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A standard can be broad or specific, for products, components, processes, competencies or services.

Standards are created around a shared common theme or problem. Therefore, some may be more appropriate to a particular place or industry or may be universal and able to be applied anywhere. Knowing what types of standards exist helps you understand the options available.

A standard is only one type of document – there are others that serve a similar purpose and which go through varying levels of consensus and design.

International, Regional, National standards

International first

Thousands of standards are developed primarily by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for countries to adopt for national use. Standards New Zealand embraces and actively supports the development and adoption of international standards as it is efficient and economical, and avoids ‘reinventing the wheel’.

One of Standards New Zealand’s key business strategies is to develop robust, affordable standards faster. As a smaller country on the world stage, we look to international standards first to see what existing solutions may help us solve problems, build better businesses, improve regulation, enable trade and create better products and services.

It is also a requirement of the Standards and Accreditation Act 2015 to consider international standards first, before deciding if we need a bespoke, New Zealand-specific standards solution.

Standards for regional use

Some standards are prepared by member organisations within a specific region, such as the European Union’s EN standards, or joint Australian/New Zealand AS/NZS Trans-Tasman standards.

These can be beneficial when market or environmental conditions are similar across territories or when interoperability of products and services are sought between specific trading markets. Regional standards can help grow businesses in this way: For example, a company whose products and processes comply with AS/NZS standards would be well-positioned to enter the combined New Zealand and Australian market.

National standards

Some standards are developed by a national standards body, like Standards New Zealand, Standards Australia, and British Standards Institute.

Uses of standards

Within these three broad types of standards there are a range of sub-types. The type of standard will depend on where it is used, who is using it and what the standard needs to cover. Whilst the descriptions and terminology can differ, they can be broadly categorised as:

Testing standards

Testing Standards cover the specifications necessary to perform testing on a uniform and consistent basis. They can include procedural directions and testing criteria needed for a specific product, process, test, or procedure. Examples include blood screening requirements, electrical safety requirements, metrological and calibration requirements, drinking water hygiene and safety requirements etc that would be undertaken by medical and chemical testing laboratories.

Performance-based, design and system standards

These standards provide performance outcomes for systems and processes. Examples include greenhouse gas emissions, food safety, building safety, electrical, plumbing and engineering performance and design requirements, durability requirements. These Standards often underpin Building Codes or Consumer Protection schemes and are referenced in and support a wide range of regulatory systems and compliance requirements.

Management system standards

The focus of these standards is usually on consistency of practice and quality assurance. Examples include ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems, ISO 14000 Environmental Management Systems, and ISO 45001 Health and Safety Management Systems. They are popular in a manufacturing business context to help manage risk, increase productivity, maintain certain quality levels, and build consumer confidence in a product or service.

Personnel certification standards

Examples of Personnel Certification Standards include occupational licensing requirements, such as qualification and competencies required, or bodies of knowledge required for regulated professions and trades. Such standards can be issued by various entities including national and international standards bodies, qualification authorities, government regulators, industry training organisations, registration or licensing authorities, or educational institutes.

Product standards

Also known as ‘product specifications’. These typically cover a specific component or product and its performance. An example of a product standard is AS/NZS 2588 Gypsum Plasterboard Standard. This product standard, produced by Standards New Zealand and Standards Australia, covers the strength, size, durability, water resistance, manufacturing requirements and testing methods of plasterboard. The objective of this standard is to provide manufactures with sufficient information to produce a quality product, and for designers/specifiers and consenting authorities to adopt and use it with confidence. The standard itself does not promote any specific plasterboard product or brand over others.

Types of standardisation documents

Interim standards

When a standard is technically incomplete but is required urgently, or where the standard is to be used for a limited period of time, an interim standard (NZS Int) may be produced.

An interim standard should be reviewed within 12 months of publication and a decision made about its future status as a New Zealand standard. It may continue as an interim standard for a limited time, be withdrawn, or be turned into a regular New Zealand standard.


Handbooks (NZS HB) are informative* documents that provide supplementary details and material. Usually, an HB is published to support a standard or a group of standards already in place. In some circumstances a HB may be produced where there is no standard but the information is considered to be in the public interest.

For example, a HB could be published to discuss practices, gauge reaction and seek comment in a new industry, and - depending on the feedback - determine whether it could be further developed into a standard at some point.

*An informative document is one that gives additional information and is only for guidance.

Publicly available specifications

Publicly available specifications (PAS) are normative* documents responding to an urgent market need. They represent either consensus in an organisation or industry external to Standards New Zealand or consensus of the experts within a working group. A PAS can be produced by Standards New Zealand on behalf of another organisation, where it is recognised as having the status of a document developed and published by an independent national standards body.

*A normative document is one that provides requirements.

Technical specifications

Technical specifications (SNZ TS) are normative documents representing consensus within a development committee.

They may be prepared in an industry where the subject matter or environment is undergoing rapid change and where speed of delivery is important, or the required level of consensus by a balanced expert committee to support a standard is not available.

Sometimes the national interest may be better served by providing the public with access to information which has achieved a certain degree of stakeholder agreement, in a document that has lesser status than a standard. While it may include normative language, it does not purport to be a standard and the title page contains information to this effect.

Technical reports

Technical reports (SNZ TR) are informative documents representing information collected in support of a normative document. They contain collected data different from that normally published as a standard or technical specification. Such data may include, for example, data obtained from a survey, data on work in other international organisations, or data on the ‘state of the art’ in relation to standards of national bodies on a particular subject.

Miscellaneous publication

Miscellaneous publications (NZS MP) are informative documents representing information of a different kind to that published in a normative document. MPs reflect the views of the author(s) and there could be other, equally valid points of view on the subject.

If you would like to know more or would like to discuss which type of publication may fit a proposed standards development project, please email the Standards team.