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Understanding Why Codes and Standards Fail

[+] Author Affiliations
Stephen A. Batzer

Batzer Engineering, Inc., Prairie Grove, AR

John S. Morse

John S. Morse, P.E., Westville, OK

Dong Y. Don Lee

Engineering Institute, Farmington, AR

Paper No. IMECE2011-62037, pp. 531-540; 10 pages
  • ASME 2011 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Volume 9: Transportation Systems; Safety Engineering, Risk Analysis and Reliability Methods; Applied Stochastic Optimization, Uncertainty and Probability
  • Denver, Colorado, USA, November 11–17, 2011
  • Conference Sponsors: ASME
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5495-2
  • Copyright © 2011 by ASME


The enduring issues regarding codes and standards for consumer products and corporate behavior are discussed in this paper. It has been frequently asserted that the adherence of a product to a recognized government or private standard ensures that the product has a minimal level of safety, and that said product is therefore presumably non-defective. The agencies which promulgate these codes and standards are ostensibly impartial and informed, and have the public’s best interests in mind. This conviction is undoubtedly true in some instances, but is also unquestionably false in others. The issues regarding codes and standards and their impact upon products and the trusting public include, but are not limited to, asymmetric information, cost concerns, ethics, foreseeable misuses, non-alignment of interests, and technological advancements after the standards were adopted. In short, the adherence to the letter, rather than the spirit, of individual codes and standards is a manifestation of the Principal-Agent conflict, in which the agent, acting on behalf of the principal, has a different set of incentives than does the principal. This conflict and the underlying issues listed above are discussed. Case studies of numerous products with possible, known, and unforeseen adverse impacts upon public health and safety will be used as illustrations of products that were within the letter of the code or standard, but manifestly defective.

Copyright © 2011 by ASME



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