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Codes & Standards
Background

NFPA Codes and Standards Definition

According to NFPA Regulations Governing Committee Projects:

Code - A standard that is an extensive compilation of provisions covering broad subject matter or that is suitable for adoption into law independently of other codes and standards.

Standard - A document, the main text of which contains only mandatory provisions using the word "shall" to indicate requirements and which is in a form generally suitable for mandatory reference by another standard or code or for adoption into law. Nonmandatory provisions shall be located in an appendix, footnote, or fine-printnote and are not to be considered a part of the requirements of a standard.

For more than 100 years the National Fire Protection Association has been developing and updating codes and standards concerning all areas of fire safety. An international, non-profit organization with more than 65,000 members from 70 nations, NFPA's mission is to reduce the burden of fire on the quality of life by advocating scientifically based consensus codes and standards, research, and education for fire and related safety issues. While the NFPA is involved with extensive fire research and produces numerous fire safety educational programs and materials, it's lifeblood is its codes and standards making system.

Currently there are more than 300 NFPA fire codes and standards used throughout the world. Some examples of these documents include:

  • NFPA 1, Fire Prevention Code addresses basic fire prevention requirements necessary to establish a reasonable level of fire safety and property protection from the hazards created by fire and explosion.
  • NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code provides safety requirements for fuel gas equipment installations, piping, and venting.
  • NFPA 70, National Electrical Code addresses proper installation of electrical systems and equipment.
  • NFPA 101, Life Safety Code provides minimum building design, construction, operation, and maintenance requirements needed to protect building occupants from the dangers of the effects of fire.

Virtually, every building, process, service, design, and installation in society today is affected by NFPA's codes and standards. One reason these documents have been so widely accepted and adopted is because of the unique, open process under which they are developed and updated.

A Consortium of Experts

NFPA's code and standard-making process began in 1896, when a small group of concerned professionals met in Boston to address the inconsistencies in the design and installation of fire sprinkler systems. At that time there were nine different standards for piping size and sprinkler spacing, and these business people realized that unless these discrepancies were resolved, the reliability of these sprinkler systems would be compromised. Working together this small group created a standard for the uniform installation of sprinkler systems, which became the blueprint for NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. The NFPA's codes and standards-making process had begun.

Today, all NFPA codes and standards are administered by NFPA's approximately 6,000 volunteers who come from a wide range of professional expertise. These volunteers serve on more than 200 technical committees, which are made up of experts representing areas such as governing agencies, fire services, educational institutions, businesses, insurance companies, industry, and consumers. Because the codes and standards are produced by such a comprehensive pool of technical expertise and fire safety knowledge, they are usually accepted by all professions involved in fire safety, and withstand judicial scrutiny.

The 200 technical committees are overseen by a 13-person Standards Council, which is appointed by the NFPA Board of Directors and which administers the codes and standards-making activities and regulations.

A Uniquely Open Process

One of the unique things about NFPA's code and standards making process is that it is truly an open, consensus-based process. Anyone can submit a proposal for a new project. Once the proposal has been received, NFPA publishes an announcement in NFPA Update, its membership newsletter. This announcement asks members for:

  • comments on the project;
  • information on organizations that may be involved in the subject matter of the proposed project;
  • a listing of available resource material; and
  • an indication of who is willing to participate in the project if the project is approved by the Standards Council.

The proposed project and any public comments generated by the announcement are then reviewed by the Standards Council.

Technical Committee Assignments

If the Council does determine the need for the proposed project, it either assigns the project to an existing technical committee or establishes a new committee. Regardless of whether the committee is new or one already in existence, its membership reflects a balanced representation of different interests. One way NFPA achieves this balance is by classifying each committee member by different categories reflecting their interest. These categories include manufacturer, user, installer/maintainer, labor, enforcing authority, insurance, special expert, consumer, or applied research/testing laboratory. The committee is purposely structured so that a single interest is not represented by more than a third of the committee. The Standards Council also assigns a scope of activity to each committee to avoid conflict or duplication of effort.

If the Standards Council feels the project is big enough to span the scope of more than one committee, the Council may appoint a technical correlating committee. This committee directs the activities of the technical committees that have the primary responsibility for the development and revision of documents assigned to them. The technical correlating committee makes sure that there are no conflicts between the technical committees, that all material developed by the technical committees are consistent with each other, and that all activities by the technical committees are conducted in accordance with the regulations and other approved operating procedures.

Once the technical committee is in place, the committee develops an initial draft of a new document. NFPA then issues public notices - which appear in NFPA News, the U.S. Federal Register, the American National Standards Institute's Standards Action, and relevant trade journals - stating the committee's next meeting date and asking for any interested persons to submit specific proposals to be included in the document. Interested parties have approximately twenty-four weeks to respond to this Call for Proposals.

Report on Proposals

Following the Call for Proposals period the committee holds meeting over the course of three months to consider all the submitted proposals and listen to anyone wishing to address the committee regarding a proposal. The committee also develops its own proposals and incorporates them into their report. With respect to public proposals, if the committee revises or rejects a proposal in whole or in part, it must include the reason for the change. All the proposals are presented in a document called the Report on Proposals (ROP). That ROP is published and widely distributed. ROPs are sent automatically to each proposer and affected committee members, as well as anyone else who requests a copy. The committee members vote to approve or reject their report in the ROP by letter ballot, and if two-thirds of all committee members eligible approve, the process continues to the next step. If the ROP does not receive two-thirds approval, their report in the ROP returns to the committee.

Report on Comments

After the ROP has received the necessary approvals, there is a 60-day comment period during which anyone may submit a public comment on the proposed changes in the ROP. The committee then reconvenes at the end of the 60-day period and decides how to act on all comments. Once again the meeting is open to anyone who wishes to address the committee on a particular public comment. A two-thirds approval vote by letter ballot of the members of the committee eligible to vote is again required for approval of actions on the comment, and the committee must again publish reasons for revising or rejecting any public comments in a new report. This report in called the Report on Comments (ROC) and is available to anyone for review for a seven-week period.

Debate at NFPA Meetings

The ROP and ROC are then submitted for open debate at either the NFPA's biannual/membership meeting in May or November. Anyone, regardless of whether they are an NFPA member or not, may attend the meeting and present their views on the ROP and ROC. However, only NFPA members of record for at least 180 days may vote on the adoption of the Reports. The only amendments that may be proposed from the floor at an NFPA annual meeting are those that have been previously published as proposals in the ROP or comments in the ROC. The proposer of the amendment must be either the submitter of the original proposal or comment, or a duly authorized representative.

Anyone, however, may propose that an entire committee report be returned to the committee for further study; and anyone may propose that a portion of a ROP or ROC be returned to the wording in the previous edition of the document, assuming there has been a change in that portion of the document between the release of the ROP and the release of the ROC. After the debate, the NFPA membership votes to either approve, amend, return a portion of the report to the committee, or return the entire report to the committee. The technical committee then votes on any amendments made at the NFPA annual meeting.

Appeal Period

Anyone who is dissatisfied with action taken during the codes and standards making process can file an appeal to the Standards Council. Areas of appeals may cover:

  • the Standards Council's decision on whether a certain document should be developed;
  • the Association's action on a proposal Committee Report at an NFPA meeting;
  • the technical validity of fairness of a document or part of a document; and
  • the Council's decision on the appointment of a nominee to a committee.

Notification of an intent to file an appeal must be filed within 20 days of the debate that occurs at an annual or association meeting.

Finally, the Standards Council considers all the information that was presented, as well as the vote of the membership and the disposition of any appeals and decides whether or not to issue the document. If the code or standard is approved, it is issued in the form of a pamphlet and published in the appropriate volume of the NFPA's National Fire Codes.

Codes and Standards Revisions

NFPA codes and standards are reviewed on a periodic basis to keep current with new fire protection knowledge and technologies. Many codes and standards are amended to include safety lessons learned from significant fires. For example, fatal nursing home fires and boarding fires in the past 50 years have led to new regulations for those types of occupancies. Any revisions to a code or standard are made following the same consensus-based process used in creating a document.

Adoption of a Code or Standard

The legal procedure for adopting a code or standard differs from one jurisdiction to another. The easiest way to adopt the document is by reference, a method requiring that the text of the law or rule cite it by its title, without actually printing the words into law.

When local laws do not allow adoption by reference, a code or standard can be adopted by transcription. This requires the entire text to be written into the law.

For example, NFPA codes and standards have been referenced in the United States by federal agencies such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Veteran's Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Impact of NFPA Codes and Standards

Implementation of NFPA codes and standards are seen in many aspects of day-to-day life. The placement of fire detectors and sprinklers, the design of building exits, and the installation of electrical wiring are just some of the areas influenced by NFPA fire codes and standards. The adoption of these documents, along with increased public awareness of fire safety practices, has resulted in significant reductions in the loss of life and property damage due to the effects of fire. By continuing its history of an open, consensus-based codes and standards making process, the NFPA can continue to develop documents that are readily accepted and implemented, thereby furthering its mission of making the world safer from fire and related hazards.

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