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A Behind the Scenes Look at ANSI Standards Development

Creating hearing protection standards is often a mystery to anyone outside it, but it’s a process worth understanding as all hearing protectors sold around the world need to be tested with methods codified in standards and published by authoritative bodies.

I help draft the hearing protector standards used in North America, which are published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). And I can help you understand how ANSI standards are drafted and signed off. 

The parties involved

There are many technical areas for which ANSI publishes standards, but hearing protectors fall under the purview of Acoustics, the committees and subcommittees of which are sponsored by the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), and managed by the Society’s individual and corporate members.

Among the subcommittees within Acoustics are the following:

S1-Acoustics (general terminology and foundational measurement methods used in physical acoustics, including architecture, materials, underwater sound, etc.)

S2-Mechanical Vibration and Shock (machine and structure-borne energy propagation, including biological impact)

S3-Bioacoustics (human physiological and psychological interaction, perception, and response to sound)

S3/SC 1-Animal Bioacoustics (a subcommittee of S3 addressing the physiological and psychological interaction, perception, and response to sound in animals other than humans)

 S12-Noise (evaluation and control of sound energy as it pertains to occupational and environmental safety, tolerance, and comfort).

Under each of the subcommittees are Working Groups (WGs) that focus on the development of standards within a more narrowly-defined scope. Hearing protection standards are developed by WG11 under the S12-Noise subcommittee.

Why do we need standardization?

Did you know there are approximately 9,500 American National Standards designated by ANSI?

Globally-relevant standards are essential for commerce. Among other things, they may establish minimum product safety requirements and level the playing fields within markets for fair competition. Consequently, it’s essential for Honeywell to have a seat at the table for working groups developing standards for products that we design and sell.

A company that doesn’t participate in standards development is allowing its competitors to decide its destiny (R.Chaney).

Committees, subcommittees, and working groups are organized with a chair, a vice-chair, and members. Working group membership ideally represents diverse interests to avoid dominance by a single party or interest.

They are composed of volunteer individual and commercial members who pay for the privilege to participate and donate their time and other resources to attend meetings, often involving travel, to create these consensus documents.

The members may be employees of manufacturers or sellers of products (“Producers”), or companies that consume or use those products (“Users”).  Members may also represent a governing body (“Government”) or association or interested parties (“Trade Association”), or organizations that may not otherwise fit the foregoing categories (“General Interest”). There may also be subject matter experts on the working group or called on to consult from time to time.

The process of creating a new standard

Market needs and technological advances usually drive new standard development. The creation of a new standard can be taken up by an existing working group or a new working group may be created for that purpose. A draft proposal is often submitted by the requesting party and can serve as the foundation on which the working group can build. Working Group 11 meets approximately twice yearly to layout the scope and structure of new standards, discuss technical points, clarify and refine language, and correct things as mundane as grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Once a draft is completed to the satisfaction of the working group members, the draft standard is submitted for a vote to members of the larger committee/subcommittee. Members may vote Yes to affirm the standard as written, cast a No vote or Abstain from voting. Comments may be provided with Yes or Abstain responses, but reasons for a No vote must be provided along with suggestions for actions to resolve the issue prompting the No vote.

If a member is unavailable for a vote, it is customary to have an alternate available for voting. Comments submitted with an affirmative or negative vote are sent back to the working group chair. They are reviewed and considered, and either rejected (with an explanation) or incorporated in full or in part. The standard is circulated again for voting, along with the original comments and suggestions, and associated notes from the chair. If the standard is approved, it is published, and an announcement is sent to the membership. Otherwise, it may undergo further revisions before being resubmitted.

Published standards are revisited on a five-year cycle, during which the standard may be revised, reaffirmed (no changes), or retired (withdrawn). Except for withdrawing a standard, these actions, in addition to approval of a new standard, require 80% of those voting to vote in the affirmative. There is also an Appeals procedure for those not satisfied with the outcome of a vote on a standard. This may occur when a commercial or technical group impacted by the standard was not included in its development or approval process, or a technical issue was not adequately addressed by the working group, etc.

Members of subcommittees may also constitute a Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The TAGs give members of ANSI standards committees the opportunity to contribute to the development and ratification of international standards. This is valuable because multinational and international companies can influence global commerce, and because international standards can be readily adapted for use in the U.S. where existing standards are lacking.

Lastly, it is important to clarify two concepts about ANSI standards that are commonly misunderstood:

·         ANSI standards do not constitute regulatory legislation; they are not legal requirements in and of themselves. Compliance with ANSI standards is voluntary, however, regulatory requirements may specify that test methods published in an ANSI standard must be used to comply with a regulation, as is the case with hearing protection. ANSI cannot levy punishment for not following it standards, but regulatory agencies can.

·         ANSI does not ‘certify’ products tested in accordance with their standards. Any product label containing the statement “ANSI Certified” is misconstruing the role of ANSI and its published standards.


Dr. Robert M. Ghent, Jr. is the Research Audiologist and Manager of the Honeywell Howard Leight Acoustical Testing Laboratory at Honeywell. He oversees the testing of hearing protectors to regional test protocols, and conducts research to support product development and expand the profession’s knowledge base. He has spent over three decades on the prevention and remediation of hearing loss as an auditory researcher and clinical audiologist.