What Is the Difference Between a Code, Standard and Specification?​


Three of the most commonly recognized forms of regulatory documents are codes, standards, and specifications.
Codes and other standards contain minimum engineering and regulating information pertinent to an industry or operation.

In the Oil and gas, EPC, Construction & fabrication field; engineers, QA-QC, fabricators and managers need to work with various standards, codes and specification for their day to day activities. Major chunk of fresh & intermediate level Engineers & inspectors are not aware about the difference between a code and a standard? Or, what about how those are entirely different than specifications or regulations?

Who write the codes & Standards?

Codes and specifications are generally written by industrial groups, trade or professional organization or government bureaus, and each code or specification deals with applications pertaining specifically to the interest of the authoring body. Large manufacturing organizations may prepare their own specifications to meet their specific needs.

Among the major national organizations that write codes that involve arc welding are the American Welding Society (AWS), American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), American Society of Codes and Specifications Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Today, with this detailed article you will find what is a Code or a Standard or Specification?

Watch this YouTube video for full classroom training on Difference between Code, Standard and Specification.

What is a Code?

Code is a defined rule that provides guidelines and is accepted & followed by the companies to provide various service such as construction, repairs or purchase. Codes provides safety, quality and product integrity once they are followed at construction stage. For example, ASME BPVC codes exist to ensure the reliability, quality and safety of the construction of pressure vessels, boilers, Nuclear components and welder/ operators’ qualification etc. to name a few. On its own, a code is not a law that must be followed but can be adopted into a law or included in a business contract.

Every code (E.g. ASME, API) defines the minimum acceptable requirements for a component or for the performance of the final component itself. Codes might includes or refer to other available code, standards or specifications (explained further in this article).

Is Compliance with a Code Mandatory?

The code compliance is mandatory once it is applied to the product. Its the duty of the organization, the people who are following it to comply the requirements. So, compliance to the code that what is to be done by the engineers or inspectors working with it. For example, a bridge construction in US as per AWS D 1.5 to be done by a company XYZ. So, the company must comply to the code requirements, any inspector who performs inspection, sign inspection reports is responsible as an individual to comply to the minimum code requirements. Mostly, code are applied as a state law or country law. Local government might make a diligent review for the code to make sure it can be applied to the area.

Meeting the requirements of a code does not protect, anyone against liability concerning the performance of the welds or structure. Nor, in general, does any code-writing body approve, endorse, guarantee. or in any way attest to the correctness of the procedures. designs, or materials selected for code application.

What Is a Standard?

A code guide us what we need to do i.e. the minimum requirements as a reference to ensure the safety and integrity of the product, and these requirements are mandatory to be followed. A standard on the other hand tells us how to do the work along with references for the minimum requirements to accept or reject a product. The compliance to the standard is not attached to law like a code but need to meet at minimum to ensure the product quality and integrity alike to code. The standards are more unified worldwide such as ISO standards which are accepted by EU, BSi as well as worldwide having same intention. The aim of standards are but not limited to for its users:

  • Provide a common understanding in the companies for a given process.
  • Documents the requirements for parts, instructions &practices, or operations.
  • Give confidence and assurance for the product quality for its safe service/ application.
  • Reduce the manufacturing cost of a product requirements by standardizing them, thus increasing the efficiency and sustainability.

What Is a Specification?

specifications outline the requirements of a specific company or product and not like a code or standard, that can be applied largely to an industry and area. A specification gives specific requirements applicable to the materials, products or services used in an process, e.g. ASMT A36 material specification. The requirements of a Specification can be more than a code and standard as defined by the purchase to suit their need. While a Code or standard requirements are as defined in the code or standard.

Any industry or a company can develop their own specifications to meet their requirements for their project or construction or commissioning. They can include any specific company products, specific process to be used or specific way to do an activity thus giving the requirements beyond the code and standard. A specification may also be accepted and applied across myriad projects. For example, an EPC project specification prepared by an individual company for Saudi Arabia, can be used for their project in any other country.

Code vs. Standard vs. Specification vs. Rule

Specification: “A detailed, precise; explicit presentation (as by numbers, description, or working drawing) of something or a plan or proposal of something.”
Code: “A set of rules of procedure and standards of materials designed to secure uniformity, and to protect the public interest in such matters as building construction and public health, established usually by a public agency.”
Standard: “Something that is established by the authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example to be followed.”
Rule: “An accepted procedure, custom, or habit having the force of a regulation.”

Institutes/ Societies issuing the Code/ standards

  1. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
  2. The American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT)
  3. American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI)
  4. American Water Works Association (AWWA)
  5. American Welding Society (AWS)
  6. Canadian Standards Association (CSA) now known as CSA International
  7. European Committee for Standardization (CEN)
  8. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  9. National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors (NBBPVI)
  10. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  11. Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)
  12. Aerospace Materials Specifications (AMS)

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