By: Jim Olshefsky, Director of External Relations ASTM International
Abstract: The article is intended to provide a brief introduction about ASTM International, its role in the development of standards, and promotion of the communication between ASTM International and worldwide national standards bodies, including the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO).
About ASTM International
ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of voluntary consensus standards. On June 16, 1898, seventy engineers and businessmen met in Philadelphia to form the American Section of the International Association for Testing Materials. The American Section’s first technical committee on steel initiated a series of discussions of testing and material standards for the railroad industry, where most of its members were employed. At the fifth annual meeting of the American Section in 1902, they renamed the organization the American Society for Testing Materials. In 2001, ASTM changed its name to “ASTM International” to better reflect ASTM’s support of a standards development process that incorporates consensus irrespective of national borders. Today, over 12,000 ASTM standards are used around the world to improve product quality, enhance health and safety, strengthen market access and trade, and build consumer confidence.
ASTM’s leadership in international standards development is driven by the contributions of our members: more than 30,000 of the world’s top technical experts and business professionals representing 150 countries. Working in an open and transparent process and using ASTM’s advanced Information Technology (IT) infrastructure, ASTM members create the test methods, specifications, classifications, guides, and practices that support consumers, industries, and governments worldwide.
ASTM International standards are developed in accordance with the guiding principles of the World Trade Organization for the development of international standards: coherence, consensus, development dimension, effectiveness, impartiality, openness, relevance, and transparency. ASTM International world headquarters is located in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. The organization also has offices in Belgium, Canada, China, Peru, and Washington, D.C.
Memorandum of Understanding Program
Launched in 2001, ASTM International’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) program promotes communication between ASTM International and national standards bodies worldwide, fostering awareness of the standardization systems of all parties involved. The purpose of the program is to increase greater worldwide participation in the ASTM standards development process and facilitate the development of national standards that will aid health, safety, environmental, and economic conditions.
ASTM has had an active role in Africa since the signing of its first MoU on the African continent with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe in 2002. Since then, ASTM has signed MoU’s with 28 other African national standards bodies as well as two regional organizations; SADC Cooperation in Standards (SADCSTAN) in 2003 and the Arab Industrial Development and Mining Organization (AIDMO) in 2019. A 2014 conversation between ASTM’s Vice President of Global Cooperation, Teresa Cendrowska, and officials from the Cameroon Agence des Normes et de la Qualité (ANOR) led to the signing of an MoU with the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO) in 2015.
“The MOU will strengthen the relationship between our organizations to help meet the needs of people and businesses in Africa and around the world. In addition, the MOU will aid in the development of standards for health, safety and the environment in ARSO member states,” concluded the ASTM President at the occasion of the signing of the MoU between ARSO and ASTM in 2015.
ARSO, formerly the African Regional Organisation for Standardisation traces its genesis to the unfolding events and the prevailing mood of the African socio-political and economic Pan-Africanism of the 1970s and the culmination of which at a Conference held at the historic and important city of Accra, Ghana in 1977. In January of that year, the African Governments under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) (currently African Union (AU)) convened the Founding Conference of ARSO to consider the first Constitution of ARSO and to witness the formation of the Organisation to speed-up African Economic Integration. Today, ARSO serves as Africa’s intergovernmental standards body with the mandate of creating tools for standards development, harmonization, and implementation. Together, these systems work to enhance Africa’s internal trading capacity, increase Africa’s product and service competitiveness globally, uplift the welfare of African consumers, and serve as a standardization forum for future prospects in international trade.
The MoU signed between ASTM International and ARSO provides the opportunity for both organizations to have closer communications. It allows ASTM International’s technical resources to strengthen the relationship between the two parties to enhance their support for the needs of the ARSO Member States. ASTM International annually provides a complete subscription of its 12,000 standards to ARSO for its use in strengthening the ARSO standards program. Currently, ASTM has 116 MoU’s with national standards bodies and regional bodies worldwide, the most recent of which was an MoU signed with the Standards New Zealand in August 2020.
As reported by ARSO members in their respective annual reports to ASTM International, there are 6,632
citations to ASTM International standards from 131 ASTM technical committees. The use of ASTM standards yields many benefits and opportunities for the individual nations, the continent of Africa, and globally:
- Significant cost and time reduction to deliver standards
- Advances technical content and discussion
- Provides a common technical, business and regulatory language
- Enables the use of international standards
- Limits potential for barriers to trade
- Supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Individual MoU partner countries in Africa include Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Eswatini, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
How ASTM Standards are Used
The information below provides some examples of how various African countries are utilizing ASTM International standards in several industry sectors.
ASTM Membership Requirements
Many professionals and students in Africa have taken advantage of the opportunity to participate as members of ASTM International, which is one of the benefits of the MoU program. Membership with ASTM International offers a wealth of opportunities, including the ability to propose modifications to the content of the standards and to make contact with some of the world’s renowned experts. ASTM membership is open to any interested party and requests for membership applications can be addressed to the author or found on the ASTM website.
ASTM Standard Development Process
The process used by ASTM International to develop standards is extremely flexible, refined over 120 years, to accommodate a diverse collection of activities. Test methods, specifications, classifications, practices, guides, and terminology are different categories of standards offered by ASTM. Areas ranging from petroleum, steel, and plastics, to homeland security, unmanned vehicles, and sustainability have all achieved standards-based solutions via ASTM’s standard development process.
ASTM receives a variety of requests for new standards development activities ranging from the development of a single standard to the formation of a new main technical committee. It’s important to note that not all requests ultimately reach fruition. As the organizational process evolves, it may be determined that the stakeholder’s interest is insufficient, other standards may exist that satisfy the particular need, or that it is premature for a consensus standards program. When a request is initially submitted, ASTM maps the scope and subject area to its existing committee population. If ASTM can find an appropriate venue, it coordinates the proposed activity with the officers of the committee and subcommittee(s) in question. If the request covers an area unrepresented within ASTM, the staff will proceed with their new organizational activity process.
All technical decisions regarding a proposed activity are made by the appropriate committee members who are technical experts from industry, government, academia, and consumers, not by the ASTM staff. Specific staff resources and activities include the following:
- Staff management and administrative support for all technical committees
- Professional editing
- Providing templates for new standards
- Web-based collaborative areas for pre-ballot standards work
- Web conferencing
- Electronic submittals and balloting of standards
- Product and Personnel Certification Services
- Interlaboratory study program
- Training and symposia services
Should there be a need to revise an existing ASTM International standard, to closely meet specific needs, the first step is to contact the chair of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the document in question to explain the rationale for that proposed change. The request will trigger the formation of a task group to develop a revision. If it is not known which subcommittee has jurisdiction, the staff manager should be contacted or the ASTM International website should be searched to locate the specific committee, subcommittee, and staff manager for all approved ASTM International standards.
There are many different roles within the ASTM standards development process including: ASTM technical committee members, technical contacts for work items, subcommittee and main committee officers, and attendees at meetings. The ASTM Regulations’ Appendix B: ASTM International Responsibilities of Membership are intended to assist members in the ASTM process in executing their respective roles and responsibilities. Because no single set of guidelines can address every possible situation, ASTM members and visitors attempt to act in a manner which is consistent with the mission of ASTM and its policies, as well as the spirit of these guidelines. Concerns regarding member responsibilities are reviewed and resolved by the appropriate officers of the technical committee.
Once approval has been received from the subcommittee to begin a revision, a new work item should be registered using the registration form in the “Members Only” area of the ASTM website. An electronic version of the ASTM standard are sent to the requester in Microsoft Word. Ballot submittal instructions are included along with the Word document. It should be noted that if any problems arise during the revision process, the staff manager of the committee will be available to resolve them.
The ballot must contain a cover letter explaining the reason for the proposed action. Examples of such reasons are the following:
- Request by an organization or individual for a new standard
- Substantive changes made in response to negative votes or comments on a previous ballot
- Request for revisions to a standard
- Any other circumstance prompting a subcommittee ballot
Subcommittee ballots are conducted by ASTM headquarters. The ballot results, negatives, and comments are included in a closing report which all subcommittee members can access via the ASTM website once the ballot is closed. Sixty percent of the official voting members must return ballots before the ballot can close. Abstaining votes are counted for the requirement. An affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of the combined affirmative and negative votes cast by the official voting members on each ballot item is required for a successful ballot of that item. Abstentions do not count in the calculation.
Negative votes received on subcommittee ballots are considered by the subcommittee that initiated the item. If substantive changes to the document are made in response to a persuasive negative vote, the item must be re-balloted. If, however, all negative votes are withdrawn or ruled not related or not persuasive, the item may go on to main committee ballot assuming all other ballot requirements are met.
The ASTM Regulations mandate that all negative votes must be considered, and proper consideration of negative votes cast throughout the ballot process demands that due process be afforded to all negative voters. Negative votes received on subcommittee ballots are considered by the subcommittee that initiated the ballot item. Negative votes received on main committee ballots are considered by the subcommittee that initiated the ballot item and, if necessary, by the main committee. The subcommittee chair report at the main meeting must report on these negative votes and the subcommittee’s consideration of them, including rationales for any action taken and vote counts on motions. At the main meeting, the committee chair must allow discussion before taking a vote on any motions to uphold the actions of the subcommittee. A hand count of official voting members must be taken on these motions. The votes are recorded, along with the reasons for the motion, in the minutes.
After a standard has successfully cleared the three levels of peer review provided by ASTM (subcommittee, main committee, and Society), it is assigned a fixed alphanumeric designation and receives an official approval date. The document is then considered to be an ASTM standard and is capable of being cited in contractual language, referenced by a code body, or mandated by a state or local government. Average development time for a new standard is approximately 18 months and eight months for a revision of a currently approved standard.
During the main committee ballot and Society Review, the ASTM editorial department works to ensure that the standard is in the correct format and is correctly tagged using Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).
Approximately eight weeks after a standard is approved, it is available for distribution as a stand-alone document in a variety of media (email, fax, hard-copy) and may be purchased from ASTM International via customer service (610-832-9585) or the ASTM International website (www.astm.org). All ASTM International standards are housed in specific volumes of ASTM’s annual book of standards. Several translations of ASTM standards are also available for sale and can be found by visiting the Standards and Publications pages of the ASTM website.
Proficiency Testing Programs
ASTM proficiency testing programs are statistical quality assurance programs that enable laboratories to evaluate & improve performance, as well as maintain and fulfill mandatory accreditation requirements. As a proficiency testing program participant, laboratories receive different samples (representative of the product line) for each test cycle, electronic data submittal forms, and test instructions. The laboratory performs the test they normally conduct within their own facility using the specified ASTM methods cited in the program. Upon completing the tests, each laboratory electronically submits their test data to ASTM for use in generating statistical summary reports. 70 laboratories from 15 different African countries, are already participating in 35 different programs.
Visits of International Delegates to ASTM International
In 2019, ASTM staff met with a delegation of international experts at the Bi-annual meetings of ASTM committee D02 on petroleum products, liquid fuels, and lubricants in New Orleans, LA, USA. The visit focused on learning more about the U.S. standardization system, ASTM’s standardization process, and specifically ASTM standards for petroleum products. The delegation included experts from the petroleum industry globally, some of whom were traveling to the meetings on business and others who were participating in ASTM led programs. ASTM regularly offers capacity building activities both in-person and online.
Opportunities for delegations or individuals to visit ASTM International are available to representatives of industry and government. These visits are for those who wish to use or better understand ASTM International standards and/or contribute to the content of the ASTM standards to reflect local market and regulatory needs. Participants can meet with technical experts in their field and develop a network of contacts. A typical program includes eight to ten participants who are technical experts within a sector or technical field. Costs are covered primarily by the participants’ sponsoring industry or government, although ASTM staff plans and executes these programs, including key site visits, for which it does not charge the participants.
ASTM and ARSO will continue to take steps to encourage and support greater African participation in ASTM standards development activities and in laboratory proficiency testing programs. Together they will pursue professional exchange programs for ARSO experts to come to ASTM International Headquarters for extended study of the ASTM International standards development process.
About the Author
Mr. Jim Olshefsky has worked at ASTM International for 22 years supporting the development and promotion of voluntary consensus standards for materials, products, systems and services. In 2007, Mr. Olshefsky assumed the role of Director of External Relations where he helps to facilitate ASTM’s international outreach within ASTM’s Global Cooperation Department. Mr. Olshefsky supports ASTM’s Memorandum of Understanding program with developing countries and his work is focused in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. His contributions include speaking to international audiences, students, and educators to promote the use of ASTM standards worldwide and to encourage increased standards education at universities. Prior to moving to Global Cooperation, he directed ASTM’s Committee Services Department in the Technical Committee Operations Division and spent several years as a Staff Manager of various ASTM technical committees. Mr. Olshefsky has a BS degree in Business Logistics from the Pennsylvania State University.