Private Standards and Public Interests
According to the most extensive directory of standards-setting organizations, compiled in 1983 by the National Bureau of Standards, based on information submitted by private organizations, approximately 420 nongovernment organizations maintain thirty-two thousand standards in the United States. These standards facilitate commerce in various ways, but most are not particularly important to public policy. Some set forth definitions such as size of screw threadings. Others facilitate the interchangeability of items such as flashlight batteries and automobile parts. An ANSI standard specifies the minimum requirements for the
permanence of paper for printed library material (see the copyright page of this book). A small portion, consisting of at least one thousand standards, are infused with more significant implications for the public interest.
The largest component of this group involve matters of public health and safety. Private standards affect the public interest in other areas, of course, such as finance and communications. For example, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, an entirely private organization, develops the influential Statements of Financial Accounting Standards (SFASs) that form the bases of "generally accepted accounting principles." Similarly, the National Advertising Review Board and, to a lesser extent, the National Association of Broadcasters privately regulate advertising. But this study focuses on private safety standards, a field that roughly parallels the distinct domain of public regulation often placed under the rubric of "environment, health, and safety" regulation.
The subset of private standards that directly concern public health and safety is fairly well delineated. The best measure comes from the American National Standards Institute, an organization that certifies standards written by other groups. For reasons discussed in later chapters, most, but not all, private standards-setters seek ANSI approval. ANSI classifies approximately 900 of its 8,500 certified standards under the rubric of "Safety and Health." These standards cover a fantastic array from the obviously important (Criteria for Accident Monitoring Functions in Light-Water-Cooled Nuclear Reactors) to the seemingly trivial (Safety Standard for Christmas Tree Lights). Some of ANSI's safety and health standards are procedural (Storage and Handling of Mixed Fluid Fertilizers); others are substantive (Safety Requirements for Baling Equipment). A few are massive in scope. The Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, for example, fills twenty-four volumes. Others take up just a page (Safety Standard for Agricultural Equipment), although obviously there is no way to tell from the name alone.
The ANSI list omits some significant private organizations involved in environment, health, and safety regulation. Building code organizations, for example, play a critical role in public safety. Building codes, which vary by region and by type of construction, make reference to countless ANSI standards. But the codes themselves are not certified by ANSI. Nor does ANSI list many safety standards developed in connection with the insurance industry. The Factory Mutual Research Corporation, for example, develops loss control standards for industrial and commercial policyholders insured by the Factory Mutual System. This
extensive private regulatory system, founded in 1835, consists of hundreds of engineers and technicians, along with a cadre of inspectors who implement FM's "Approval Standards." In short, the ANSI estimate of nine hundred private "health and safety" standards includes many, but not all, of the relevant standards.
Private standards-setting occurs under several institutional arrangements. Four basic forms of organization account for nearly all private standards: (1) trade associations, (2) professional societies, (3) general membership organizations, and (4) third-party certifiers. These organizations have different forms of governance, and they rely on a variety of administrative procedures. But a few core concepts permeate these organizations: one is "consensus" decisionmaking; the other is due process.