In recent blogs I covered how to read standards and how to understand the terminology used in standards. In this week’s blog I would like to give you information on how to access standards and where it's possible read them for free. In a future blog I will try to cover how standards are written.

The two main international standards bodies are the IEC and ISO. Standards from these bodies typically cost around 250 Euro/Dollars per part of the standard. Many standards are multi-part and so you can easily run up a cost of 1,000 Euro/Dollars to access all the information you need. The most annoying thing I find is that you really don’t know whether a standard is worth buying until you see it and there doesn’t seem to be any way to rent it.

  1. If you go to the IEC or ISO homepages you can search for a standard and see a preview which includes the table of contents. You can also buy a copy of the standard on these pages but sometimes it can be cheaper to buy it on your national standards homepage; which for Ireland is If you do purchase the standards, they will come with a warning that they are single use only, not to be put on a network and only printable a limited number of times. They are also typically encrypted so that if you use acrobat reader or similar to read the standards you cannot add notes or highlight text which is a nuisance.
  2. If you work for a big company you can get your IT department to a buy a multi-user version of the standard and perhaps have it hosted on a company like IHS or similar.
  3. Within the IEC or ISO organizations it is the national standards bodies who are the members. For instance, in Ireland it is the NSAI. If you volunteer as an expert, you can then access all drafts of standards within that sub-committee of the ISO or IEC. In fact, in Ireland you can see drafts of IEC/ISO standards if you register on the Your Standards Your Say website while they are open for voting.
  4. Other standards for industrial automation come from groups such as the ISA, IEEE, UL, CENELEC and the RIA. The standards from these organizations are typically cheaper to buy than those from the ISO or IEC. There are other standards bodies, but these are the ones I find I need to consult in my role as functional safety person for our industrial products.
  5. If you join the ISA (cost around $100/year) you can view all the ISA developed standards for free using their online viewer. Several relevant standards such as IEC 61511 and IEC 62443 started out as ISA standards.
  6. If your company has an IEEE xPlore license you can view and download all the IEEE standards as well as all the IEEE papers from over the years. I don’t know if this is available by joining the IEEE as an individual. Sometimes the standard will be an IEC/ISO/IEEE standard ( for instance ISO/IEC/IEEE 15288:2015 on systems and software engineering) and accessing the standard under the IEEE banner will be the cheapest.  
  7. Perhaps the most generous standards access is available for UL where there is free digital view of UL standards on – registration is required. My favourite as a functional safety person is UL 1998 – Standard for safety – Software in programmable components.
  8. However sometimes it is cheaper to buy a book. For instance I recently read the book by Jean-Louis Boulanger on the IEC 62279 rail standard and if you are not intimately aware of the subject a relevant book can give you more information and insights than you would ever get from reading the raw standard and the book is in a reader friendly format.

The bad news for non-native speakers is that most standards are only available in English, many are available in French and thereafter I believe it is up to the national standards body in your country as to whether the standard will be available in Russian, Chinese, Japanese or whatever is your language of choice. Given that most IEC and ISO standards writers are not native speakers themselves, a lot of effort goes into making the standards readable to non-native speakers, but this is a tough goal to meet.

I will close with some insights from Dilbert on the standards writing process.

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