March 7, 2023

Standards and Regulations. What are the differences?

About the authors:

Brian Cruikshank has extensive amounts of practical experience in height access, rescue, and risk management in the industrial fall protection world. Brian is the Lead Consultant and Trainer at OEA (Ocean Earth Access), he is a contributing member on the Canadian CSA Fall Protection Standards Committee representing Petzl, practitioners and trainers. He was Technical Director for Petzl America for three years.

Jess Garland is a former IRATA Level 3 rope tech, she spent 9 years dangling from ropes on a wide variety of sites before hanging up her harness to start a family. She continues to use her practical experience from a keyboard with Scannable.

The difference between standards and regulations is important.

Let's look into the differences, and where it gets a bit difficult to differentiate.  

In simple terms, a regulation is a set of rules outlined by the government that must be followed as a minimum standard. A regulation is enforceable by law, so as workers, following regulations is mandatory.

On the other hand, equipment standards are generally established by private sector bodies. They contain design, technical, and performance specifications that equipment must meet, or precise conventions designed to be used consistently. 

Standards outline minimum industry practices that assist professionals with establishing and progressing best practices for work at height, but are not legally binding. Standards are intended to have a balanced representation of key industry stakeholders, such as government regulators, equipment manufactures, and practitioners.   

Standards are not enforceable by law. A standard has to be incorporated by reference in an Act or delegated legislation in order to be mandatory. Only once it is referenced does it become part of the technical regulation as a requirement for safe work practices.

That said, it is important that our equipment meets specific standards designed for the task whilst working at height, rigging, and in rescue scenarios…

We are literally trusting our lives upon it.

Knowing equipment has been certified to a standard that has tested, validated, and provided quality assurance on the capacity and limitations of the life safety equipment is critical.

Standards Organisations commonly found in work at height.
Although standards are not laws, they do contribute to legal certainty.

Standards are considered to be clear and recognised rules of compliance. In our industry, they validate what equipment is capable of.

We can be sure if a carabiner meets a specific standard that the manufacturer has had the appropriate testing carried out by a third-party certified lab, ensuring the performance and quality. 

If you were to buy a piece of equipment from a source other than an established equipment manufacturer with proper quality assurance, you would have no idea about its performance capabilities. Even if you were to test it to destruction, there is no guarantee that the next one in the production line would be the same. 

So, equipment standards provide the testing requirements, design, and performance specification of life safety equipment. This includes how they should be used in compliance with the standard, together with the manufacturer's instructions for use. 

Deciphering product markings can be tricky. Scannable helps by linking you digitally to this information with our App and NFC Tags, as seen in this video.
Regulations are mandated by a country’s government body, by law, for companies and workers to follow. 

Confusion arises between standards and regulations because in some instances governments will refer to standards in their regulations as a minimum. 

Another source of confusion is merely down to semantics. For example, OSHA (the USA’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration) refers to the regulations it issues as standards, when in fact you are legally obliged to comply—the definition of a regulation. 

This piece from Standards New Zealand/Te Mana Tautikanga O Aotearoa explains how standards can be used:

Standards can be: 

  • referenced in Acts or regulations as legally mandatory.
  • referenced in Acts or regulations as ‘acceptable solutions’ or ‘means of compliance’. This ensures compliance with legislation but does not prevent the use of an alternative method, provided it meets the specified legislative criteria. 
  • used by a government agency to detail a required condition of contract with an external supplier. 
  • incorporated into non-regulatory material as examples of leading practice or guidance for industry. 
  • employed as a means of compliance with industry regulation, for example, specifying requirements for audit certification.
  • promoted as a means of dealing with legal liability issues, for example, compliance with various risk management standards may be cited in court as proof that all reasonable steps were taken.” 

Standards New Zealand also has a very informative booklet if you want some further reading. 

Examples of regulatory bodies.
It is not just governments that draw upon standards to administer a set of rules.

IRATA, the most widely recognised rope access training body in the world, lists standards that equipment must meet in their International Code of Practice (ICOP). Most industry codes of practice written by training bodies list work equipment standards; SPRAT, IRAANZ, and the Arboricultural Association to name a few. 

While companies need to meet regulations by law, in some instances company policies will require their workers to meet a higher standard than required by the regulations. 

Some organisations may draw upon information in standards to outline a specific level of best work practice, others may follow the industry code of practice as set out by one of the training providers for their industry.

An ongoing discussion with some professionals is if standards lead and establish best practices, or if it is industry-leading professionals who progress the industry, and standards follow. 

Associations relevant to the height safety industry.

Brian Cruikshank is an authority on the subject. He believes “standards maintain a minimum, baseline, industry practice to comply with. They are very important, but can also have limiting factors when work at height is based on hazard assessment and risk analysis. Standards and regulations can sometimes be antiquated by the time they are available to the public. Just my take on standards and regulations and I try to prevent them from limiting progressive fall protection solutions, while maintaining compliance”. 

Conducting a proper hazard and risk assessment to assist with selecting the appropriate PPE and applicable standards will help to mitigate and manage risk to an acceptable level in dynamic environments

Because standards are compiled by a standards organisation, they do not come free. For small companies, buying every relevant standard would be a huge, and in some instances unrealistic, expense. 

In contrast, because regulations are a set of rules written into the law of each country, they are accessible to everybody. 

Hopefully this clears up any confusion around the difference between standards and regulations. 

Regulations for each country can be found on government legislation websites. 

If you need to check what standards your equipment meets, check out the Scannable app.