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Overview of ISO Standards

Overview of ISO standards

The International Standards Organization publishes over 24,000 standards based on recommendations from 167 member countries and 807 technical committees. Some are requirement documents that define what must be done to achieve certification to a specific standard, others are guidance documents to help you get the most out of your management system, and some are technical specifications for specific product development. The goal of all ISO standards to create common terminology, and provide practical information and best practices to enhance trade.

In this article we will focus on management system standards. Whether the system is related to quality, safety, environmental, business continuity, or data security, all ISO management system standards require a few basic things:

  • awareness of and conformity to the regulatory requirements applicable to your company, your products, and processes,

  • you identify and document the process and controls necessary for your activities,

  • you perform internal audits to monitor and improve your system,

  • you collect data to monitor how you are performing to your objectives,

  • you conduct management reviews of your system to identify needs and trends, and adjust direction as needed.

Let’s look at the differences between a few of these.

ISO 9001 – Quality Management System (QMS) requirements for any industry. This baseline document covers strategy, leadership, all areas of operations (sales, design, supply chain, production, inspection and delivery) and quality assurance activities to ensure the QMS meets requirements. The practices of this standard, when used well, build trust between you and your customers and suppliers, since you all have common terminology and practices to define expectations, controls, and improvement. There are many supporting documents, guiding terminology (ISO 9000), internal audits (ISO 19011), risk management (ISO 31000) and monitoring of customer satisfaction (ISO 10002), and more.

ISO 9001 is the foundation for many industry-specific standards such as ISO 13485 for the medical device industry, the AS9100 series for the aerospace industry, and TS16949 for the automotive industry. Other standards include ISO 27001 Information Security, ISO 22000 Food safety, ISO 22301 Business continuity, ISO 90003 Software development, ISO 80079 Explosive environments, ISO 37001 anti-bribery, and many more

If you are considering ISO certification, start with ISO 9001, and then once that is running well, investigate what additional standards may be of value to you.

ISO 14001 – Environmental management system requirements for any industry. This standard is a baseline for sustainability. It asks you to identify, monitor and control the aspects of your business that can or do have an impact internally, on your staff, to your local community, and the global environment. It’s a voluntary standard (unlike product specifications) where your goal is to prevent waste and pollution. To do that, you identify your impacts and controls on core elements such Air, Water, Power, and Waste, and supply chain controls. It’s a great standard if you want to emphasize your green status or support sustainability initiatives in your community. And it’s a great way to increase employee engagement (who doesn’t want a cleaner world for our kids?). There are multiple guidance documents supporting this standard, the names all starting with 14xxx, and several associated standards like ISO26000 social responsibility, ISO 15270 recycling, and ISO 50001 Energy management, that are also part of this family.

ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management System requirements for any industry. Originally written as BS18001, this became an international standard in 2018, and specifically focuses on workplace health and safety. Designed to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses, this management system asks you to identify and comply with local/state/federal legal requirements for safety, and to implement controls and training to reduce hazards to your staff both physical, environmental, and psychosocial. There are supporting documents like ISO 45002 and 45003 to help you apply this standard effectively.

Product related standards and Technical Specifications.

The vast majority of ISO standards fall into this category. ISO’s very first standard (ISO1:1951) was about Geometrical Product Specification. The first product specification standard was written in 1968 defining specifications for Freight Containers (now you know why they all look the same!). You can find which ISO standards might apply to the product or service your company provides, by going to, and under Standards, search for publications that could be of help.

Friendship among equals. Wherever your ISO journey takes you, no ISO standard is the opinion of one person or even one country. Over 100,000 technical experts from 167 countries spend years developing standards, and many more than write books about them. Companies like PQA Certification provide you with certification to key standards, and accrediting bodies like ANAB, and the IAF all ensure that your certifying body and auditors are competent, and impartial.

If ISO certification is in your future, please visit and click “Get ISO Certified.” We are here to serve.


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