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What are standards?

The formal definition of "Standards" from the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is "A document, established by consensus and approved by a recognised body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.” 

The standards themselves impose no obligations on manufacturers, but they are often cited in European and national laws and regulations. Where they are cited in legislation, they become the legal standard to which products must conform.

There are typically 5 categories of standards:

  • International standards
  • European (EN) Standards
  • Harmonised European (hEN) Standards
  • National standards
  • Standards developed by trade bodies and other entities


International Standards
International standards are standards which are adopted by an international standardisation body, such as the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) or the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).


European (EN) Standards
European standards are standards issued by one of the three European standardisation bodies (the Comité Européen de Normalisation – CEN, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation – CENELEC, and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute – ETSI). They can be identified by the designation ‘EN’.

All national standards bodies who are members of CEN, CENELEC or ETSI must adopt their European standards as national standards and remove any conflicting national standards. This means that ENs are the generally the same in all European countries.


Harmonised European (hEN) Standards
Harmonised standards are a special set of European Standards which are used to underpin EU product legislation and are given a legal basis by Regulation (EC) 765/2008.

Harmonised standards are produced by CEN, CENELEC and ETSI in response to a mandate from the European Commission. The take on their specialised status when the European Commission lists them in the Official Journal of the European Union. Products which meet the relevant harmonised standards enjoy a presumption of conformity with the relevant essential requirements set out in the EU product legislation.

Where a hEN exists the manufacturer must use a hEN when demonstrating conformity as part of their product certification process (CE marking) of all products placed on the EU Single Market.

Harmonised standards are the same in all EU Member States because they are based on European Standards which must be adopted as national standards by all members of CEN, CENELEC and ETSI.


National Standards
A national standard is a standard adopted by a national standardisation body (NSB). They can be international (ISO) or European standards (EN, hEN) adopted as national standards or they can be developed by the NSB where no international or European standard exists

NSAI is the national standardisation body for Ireland and produces Irish Standards (I.S.).

All standardisation organizations in Europe are obliged to not only withdraw national standards if a European one is being developed, but if they wish to develop a national standard, they must first ask their European counterparts if they are interested in developing a European standard before commencing such work at a national level.

The British Standards Institute (BSI) is the NSB for the UK and develops and adopts British Standards (BS) which are often used in Ireland where no equivalent Irish standard exists.


Standards in the EU

In the EU, a common regulatory framework ensures a level playing field. Member States implement common rules and work to put in place a common European standards framework, which guarantees that no Member State could gain a competitive advantage by undercutting a common set of standards or regulations.

There are mandatory standards which are enforced through a regulation or a directive (wherein the word “shall” is typically employed). They represent about 20% of standards produced.  Products being put on the EU market must undergo conformity assessment by an EU Notified Body to demonstrate that they comply to the harmonised standard, examples include Medical Devices, as all medical devices are currently required to have a CE Mark affixed on their product.  There are also voluntary standards which represent the bulk of current standards.

It may not be possible to use British Standards (BS) to demonstrate conformity to EU product legislation where Regulation (EC) 765/2008 applies, even if the BS is identical to the equivalent hEN by virtue of being adopted from the same European Standard. Manufacturers are advised to consult with relevant regulatory authorities before using a BS as part of their conformity assessment.

Standards in Ireland

A range of standards are referenced in Irish legislation. These include:

  • Including  international standards (ISO, etc.),
  • European Standards.
  • Harmonised European Standards,
  • Irish national standards (i.e. a standard specification declared or deemed to have been declared under section 16 of the National Standards Authority Act 1996),
  • National standards form other countries (including British Standards), and
  • Standards developed by trade bodies and other entities.

They are also referenced in other documents, including guidelines, by-laws, regulations, standards (i.e. guidance documents published by State bodies).

There is little impact on standards used in Irish legislation in those areas which are national competences, i.e. those areas not subject to EU legislation. However, you may not be able to use British standards where the Irish legislation makes reference to, or permits the use of, standards from EU Member States or for areas covered by EU legislation. You should seek legal advices or follow the guidance of the relevant regulatory body in Ireland.


Construction Products and Irish Building Regulations

Construction products in Ireland are subject to two different sets of regulations, both of which use standards in as part of their regulatory frameworks.

Construction Products Regulation
The EU Construction Products Regulation (CPR) sets the rules for placing construction products on the EU market. All construction products placed on the EU market, including Ireland and Northern Ireland where CPR continues to apply under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, must comply with the requirements of the CPR irrespective of where they are manufactured. These include:

  • Being CE marked if required by CPR,
  • Using harmonised standards to demonstrate conformity where required by CPR
  • Being certified by an EU notified body or Technical Assessment Body if required by CPR,
  • Have a valid and up to date EU Declaration of Performance.

As EU legislation does not apply in the it is no longer possible to use BS where the use of hENs are required by the CPR.

Building regulations
The Irish building regulations regulate the use of construction products in construction projects in Ireland. The aim of the building regulations is to provide for the safety and welfare of people in and about buildings.  The building regulations apply to the design and construction of a new building (including a dwelling) or an extension to an existing building.  The minimum performance requirements that a building must achieve are set out in the second schedule to the building regulations.

The Technical Guidance Documents (TGDs) refer to many technical specifications, codes of practice, and other documents, including British Standards. These documents are quoted solely for the purpose of providing additional appropriate technical guidance to meet the requirements of the Building Regulations.  A reference to a technical specification is to the latest edition (including any amendments, supplements or addenda) current at the date of publication of the relevant TGD.

However, if the version of the technical specification is subsequently revised or updated by the issuing body, the new version may be used as a source of guidance provided that it continues to address the relevant requirements of the Regulations.

The process of Agrément certification applies to those products and processes that do not fall within the scope of existing construction standards, either because they are innovative or because they deviate from established norms.  Regardless of the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations, where Third Party Certificates are relied upon, the terms and conditions of such Agrément certificates, including those issued by the British Board of Agrément (BBA), must provide coverage for use in Ireland and must confirm compliance with the Parts A to M of the Irish Building Regulations.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage additional information on their website and have published FAQs entitled  Construction Industry – Preparing for the end of the Brexit Transition Period which can be downloaded here.


Electrical equipment and National Wiring Rules

EU regulations
The following EU rules apply to all electrical and electronic devices placed on the EU market:

The EMC Directive and Radio Equipment Directive have provision for the appointment of notified bodies which can issue EU-type examination certificates. The Low Voltage Directive has no conformity assessment procedure that requires the intervention of a notified body.

All electrical products imported from the UK will still need to conform with EU rules.  Any electrical device imported from the UK that is currently CE marked will still need to be CE marked if they are to continue being placed on the EU market.

This means that electrical devices from the UK will still require:

  • An EU declaration of conformity
  • The correct CE marking 
  • Any electrical equipment requiring certification by an EU notified body under the RED or the EMCD will still need to be certified by an EU notified body.

Manufacturers are permitted to use national standards where:

  • Harmonised standards have not been drawn up and published and
  • International standards have not been published,
  • The electrical equipment is manufactured in accordance with the safety provisions of the standards in force in the Member State of manufacture,
  • Where the standard used ensures a safety level equivalent to that required in national legislation.

British manufacturers whose products demonstrate conformity using British standards recognised under UK legislation cannot CE mark their products and place them on the EU market on that basis since the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

You can get more information from the NSAI FAQs for Electrical Equipment.

National Rules for Electrical Installations
Ireland’s new National Rules for Electrical Installations (previously referred to as the National Wiring Rules), also known as I.S. 10101:2020, will replace ET 101:2008, and has been produced by industry experts who sit on the NSAI’s Electro Technical Committee (ETC/TC 2) “Electrical Installations”. 

The standard includes requirements for design and installation of all types of installations including  housing, hospitals, agricultural buildings, caravans, construction sites, industrial premises and swimming pools.

As these are national rules concerning the design and installation of electrical equipment the application of any standards referenced in the National Rules will, generally, be unaffected by Brexit.

You can get more information from the Safe Electric website.