Why Industry Standards?

October 9, 2007
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Way back in 1991, carpet manufacturers approached the IICRC with a complaint. I’m paraphrasing, but here’s the gist of it:

Consumers are complaining about carpet being difficult to clean. Moreover, when they ask us what’s the best method for cleaning carpet, we have no clue about what to say. Even within a given method, there are such major variations and disagreements among professionals that we don’t even know what a method consists of or when it’s being performed correctly. Bottom line, we need a standard for carpet cleaning, and if IICRC doesn’t write one, carpet manufacturers will!”

Can you imagine carpet manufacturers writing standards for carpet cleaners? Now there’s a scary idea if I ever heard one! But after getting over being surprised – and a little mad – about the carpet industry’s challenge, responsible cleaning industry leaders concluded that, if consumers were ever to know how to evaluate the performance of professional – and some not-so-professional – cleaners, it was up to them to begin the standard writing process. We also needed something credible to deal with some of the bait-and-switch operators and scam artists who preyed on consumers.

Carpet manufacturers gave us three years to produce a standard for cleaning; we did it in six months. Point is, we knew what to do, so it was simply a matter of getting it down on paper.

That was 1991.

Since then, the IICRC has produced four standards: carpet cleaning (IICRC S100), water damage restoration (S500, initiated by the U.S. EPA’s Dr. Michael Berry), upholstery cleaning (S300, requested by the American Furniture Manufacturers Association) and mold remediation (S520, a collaborative product of the IICRC, IAQA and IEI).

In the 16 years since the publication of the first edition of S100, IICRC standard writing has had its promoters and detractors. Initially, standard detractors were worried that standards nailed the feet of true professionals to the floor, so to speak; that it left them little room to exercise professional judgment based on years of experience. So let me quote from IICRC S500:

In certain circumstances, deviation from portions of this Standard and Reference Guide may be appropriate. Carelessness is unacceptable and common sense and professional judgment are to be exercised in all cases.

This phrase is incorporated into all IICRC standards. IICRC standards articulate the industry “standard of care” – the standard upheld by those in the industry who are recognized by their peers as being qualified and competent. In other words, standards specify steps to be taken, according to industry consensus, to produce quality work and protect consumers purchasing cleaning and restoration services. They aren’t the unsupported opinions of one or several persons, they aren’t designed to promote one parochial interest over another; rather, they are designed to represent the consensus opinion of true industry professionals.

Another criticism of standards is that industry technology and standard practice change, and that written standards fall behind the “standard of care.” This certainly is a valid complaint about any standard. That’s why the IICRC board has a standing committee for collecting comments, critiques and recommendations about existing standards, and for initiating a revision when industry technology and practice changes significantly.

Standard writing and revision is a dynamic and continuing process. It never stops. The IICRC’s standards are “living” documents. The next time you hear anyone complaining (or complementing) IICRC standards, encourage them to write me. I’ll see that their input gets to the right committee.

Today, the IICRC has taken a major qualitative step forward by applying for and obtaining American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accreditation. The IICRC standard writing policies and procedures for producing an ANSI-approved document run some 22 pages. Policies cover scope; definitions; committee leadership and composition; record keeping requirements; the consensus process for standards development (openness, balance, voting, appeals); types of committees; interest categories; membership; meetings (frequency, notification, agendas, minutes, quorum, parliamentary procedures); industry notification of intent to write standards; voting; interpretation of standards; peer review, legal review; appeals and final adoption.

The point is that today, standard writing is a more complex and intricate process than ever before. And it is expensive to coordinate meetings, arrange facilities and administer the process. IICRC standard writing volunteers are yeomen of the first order! Some of you may be reading this right now, so I’ll take this opportunity to express both my and the industry’s profound appreciation.

Why standards? They’re an essential instrument for protecting industry participants and the consumers they serve. Standards don’t just raise the goalposts; they elevate the entire playing field.

On a final note, please be sure that you have copies of all the Standards, both recent and previous, that are relevant to the areas of service you perform. If, heaven forbid, your company or you were ever involved in litigation, you would have to prove that you followed the “standard of care” for that time. I can assure you that the legal community is recognizing and referencing them when they go to court. To purchase copies, contact IICRC headquarters at (360) 693-5675 or e-mail supplies@iicrc.org.  

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