Standards developed by NFPA and similar standards development organizations (SDOs) are "voluntary consensus standards," created through procedures accredited for their consensus decision-making, openness, balance of interests represented, and fairness by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Because of their credibility and reach, independent SDOs are able to attract thousands of volunteer experts to serve on their standards drafting committees.
Why standards cost
While these volunteers donate their time and expertise, quality standards development is expensive, and requires substantial administrative and technical staff support, research and information services, production and publication services, and meeting costs associated with the hundreds of committee meetings that an SDO may convene each year. Unlike many private-sector standards developing groups that are industry funded or that impose fees as a condition of participation, independent SDOs like NFPA are not funded by any trade or business and underwrite the considerable cost of standards activities largely through the publication and sale of their standards.
What are the key benefits offered by independent SDOs?
Consensus-based and user-accepted
Self-Sustaining and Independent
Public-Private Partnership that Works
What are SDOs?
SDOs are standards development organizations which work to formulate health and safety standards. The term "standard' includes a wide variety of technical works that prescribe rules, guidelines, best practices, specifications, test methods, design or installation procedures and the like. The size, scope and subject matter of standards varies widely, ranging from lengthy model building or electrical codes to narrowly scoped test methods or product specifications.
NFPA is by no means the only independent, public service organization that develops health and safety standards used by government. Many not-for-profit professional societies, testing organizations and other 501(c)(3) organizations also develop consensus-based health and safety standards for private and government use. NFPA is part of a small but significant group which serves the public through the creation of standards that promote reliability, interoperability and quality thus bringing economic and other societal benefits to the country.
Government use of private standards
The United States has a long tradition of government use of voluntary consensus standards to help further important public policy goals has been reflected, for more than 30 years, in express federal policy through Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119 and in the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995. Our organizations have been of key importance to the health, safety and environmental protection of our country in the private sector for more than 100 years, helping to make society and markets work better.
Local, state and national governments have the option to use many types of private sector standards that have been developed by a wide variety of private entities. For more than a century, in areas that affect public health and safety, governments have turned to independent, public service SDOs such as NFPA.
Benefits of SDOS
There are a number of benefits offered by independent standards development organizations. Here are some key areas:
Consensus-based and user-accepted
Voluntary, independent consensus-based SDOs provide a value to society and to government that not fully noticed or appreciated by most citizens or officials. SDOs provide hundreds of technical, industry and scientific standards to the federal government each year, supporting market standardization and business innovation, promoting health, safety and the environment, and saving time and money for governments at all levels. Our consensus-based approach ensures that all stakeholders - including (depending on the subject) users, manufacturers, insurance providers, consumers, government regulatory agencies, enforcers, independent experts and academics - can participate and that no special interest can predominate.
There is no "one size fits all" approach to the adoption of private sector and non-profit standards by governments. NFPA works to make sure that the "incorporation by reference" standard is used in such a way to provide the public and governments with the access needed to protect public safety, health, the environment and markets in a manner that is open and transparent. As intellectual property protection is the lifeblood of the standards we produce, we literally cannot afford to make all our property available for free: we must continue to work with government to be flexible and align the needs of the public with the rights of property holders.
As a condition of our American National Standards Institute accreditation, it is required that our standards be regularly revised and updated to address the rapid and constant changes in technology and advances in safety. The speed of standards creation is essential when it comes to meeting the need for a revision of existing standards or introduction of new standards to address emerging health, safety or environmental issues.
SDOs marshal the vast expertise, diverse perspectives, and technical resources that are available outside the government in order to develop health, safety and environmental standards that are made available for government use at virtually no tax-payer cost. In addition, government use of standards decreases the burden of regulation and the costs of enforcement by conforming regulatory requirements to voluntary, user accepted standards that are already widely looked to for best practices and private self-regulation. Finally, the savings from standards can be seen in many areas of the economy.
Self-Sustaining and Independent
Because independent SDOs hold copyright in their standards, they are able to fund their standards development activities from revenue generated from the publication and sale of their standards publications. This allows SDOs to keep the barriers to participation low and to retain their independence and freedom from potential influence by any industry or group. This funding model, moreover, is consistent with the wide and reasonable availability of standards, and SDOs are committed to working with government agencies to provide both pre- and post- adoption access to standards through a variety of means, appropriate to the many circumstances in which standards are adopted and used.