Laws, codes and standards are used to quantify function, and improve safety on a variety of products. Understanding how some standards are created and updated helps speed the incorporation of innovative new product types in the market. It can also help explain why sometimes there is not a standard for certain products.

Standards and protocols

NSF standards may address a broad category of product types, or may focus on a specific industry and product segment.

There are two different categories of NSF criteria: standards and protocols. Standards have been around longer and are more well known. Protocols are used for some of newer criteria. Both NSF standards and protocols have mechanisms for changing requirements within the existing document. This article provides more information about standards and protocols, including similarities and differences.

NSF/ANSI Standard 50

An example of a standard that is well known in the pool and spa industry is NSF/ANSI Standard 50: Equipment for Pools, Spas, Hot Tubs and Other Recreational Water Facilities. Like all NSF standards, NSF/ANSI 50 is consensus-based. NSF standards are developed by a committee of approximately 30 voting members. The membership is equally split into three voting groups: public health officials, manufacturers and end-users.

Since 1959, NSF has been developing and revising the product evaluation criteria of NSF/ANSI 50 to incorporate other technologies to meet the needs of the pool and spa industry. NSF International, founded in 1944, is dedicated to serving as a steward to the recreational water industry. Pool, spa and waterpark related certification is NSF’s second-oldest service area. NSF is not a trade association, nor a membership organization with inherent conflicts of interest. NSF is a not-for-profit foundation that is truly independent, while working with all members of the industry.

There are many examples of new product types being added to NSF/ANSI Standard 50. In fact, in the early years of NSF’s recreational water program, each major pool and spa product was under a separate standard. Then in the 1970s, all pool and spa products were merged into one comprehensive set of requirements, now known as NSF/ANSI Standard 50. This was done to consolidate resources and expertise and to promote efficiencies. Today, additions of new or changed criteria can happen fairly quickly, depending upon issue complexity and volunteer participation.

One example of this was the creation of automatic controller requirements. Beginning in the late 1990s, a group of volunteers formed a task group under NSF/ANSI Standard 50 to develop the evaluation and testing criteria for automatic controllers for pool/spa applications. After multiple meetings and votes, the new requirements were balloted into the standard in 2009. National model codes such as the International Code Council’s International Swimming Pool and Spa Code and the Model Aquatic Health Code, as well as some state pool and spa codes (i.e. California, Florida, Texas, etc.), have been revised to require the use of NSF-certified automatic controllers and chemical feeders. During and since the creation of the AC requirements within NSF/ANSI 50, more and more facility operators are using the new technology. They know NSF helped craft appropriate evaluation and testing requirements and that the NSF-certified automatic controller and chemical feeder products will meet their needs.

Protocol development and reference

Protocols have been used to address pool and spa product evaluation and testing criteria. A protocol is akin to a “mini” or “lite” version of a standard. Protocols and standards serve similar roles such as documenting the scope, definitions, test methods and minimum requirements or pass/fail criteria. Although similar to standards, protocols require few members and less consensus to develop. Protocols often can yield an actionable final document more quickly than a consensus-based standards group.

However, caution must be used to ensure the integrity of protocols. Due to the typically smaller, faster group and less external peer review, more care must be taken to ensure the membership has appropriate competencies. For these reasons, it is important that protocol development be managed by organizations with solid foundations in public health and safety. Those attributes of management will help the resultant protocol properly meet the intent of its scope and provide value to its users.

NSF EPA ETV UV protocol

An example related to both recreational water and drinking water is the NSF/EPA ETV UV test protocol. The protocol was developed based on input from public officials, engineers, microbiologists and product manufacturers. It is used by NSF to perform highly technical biodosimetry testing comprised of lots of water chemistry and microbiological sampling and analysis (also known as validation) to certify UV systems for cryptosporidium inactivation and quantification of dose delivery.

Protocol and standard intersection

After the NSF/EPA ETV UV protocol was created, it was balloted into NSF/ANSI 50. This unique example showed how a small focused group can create a protocol outside the NSF/ANSI standards development process, and then ballot it into an appropriate NSF/ANSI standard. Now, the NSF/ANSI 50 UV cyst inactivation requirements are referenced in national model and state public health codes such as ICC-ISPSC, MAHC, and in California, Florida, New York, Texas and Utah. In this case, the work to develop a protocol and revise a standard occurred simultaneously and helped to meet the needs of both the drinking water and recreational water industries.

Value of certification to standards or protocols

The value of consensus standards is the participation of a diverse stakeholder group, however, it can be more costly and time consuming to create consensus standards for all product types. Niche products can justify a more focused group and achieve faster time to market and incorporation into codes via use of the protocol or standards pathway. Regardless of whether products are tested and certified to standards or protocols, it is the make-up of the standards or protocol promulgation group that can best assure that protective criteria result from the effort.