Standards are established by authorities or by general consent as models, examples, or guides. Daily contact with many documents, products or materials that make reference to standards is the norm for contractors. Building materials, for example, are usually labeled to show compliance with a specific material manufacturing standard; construction specifications usually reference material installation and application standards. Standards used in the construction industry tend to define product manufacturing criteria, testing protocols, or material application procedures. Government documents—federal, state and local statutes—and building codes are also occasionally used as reference standards.

Standards are generally developed using one of several diverse, yet similar, standards development methods. In the gypsum industry, the primary standards development procedure is the process defined by ASTM International, of West Conshohocken, Pa.

Founded in 1898, ASTM provides an administrative framework within which committees of volunteers can develop and maintain standards. Today, there are more than 30,000 volunteers serving on various ASTM committees who represent interests from over 100 countries and write standards used in more than 130 separate industry areas. Gypsum standards represent a small corner of this massive effort and are developed by Committee C-11 on Gypsum and Related Building Materials and Systems.

A level playing field

ASTM committees must maintain memberships that reflect a balanced cross-section of the industries and individuals affected by the standard. Committee members—individuals who represent a specific business or group interest on the committee—must apply for membership on the specific committee of interest and are required to represent an interest that can be assigned into one of four categories: product producers, product users, general interest and consumers. Overall committee membership must reflect a defined proportionate balance between the four categories.

Accordingly, no single interest group can have a disproportionate impact on the content of a standard. For example, an application standard, such as ASTM C 840, “Standard Specification for Application and Finishing of Gypsum Board,” is written and maintained by a Committee C-11 subcommittee that is composed not only of individuals representing gypsum board manufacturers and consulting companies, but also individuals affiliated with metal stud fabricators, contracting and architectural firms, municipalities, and government agencies. In turn, the subcommittee that maintains the gypsum board manufacturing standards is obligated to have representatives from user groups such as contracting associations and consumer organizations.

To prevent any organization from dominating the approval process for a standard, subcommittee and committee voting rights are assigned so that no company or organization can have more than one vote. While an organization, such as a large manufacturer or large contracting firm, can have as many representatives working with a committee as needed to ensure that the necessary expertise is available to facilitate maintenance or creation of a standard, it has only one vote on matters before the committee. In addition, producers of products are never permitted to be a voting majority on any committee or subcommittee. This prevents product manufacturers from dominating the standards development process and guarantees that all interested parties have input. A committee or subcommittee that meets the vote distribution requirements is said to be “in balance.” The voting membership of all ASTM committees that develop standards, including Committee C-11, is required to be “in balance” at all times.

Since they reflect the consensus of a group of individuals with diverse interests, standards produced by ASTM committees are considered to be “consensus” standards. Unlike standards produced by specific interest groups or individuals, consensus standards can easily be incorporated by reference into documents that are produced by building code development and comparable organizations that are legally bound to use only standards that are produced through a consensus process.

New standards

Any individual or organization that identifies a need for a new standard can request ASTM to develop the new document. ASTM will research the idea to determine whether there is sufficient interest in the field, to determine if there is already activity on the subject within other standards development organizations, and to confirm that the new area of standardization will fit into the ASTM structure; however, ASTM staff does not make the decision as to whether the new standard gets developed. The decision to accept or reject new standards activity is made by a committee representing the various interest groups affected by the proposed new standard. If the committee agrees to develop the new standard, the work begins.

The first step in developing a new document is to solicit input from all interested parties. This generally occurs by assigning the discussion process for the new standard to an existing committee and soliciting the participation of organizations or individuals that currently sit on the committee. The creation activity is also publicly announced to encourage the participation of other legitimate interests.

The committee then creates a task group and assigns it the responsibility of drafting the initial language for the standard. Often, the task group is chaired by the individual who initially brought the issue to ASTM; this ensures that the interests of the party requesting the new activity will be given full and due consideration and helps to maintain the momentum needed to create a new standard. A task group’s membership is not required to be balanced. This helps to encourage a wide spectrum of participation and the inclusion of the expertise needed.

When draft language is complete, it is presented to a subcommittee where it is reviewed and voted on by the voting members. Ballots are issued and tallied by ASTM and provide three voting options: affirmative (one agrees with the content of the document), negative (one finds some portion of the draft unacceptable) or abstain (no opinion or interest about the document). Negative votes must incorporate a written rationale. This enables the subcommittee to determine the cause for the negative vote. It also precludes an individual or organization from repeatedly voting negative without cause in an attempt to stonewall the progress of a document.

All negative votes received on a ballot are discussed and resolved by the appropriate subcommittee. Resolution generally takes one of three forms: the rationale is accepted by the subcommittee (found “persuasive”) as a technical change, in which case the balloted draft document is sent back to the task group for revision and reballoting; the negative rationale is accepted by the subcommittee as an editorial revision, in which case the document is revised to reflect the negative voter’s suggestions and is moved on to the next level of balloting (assuming no other persuasive negatives exist); or the negative is rejected by the subcommittee (found “nonpersuasive”), thus allowing the document to move on to the next level of balloting. If the negative is rejected, the subcommittee must explain its reason for denying the negative voter’s suggestion. Once a concept is deemed nonpersuasive by the subcommittee, it cannot be used again as the rationale for a negative vote on the same issue at the same level of voting.

Ballot items that are returned to the task group because of persuasive negatives are reworked and sent back to subcommittee ballot, as many times as necessary, until there are no more or no new persuasive negatives to be addressed. Once the document has passed the subcommittee balloting process, it moves to the next level of review and is addressed by the appropriate Main Committee. Each subcommittee is part of a Main Committee that oversees all of the standards addressing a common subject. Committee C-11, for example, is the Main Committee responsible for all standards relating to gypsum.

The Main Committee balloting process is similar to the subcommittee process. Any Main Committee ballot item that receives a persuasive negative vote is returned to the original task group. Once returned, the voting cycle begins again, and is repeated, until the item passes a Main Committee Ballot. Once approved by a Main Committee, the new standard is reviewed by the ASTM Committee on Standards to ensure that correct voting procedures were followed during its creation. Upon successful completion of the formal standard review process the new standard is published as an official ASTM Standard.

An individual does not have to be a member of a committee to vote. While official vote counts are based on a tally of votes submitted by authorized voting members, a nonvoting member or even an individual who is not a member of the task group or subcommittee can submit a negative vote. And that negative must be handled in the same fashion as a negative submitted by an official voting member. This assures that everyone’s opinion is heard and considered.

There is no pre-established time limit within which a new standard must be completed. New standards may move from concept to publication in less than two years; other standards may be under development for many years and still linger in the task group stage for five years or longer. While some criticize the process as being slow or awkward, others extol this deliberative process as a virtue, because this design is thorough and helps to minimize the potential for developing a bad or biased standard.

Participation is important

Consensus standards are the products of deliberative work performed by committed individuals who represent a variety of different interests. The ASTM standards creation process, in particular, invites participation from a range of different groups, including product users and installers.

Contractors and contractor representatives can and should participate in the creation of the standards that affect their business operations. Membership on ASTM committees is inexpensive and requires only that an individual read documents and return ballots, on the average, four or five times a year. Participation in the standards creation process provides an individual with increased knowledge about the manufacturing and application of materials and material systems; product knowledge that can translate to a business advantage, if used judiciously.

Information about ASTM committee participation may be obtained by contacting the ASTM Membership Department at (610) 832-9585 or by accessing the ASTM Web site at In addition, contact the Gypsum Association at (202) 289-5440 for information regarding involvement on Committee C-11 on Gypsum and Related Building Materials and Systems.