International Standards and Conformity Assessment for all electrical, electronic and related technologies

January/February 2012

 

Communicating the value of standards

Elaine Clayton of Australia

Elaine Clayton is the Business Development & Marketing Manager for BWES (Black & White Engineering Solutions Pty Ltd), a regulatory compliance consultancy firm based in Sydney, Australia, that provides 'cradle to grave' testing and certification solutions and product development assistance/guidance to manufacturers of consumer products. Clayton has a degree in communications and is an associate member of the Australian Marketing Institute.

Never knew standardization could be a career

"Professionally, I've been with BWES for seven years," explains Clayton. "After graduating I became a graphic designer specializing in packaging and then set up my own design and marketing company. At school, however, I was also good at maths and liked the technical subjects. My father's a pharmacist who's been involved in medical and pharmaceutical quality control and standardization with Standards Australia. But even though I was familiar with the concept, I had never realized that there could be such a thing as a career in standardization."

 

One of her first clients was BWES. That's how she came to be aware of the regulatory world and product compliance. Today she works full time for BWES and is responsible for communicating to clients both the value of standards and their use in conformity assessment. Her marketing experience adds value. "I understand the concepts and can explain them in simple terms," says Clayton. "In a highly technical world, it's often difficult for an engineer to explain to others the importance of what's being done. I can explain the importance of the IEC and how International Standards interface with everyday lives."

Particularly conscious of safety aspects

Her key areas of responsibility at BWES include project management, product recalls reworks, risk analysis and conformity assessment of child-care products. With a toddler who's not yet two, she's particularly conscious of the safety aspects of standards pertaining to children in the house, and this, along with her use of standards on a daily basis has inspired her to become an active member of the Australian Industry Group’s Electrical Appliances and Accessories Forum. In 2010 she was nominated by this forum as their representative on CS-106-Consumers Product Management Systems – the Australian committee for consumer product safety and the mirror committee for ISO (International Organization for Standardization) / IEC Guide 51, Safety aspects – Guidelines for their inclusion in standards. "Safety is an integral part of all standardization work," says Clayton. "So the work we've been doing on Guide 51 is useful for practically every TC, not just within the IEC, but also ISO. We have to ensure that the information we're adding is relevant to how other IEC standards are developed. In the work I've been doing, I've learnt why one develops a particular clause and how that's addressed." In addition to her work with CS-106, Clayton has also participated actively in three working groups relating to the IEC series 60335, Household and similar electrical appliances – Safety, most recently acting as the secretary and risk assessment facilitator at an ad-hoc working group concerning touch temperatures for IEC TC 61, Safety of household and similar electrical appliances.

The importance of standards

Clayton is passionate about people understanding the importance of standards, particularly where danger is concerned. Through her product compliance work, she's had to read a lot of publications. She's also carried out quite a bit of training, explaining how standards make a difference to a company bringing a product to market or wanting to import a product into Australia. "After there'd been a number of house fires in Australia due to plastic body electric heaters, the proposal for regulation was approved so that the products that didn't comply couldn't be sold anymore."

 

One of the publications she worked on as part of TC 61 was the part of IEC 60335-1, Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - Part 1: General requirements, that deals with touch temperatures of appliances both below and above bench height. Through this work she witnessed evidence from Melbourne Hospital on the severe nature of burns that children had received as a result of touching hot ovens and it's made her sensitive to the protection that standards provide to vulnerable users. "As a parent, you want to protect your child, so you need to know appliances are inherently safe and that they function in the way you expect", she says. But she's also realized that there are cultural and lifestyle differences that intimate that an International Standard won't cater for everyone in the same way. "In Australia we tend to have more open space kitchens and play pens for children are perhaps not as common as elsewhere, so the danger of a hot oven is very immediate to us." It's one of the reasons, she says, it's so important to ensure there is a broad representation of all countries on a committee, so that the standards are relevant to all nations. "That's what makes a successful standard."

Writing a standard takes communication and engineering skills

She's conscious that it takes an engineer to write the various technical clauses in standards but sees her contributions as analytical and then promotional. "In product management, many people have a marketing background and they need to understand the benefits of meeting a standard. If I can help them see that, once they do, they'll pass that knowledge on to the ultimate user of a product."

 

Clayton points out how IEC 60335 is essentially an International Standard dealing with the safety of electrical products, and as such contains a high level of technical content, but this in turn is driven in part by facets of consumer behaviour. "Obviously one needs an engineer to determine each clause, but then the reason that many clauses are developed in a standard is because you have to define the intention of a product and how it's used. So, in that respect, all standards have a need for people like me."

Ensuring each word can be understood clearly

There's also a question of language. Clayton learnt Japanese and Italian at school and although she's not fluent, it taught her enough to understand the implication of saying something in one language that may have an entirely different connotation in another. "Once we spent a long time debating a word in a standard only to discover that the original publication had been written in a different language and the word had been incorrectly translated."

 

She's now trying to learn Mandarin at work. "It's something I've learnt from the YP programme, that learning another language is really useful. I already need to concentrate intently in our meetings, so I can appreciate how difficult it is for those others who don't have English as their mother tongue. In standardization it's important the language is understood by others. Sometimes words can have an entirely different meaning in another language and you can go off on a tangent as English has connotations and denotations." Whilst the latter is more pertinent to engineering, she says, "when you have an association with a word, you still have an emotional reaction to it, and this can be different depending on your cultural background." She explains, for example, that Thai has a multitude of words to describe family relationships. There are three alone for both Auntie and Uncle that vary depending on which side of the family is being referred to, the mother's or the father's, and the age of the relative, which may add social significance.

 

Once an International Standard has been published, communication is also an essential tool in educating companies on the importance of compliance. One way to reach a non-technical audience, says Clayton, is by talking about product safety. "Often people ask why they have to comply with a standard. Why bother? When you explain in non-technical terms that a consumer could get injured, they look at it differently. They understand how easy it is for a child to have an accident in their own home and then the importance of what the IEC is trying to accomplish becomes clearer. "Whilst companies often address the foreseeable safety of their products for the intended user, it is equally important to safeguard those who are vulnerable – children, the elderly and the disabled."

Standardization as a career

Clayton would like to spread the value of the IEC YP further afield. "Since I became involved in the YP Programme, I've had discussions with the Australian NC (National Committee) and we're looking at developing our own programme for YPs in Australia. The more we involve the younger generation, the greater the long-term benefit. It's alarming for me to know we're employing people who have few notions of what standardization involves. I find I'm training engineers who've graduated without any knowledge of the use of standards. Launching this programme on a local level means there should be more emphasis put on the path that standardization offers in terms of a profession. I had no idea such a career path existed at high school and I fell into standardization by chance. Had I known I'd have chosen it by choice."

 

 

  • Elaine Clayton is one of three 2011 Young Professional Programme Leaders.
  • Clayton is conscious of the need to protect children who can be badly burnt when they touch hot ovens
  • Clayton knows the importance of learning languages: she is studying Mandarin

 

 

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