Citing standards in legislation

Issue 51 – July 2013

This article by Craig Radford from Standards New Zealand first appeared in the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) PCO Quarterly, June 2013. It is summarised here with permission.

It is important that standards are referenced correctly in legislation. This article provides information on how to achieve this. Standards New Zealand is also always ready to help with further advice or by vetting citations (see end of this article). The article covers standards as issued by Standards Developing Organisations (SDOs) at both a national level and at an industry sector level.

Why incorporate a standard by reference? Doing this avoids reproducing the lengthy and often technical information contained in the standard within the legislation itself. However, if a reference is ambiguous, the advantage is lost and, worse, the intent of the legislation itself can be compromised through challenges around which standard or which version of a standard is required.

Citing a New Zealand standard in an Act or regulation places obligations on the Standards Council of New Zealand. Section 10(4) of the Standards Act 1988 requires that ministerial permission is sought in order to amend, revise, revoke, or replace a cited standard. Please advise Standards New Zealand when you incorporate by reference, so that this will not be in technical breach of the Act.

References to standards in legislation should include, as a minimum, the following five components.

1. Prefix

Usually the prefix will indicate the issuing body as well as some information about the type of standard it is, for example:

  • SNZ HB: Standards New Zealand Handbook
  • NZS: New Zealand standard
  • AS/NZS: Joint Australian/New Zealand standard
  • AS/NZS ISO: Joint Australian/New Zealand adoption of an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard
  • NZS AS: Australian standard adopted as a New Zealand standard
  • NZS BS: British standard adopted as a New Zealand standard
  • ISO/IEC TR: A Technical Report jointly issued by the ISO and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

2. Number

Include all applicable part numbers. Examples are:

  • 3604: This indicates standard number 3604
  • 4407.3.2: This indicates standard number 4407, Part 3.2.

Some SDOs use full stops or periods (.) between number and part number; others use dashes (-). The British Standards Institute (BSI) usually uses a dash between the number and part, and a period between part and subpart (for example, BS 1560-3.2).

Be careful not to cite a 'generic' number as a means of referencing multiple standards, unless explanation is given as to interpretation. For example, the only standards in the AS/NZS 3008 range are:

  • AS/NZS 3008.1.1:2009
  • AS/NZS 3008.1.2:2010.

Here, a reference to either AS/NZS 3008 or AS/NZS 3008.1 would be unclear as neither of these prefix/number combinations are actual standards. AS/NZS 3008.1 by itself is simply a title construct to cover that branch in the subject and to group the standards that come under it. To avoid doubt, the individual standards themselves should be referenced.

3. Year of issue

In most cases, this is used by SDOs to differentiate between editions. Section 23 of the Standards Act 1988 covers some situations where legislation does not specify the year of issue of a New Zealand standard. In such cases 'any such citation shall (unless the context otherwise requires) be deemed to include and refer to the latest New Zealand standard with that citation (together with any modifications to it) promulgated by the Council before the Act was passed or the regulation or bylaw made' (emphasis added). Empowering legislation may require different interpretations as to which edition is referenced.

In contrast, citing an overseas standard without specifying the year of issue creates uncertainty about which edition is being referenced, and this should be avoided if possible. However, not all SDOs use a year to indicate edition. Some use edition numbers, or a combination of year and edition number (for example IEC 60974-4 Edition 2.0 2010-08), while others provide only a publication date as the means of clearly identifying editions.

4. Title

Always accurately quote the full title. Many standards titles can be very similar to each other. The full title for any given standard includes, at a minimum, the number title, and the part title if it exists. To use the AS/NZS 3008.1.2 example again, the series title (overall subject) is Electrical installations – Selection of cables, and the part title is Part 1.2: Cables for alternating voltages up to and including 0.6/1 kV – Typical New Zealand conditions. These two titles should be joined to be fully correct: Electrical installations – Selection of cables –Part 1.2: Cables for alternating voltages up to and including 0.6/1 kV – Typical New Zealand conditions.

5. Name of issuing organisation

If all the above details are clear and correct it may not be necessary to specify the name of the SDO. However, it is desirable to do so, as the prefix itself does not always accurately indicate the SDO that produced the standard. For instance, both Standards Australia and the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) have a standard with the number AS 1162. Because of this, and in the interests of clarity, the citation should include the name of the SDO.

Note that some SDO organisational acronyms do not always match the English translation of the name. For example, ISO is officially the International Organization for Standardization, but is commonly known as the International Standards Organization.

You should also pay attention to the following.

Issuing authority

In the case of New Zealand standards, the SDO is Standards New Zealand (SNZ), which operates under the authority of the Standards Council of New Zealand. standards only become valid documents when approved by the Standards Council. It is the Standards Council that is the subject of the Standards Act 1988.


Consideration needs to be given to future revisions of the cited standard. standards are revised on average every 7 years. Explicit statements in the legislation explaining the status of later editions of the standard, or of amendments that might be issued to the standard, are desirable. Although section 10(4) of the Standards Act 1988 requires the Standards Council to obtain the permission of the relevant Minister before it can revise, amend, or withdraw standards that are cited in an Act or regulation, overseas SDOs are, of course, not similarly constrained.

It is common for the legislation that authorises the issue of regulations to specify aspects of incorporation by reference, including how subsequent amendments to incorporated instruments should be dealt with. It is useful, however, to keep in mind the level of understanding that readers of regulations will have of matters like subsequent amendments. Being as clear as possible when specifying incorporated material, within the limits of policy objectives, is always beneficial.

Be aware that SDOs may replace (supersede) a standard with multiple standards, each potentially with a different number and possibly a slightly different subject matter. As a result, a blanket statement to the effect that the legislation extends to all later versions of the standard may lose relevance over time.


Always check that the standard actually exists. Check the prefix, number, year, and title. Sometimes a future standard (in the form of a draft standard) will be cited. A draft standard has only a very short lifespan and can be difficult or impossible to obtain once its original purpose is achieved, so the citation must make it clear how the transition from the draft standard to the published standard will affect the legislation. Once published, the standard will often differ from the draft that preceded it.

Checking the existence and details of the standard is best done by viewing an original hard copy or through the website of the issuing SDO.

→ Many SDO websites can be accessed through the ISO website links page at

→ New Zealand and joint Australian and New Zealand standards can be checked at by entering the number of the standard into the search box at the top of the page. Always take note of the status of the standard. If it has been superseded or withdrawn, you may choose to reference a more recent edition

→ Standards New Zealand is always happy to check the details and status of a standard on your behalf. To contact us, visit, call 0800 782 632 during business hours, or email

Note: Standards New Zealand sells New Zealand, ISO, IEC, and British Standards. You can order international standards from, or call 0800 782 632 during business hours, or email Members of Standards New Zealand receive a 20% discount on all NZS and AS/NZS standards, and a 10% discount on all international standards. Visit our membership page for more information.


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