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


Codes, Standards & Specifications

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 specifications for their day-to-day activities. A major chunk of fresh & intermediate-level Engineers & inspectors are not aware of the difference between a code and a standard?

Who writes the codes & Standards?

Codes, Standards, and specifications are written by experts working in professional organizations (Such as ASME, AWS, and API), or government bureaus (such as MIL). These documents deal with processes mainly used by these authoring bodies. Big industrial groups usually write their own specification to meet & verify product quality requirements.

When we discuss Welding related codes & standards, the major organization authoring these documents are the American Welding Society (AWS), American Society of Codes and Specifications Mechanical Engineers (ASME), American Society of Non-Destructive Testing (ASNT), American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), and the American Petroleum Institute (API).

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

Watch this YouTube video for full classroom training on the 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 services such as construction, repairs, or purchase. Codes provide safety, quality, and product integrity once they are followed at the construction stage. For example, ASME BPVC codes exist to ensure the reliability, quality, and safety of the construction of pressure vessels, boilers, Nuclear components, welder/ operators’ qualifications, etc. to name a few. On its own, a code is not a law that must be followed but can be adopted into 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 include or refer to other available codes, standards, or specifications (explained further in this article).

Is Compliance with a Code Mandatory?

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

For example- if a manufacturer meets the code requirements, they are still liable for the product performance. The Code itself does not guarantee or endorse the product, it is the manufacturer to do so.

What Is a Standard?

A code guides us on 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. Compliance to the standard is not attached to the law like a code but needs to meet a minimum to ensure the product quality and integrity like to code. The standards are more unified worldwide such as ISO standards which are accepted by the EU, BSi as well as worldwide having the same intention. The aim of standards is but is not limited to 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’s requirements by standardizing them, thus increasing 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 industry and area. A specification gives specific requirements applicable to the materials, products, or services used in a 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 company can develop its own specifications to meet its requirements for its 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

These are standard definitions of a Specification, Code, and Standards as specified in the AWS Handbook.

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.”

Reference: AWS Welding Handbook

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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