Raising standards: ESReDA experts at work
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International standards play a vital role in improving the quality of the products and services we use every day – from the safety of our railways, to the reliability of machinery and even the compatibility of our banking systems. But how do these standards come about? The answer lies in the collaborative work of experts across Europe. Together, they are striving to create practical tools to tackle global challenges including health, safety, security and climate change.

Among them are ESReDA’s representatives, who are currently working with a range of organisations at national and international level to create – and revise – standards for safety and reliability. The most recognised of these organisations is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the world’s largest publisher of standards with a current portfolio of more than 17,800.

ESReDA’s Helge Sandtorv was the technical editor on the team needed to create (and later revise) ISO 14 224 – otherwise known as Collection and Exchange of Reliability and Maintenance Data for Equipment. The team drew on 20 years of experience in data collection to investigate how information about maintenance could be shared between companies – information that plays a crucial role in the development of more cost effective and reliable machinery. To achieve this, a common ‘language’ and interpretation rules were needed.

The Standard was put in place in 1999, and completely revised for the changing workplace in 2006. Helge said: “The Standard is, in our opinion, a major step to agree common practice across Europe and the USA in collecting and analysing reliability data specifically for the petroleum industry. But it is also, to a large extent, applicable for other industries.”
Standards like this one are created through shared information and the consensus of experts in the field to meet the needs of businesses and industry, as well as the wider needs of society. They are typically voluntary agreements, but they offer governments a platform on which to build their rules, regulations and laws.

Standards can also provide a bridge between the public and private sectors. ESReDA’s Sipke van Manen has been highly active in creating guidance that informs Dutch law on a wide range of broad safety issues, from construction standards and flood barrier design, to very specific issues including how near wind turbines can be placed next to railway lines to avoid casualties in the event of a propeller breakage.

He said: “Some standards are set by governments, for example, the Dutch Act on Flooding. But others come from industry, like many building codes. In the Netherlands, we always look for broad consensus. This process takes a lot of time, but has the advantage that when a decision is made, ‘everybody’ abides by it. “Standards are extremely important. Together with the values we share, they’re the basis of our society.” Indeed, standardisation has a dramatic effect on quality of life. Without standards, phoning friends in different countries would be a complex procedure; wheelchair users would find public buildings with doors too narrow to access; and danger warning signs would change from country to country.

But while some sectors have a long tradition of norms and standards, there are still some gaps. Sipke continued: “In the building industry, norms and standards are abundant and extremely necessary. “But I would also like to see a standard for quantitative risk analysis. We don’t have one in the Netherlands, but we would surely like to have one.” ESReDA representative Lars Petterson, who sits on an ISO working group in risk management, agrees with the need to harmonise norms and standards across Europe.

He said: “The approach to risk management varies a lot between companies, industries, countries. I think a general tendency on this shrinking planet is to have more and more contacts outside your own home area, and when you do, you need to have a basic set of rules or agreements in order to simplify communication. “I also think it’s good to learn form others – we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. Most harmonisations are good in my view.”

ESReDA is continuing to grow and contribute to the development of European definitions, methods and norms. But what recommendations could be made to the European Community to help support these efforts? Sipke van Manen would like to see greater involvement from the European Community. He said: “On a political level, Brussels could do more to acknowledge and support communities that are working on standards. “It could also play a more active role in enforcing that these communities display a dynamic behaviour to ensure every community is a hard working group that comes up with high quality results.”

To find out more about ESReDA’s work and areas of expertise, visit the Project Group pages of the website.