-sensitive protective equipment – Part 5: Particular requirements for radar-based protective Devices

Technical reports are entirely informative, not normative. They focus on a particular subject and contain for example data, measurement techniques, test approaches, case studies, methodologies and other types of information that is useful for standards developers and other audiences. They are never normative and will never become.

A TR is approved by a simple majority of participating IEC Member countries (P-members) of a TC/SC.

The Consensus

During all this process, meetings and discussions take place. People have different ideas and sometime the discussions can become animated. The objective of all that is to reach consensus. Here what IEC writes about that.

“Consensus: General agreement, characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments.

NOTE   Consensus need not imply unanimity.”

Consensus does not mean you agree with a statement: it means you may not agree but you can leave with that. Otherwise a “Sustained Opposition” has to be raised. In other words, in the process of reaching consensus, many different points of views will be expressed and addressed as the document evolves. However, “sustained oppositions” are views expressed at minuted meetings of committee, working group (WG) or other groups (e.g. task forces, advisory groups, etc.) and which are maintained by an important part of the concerned interest and which are incompatible with the committee consensus. The notion of “concerned interest(s)” will vary depending on the dynamics of the committee and shall therefore be determined by the committee leadership on a case by case basis. The concept of sustained opposition is not applicable in the context of member body votes on CD, DIS or FDIS since these are subject to the applicable voting rules.

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