New NIST site shows how standards are set

Do you know what that American Dental Association stamp on your toothbrushmeans? Do you know why you should care?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently launcheda World Wide Web site that aims to provide one-stop shopping for informationto help people get answers to these types of questions.

ADA certification falls under the area of conformity assessment, whichinvolves any method or procedure used to assure that a product, serviceor system conforms to certain set of standards or meets certain requirements.Conformity assessment includes testing, inspection, certification, and accreditationof those activities.

The documents and links listed on the NIST's new conformity assessmentpage (ts.nist.gov/ca) are designed to provide an easy way to access someof the basic information about conformity assessment procedures and issues.Such concerns affect a broad range of people, including private-sectortechnical and marketing workers, government agency employees and researchers.

"The site is not intended to compete with private-sector consultingservices or what a trade association offers," said Maureen Breitenberg,senior economist at NIST's Office of Standards Services. "It provides peoplewith the knowledge to ask intelligent questions."

For example, the site informs readers that the ADA certification programuses ADA standards and requires companies to submit a detailed applicationdescribing a product's specifications. ADA also requires self-certificationby the manufacturer that the product meets the standard. Many governmentagencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, also have certificationprograms. (To find this explanation, click on The ABC's of the U.S. ConformityAssessment System, then on Third Party Certification Programs in the UnitedStates and scroll down.)

NIST knows that most people do not understand what conformity assessmentis and how it impacts their lives, Breitenberg said.

In fact, standards and conformity assessment activities impact almostevery aspect of life. For example, a new computer is worthless without compatiblesoftware. A new refrigerator is of no value without a plug that fits inthe outlet.

Conformity assessment can verify that a particular product meets a givenlevel of quality or safety. However, conformity assessment activities suchas testing, certification and laboratory accreditation that are conductedimproperly can lead to widespread buyer deception. Buyers should know whatconformity assessment really means "and whether they should trust that conformityassessment scheme or look for additional reassurances," Breitenbergsaid.

This is the first time that NIST has offered the conformity assessmentdata in one place on the Web, Breitenberg said, adding that the site isstill a work in progress. "We've been putting it together piece by piece,and we're trying to fill in the gaps," she said. NIST welcomes any suggestionsvisitors to the site might have, she added.

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