ANSI - American National Standards Institute

The Halo Effect: American National Standards and the Rest

By Karl G. Ruling, ESTA Technical Standards Manager

“UL 1573, Stage and Studio Luminaires and Connector Strips, is an American National Standard, right? And so is UL 1640, Portable Power Distribution Equipment, isn’t it? Aren’t all UL standards American National Standards?”

No, and neither are all the documents developed by the International Code Council, ESTA, and many other organizations accredited by the American National Standards Institute. Being accredited by ANSI is a precondition for being able to submit standards for approval by ANSI as American National Standards. But not everything written by an accredited standards developer is a standard, and not every standard is submitted to ANSI for approval. There often are reasons why something is not an American National Standard, and not being an ANS does not necessarily mean that a document is deficient. Nevertheless, it is important for standards users to understand what sets American National Standards apart, and to know the status of any document they use.

What does ANSI do?

The American National Standards Institute doesn’t itself write standards. Most standards in the United States (and much of the Western World) are written by non-governmental organizations—trade associations, professional associations, consortia, and private businesses—that see a need for standards to simplify business and life, to protect health and the environment, and to do innumerable other things that can be done if interested parties in a field of human endeavor can agree on a common set of rules, procedures, or specifications that will benefit all in the long run. ANSI helps these efforts by functioning as a central information clearinghouse and coordinating body for its member organizations and by providing model procedures for standard bodies to follow in managing the consensus standards development process in a fair and open manner. ANSI ensures that fair and open procedures are followed, 1) by accrediting a standards developer if the developer’s formal, written procedures meet ANSI’s essential requirements for fairness, and 2) by vetting the records documenting the development of a standard, and approving that standard; if the records show that the approved procedures had been followed. ANSI does not judge the content of a document, only the process used in writing it.

Some of the major features of the American National Standards process include:

  • A centralized project initiation notification system that allows interested and affected parties to comment on whether or not a project should be pursued, as well as providing them with information on how to participate in the work;
  • Consensus on a proposed standard being reached by a consensus body (a voting group) that includes representatives from materially affected and interested parties;
  • One or more open public reviews for any draft standard, during which any member of the public may submit comments;
  • A process in which comments submitted by voting members of the relevant consensus body and by public review commenters are evaluated, responded to, and, if appropriate, incorporated into the draft standard; and
  • An appeals process that anyone can use if he believes that due process principles were not sufficiently respected during the standards development process.

Accreditation to write American National Standards does not mean that everything written by the accredited group is automatically an American National Standard. It is possible that the ANSI-approved procedures weren’t followed. It is also possible that the ANSI-approved procedures were followed, but the document wasn’t submitted to ANSI for approval. If either of these is true, the document won’t be an American National Standard. There are many reasons why an organization might write something but not pursue ANSI approval for it.

Why skip ANSI approval?

Some of the more common reasons for skipping ANSI approval include:

  • The value of American National Standard status is not judged to outweigh the administrative and financial costs associated with having ANSI approve the standard.
  • Approval as an American National Standard might impede the document’s adoption outside the United States.
  • The organization may have an open standards process for some work and a members-only process for other types of work, and decide that the members-only process is appropriate for a particular project.
  • The area being standardized may be in a state of rapid technological change, so codifying a practice or specification as an American National Standard may be considered premature.
  • The status of an American National Standard does not seem appropriate for a document that is largely informational or that makes very mild recommendations and suggestions in an informal style.

Some of these reasons can be seen at work in the portfolios of organizations listed at the top of this article. ESTA’s Technical Standards Program only has one procedure for drafting standards. Most, but not all, of the guidance documents we have written or are developing are intended to become American National Standards, since there is no alternative procedure, and the costs of having ANSI vet the process usually are felt to be outweighed by the authority that “American National Standard” gives our documents. Furthermore, we have good international support for our work, so the “American” in the title does not seem to put off many non-U.S. citizens.

Most of our documents have been on the ANSI track, but there have been some exceptions, although they have been developed by essentially the same process as our American National Standards. Our Recommended Practice for Ethernet Cabling Systems in Entertainment Lighting Applications, the Supplement to the Recommended Practice for Ethernet Cabling Systems in Entertainment Lighting Applications, and the forthcoming Introduction to Modern Atmospheric Effects, fourth edition, have all benefited from public review and comment. In addition, these documents have been written by working groups reflecting the diversity of interests in the marketplace. That is, the Ethernet cabling documents were written by people who use lighting systems, and not only those who make or sell them; and the atmospheric effects document was written by a group that includes people who use fog effects besides those who make or sell fog equipment. Membership in the working groups is open to all who are affected by the work of the groups; there is no fee, and membership in ESTA or any other group, is not a requirement.

There are currently no plans to submit these Ethernet and effects documents to ANSI for approval as American National Standards because they are primarily informational documents, written in an informal style, that make some fairly non-controversial suggestions for things people should consider when building a network or using theatrical fog. They were not submitted to ANSI for approval as American National Standards because the additional authority given by such a designation did not seem necessary for non-controversial, informational documents.

The other two organizations mentioned at the top of this article have different procedures for different projects. The International Code Council, for example, is well known for the International Building Code, which is the successor to the also well-known Uniform Building Code. The IBC and 36 other ICC standards are not American National Standards. They go through public review, as American National Standards must, and there is a formal appeals process, but the consensus body for these documents is limited to “code enforcement and fire officials who, with no vested interests beyond public safety, represent the public’s best interest,” according to the ICC Fact Sheet. There is an argument that can be made for this restriction, but it means that materially affected parties, such as builders, building owners, and members of the general public— people who might see things differently than do code enforcement and fire officials—are not part of the consensus body and have no vote. However, the ICC has another procedure that is accredited by ANSI and has two American National Standards that have been developed by that procedure: ICC/ANSI 2.0-1998, Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards, and ICC/ANSl A117.1-2003, Accessible and Useable Buildings and Facilities.

Underwriters Laboratories has an immense portfolio of standards, and some, but not all, of them are American National Standards. The procedures for the ANSI/UL and UL-only standards are different.

ANSI/UL standards UL standards
Proposed standards or changes to standards are announced in ANSI’s Standards Action and submitted to public review. Proposed standards or changes to standards are not announced in ANSI’s Standards Action. There is no public review. Proposals are circulated to the Standards Technical Panel and to subscribers to UL standards. Further circulation is prohibited.
All public review comments are addressed and circulated. If there is a continuing objection, commenters are given the right to appeal. Comments from subscribers and STP members serve to advise UL staff. UL staff members respond to comments, but are not required to attempt to resolve them to the satisfaction of the commenter.
The consensus body is the STP, the members of which are selected to reflect a balance of the interest groups affected by the standard. The consensus body is the UL staff.

The two processes are clearly different, but many people assume that, since UL is ANSI-accredited and some UL standards are American National Standards, then all UL standards are American National Standards. This misperception, which many people also have with other standards organizations, has been labeled by members of the ANSI Federation as “The Halo Effect.”

What difference does American National Standard approval make?

You can count on an American National Standard to be a consensus standard. This does not mean that other standards are not consensus standards, but you have to be the judge. First, you have to look at the composition of the voting body. Does it reflect a diversity of interests, or are the members all employees of one company or members of only one affected interest group? Are the members of the voting body from all over the regions of the world where the standard is claimed to be useful, or only from one nation, state, or region? Next, you have to look at the procedures. Do they allow comment and criticism from all affected parties, or only a select group; and is there an appeals process? Today most standards organizations put procedures and other basic reference documents on their website. You can find ESTA’s procedures on the Technical Standards Program part of the ESTA website You will find the ICC’s procedures and FAQs about them on its website You will find information about ANSI/UL procedures on the UL website but the UL-only procedures are not posted.

Finally, American National Standards, as certified consensus standards, are better references to cite if there is ever any disagreement with a government official or anybody else about what “standard practice” is in an industry. Government agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are required by law to use consensus standards whenever possible. An American National Standard will trump a non-ANS every time.

How do you recognize an American National Standard?

It is easy to tell if a standard is an American National Standard, if you have a copy of it. If it was written by a group accredited by ANSI as a committee, “ANSI” will appear in the alphanumeric designation, as in “ANSI E1.11-2004,” which is our new version of USITT’s DMX512/1990. If the group is accredited as an organization, “ANSI” might not appear in the alphanumeric designation, but there will be a notice at the front of the document saying something like, “This edition of NFPA 1126 was approved as an American National Standard on February 9, 2001.”

Be careful about inferring the status of standards from other websites. They may have succumbed to “The Halo Effect.” For example, TÜV America says on its website that it will test commercial audio equipment to “UL/ANSI 813.” UL 813 exists—it is now in its seventh edition—and was announced as an ANS project in 1995, but as of December 7, 2004, it still hadn’t been accepted as an American National Standard.

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