Interpretation of Standards

From time to time Standards Australia receives requests from people in the industry for guidance on interpretation of AS 2885.  Sometimes the points raised identify legitimate ambiguities that have crept into the Standards despite the best efforts of committee members.  Such enquiries are welcomed.  Requests from industry are an important means of identifying aspects of the Standard that need improvement.  (Although I am involved in only one committee I’m guessing I can speak for all the committees responsible for the various Parts of AS 2885.)

But more often than not the questions asked can be answered just by reading what is already written in the Standard.  It can be hard to know what motivates these questions but I suspect that in at least some cases a request for committee interpretation is a means of resolving some in-house dispute or contractual argument by using the code committee as an external arbiter.

Unfortunately the frivolous questions just take up time for lots of people.  Formal requests for clarification are addressed to the committee secretary (a Standards Australia staff member) who then forwards it to the committee chairman.  The chairman may draft a response immediately for committee review or may consult with his committee first, but either way the whole committee gets involved before the formal response is returned to the enquirer via Standards Australia.  Committee members are all volunteers who have day jobs, and there can be a dozen or so of them so the manhours involved add up.  The chairman carries the biggest burden though.

Worse, unless you know exactly who is on the committee responsible for the relevant Part of the standard there is a risk that your problem might be aired among people whom you would rather not be informed about it.  For a start, all state technical regulators are members of the ME-038 main committee responsible for overall direction of the AS 2885 suite of standards, and many (most?) of them are active on the subcommittees for the individual parts of AS 2885.  (Not that I’m suggesting for a moment that anyone should keep secrets from the regulators; just that unresolved internal issues are best kept internal until they are resolved and code compliance is assured.)  Other members of the committee may be your rivals in some way.

So, please DO ask Standards Australia for interpretation on matters of genuine ambiguity (there is no way I want to discourage that), but don’t treat the Standards committees as a free arbitration service.  If in doubt, make some informal enquiries first – talk to a committee member, or it it’s not too confidential you could raise a comment via this blog.

(This post was prompted by a particular recent request for interpretation but if the parties involved recognise themselves I don’t want you to feel too bad about it – you are far from the only ones.)

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3 Responses to Interpretation of Standards

  1. Chris Hughes says:

    Maybe we should work out a way of charging for interpretations, the (very large) fee being waived where an ambiguity is involved – that might stop the silly ones.

  2. Chris Hughes says:

    When we are talking about AS2885, in the vast majority of cases if you are unsure what the standard wants you can just do what you think is right – as long as it is ‘approved’. Probably a lot of requests for interpretations are just a way of ensuring that the enquirer doesn’t have to take responsibility for something unusual.

  3. petertuft says:

    Quite right about doing what you think is right as long as it is approved. The standard can’t cover every conceivable situation, that’s why we need engineers to interpret and apply it (and accept that they have to take responsibility).

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