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.
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.
Related: On August 6, 2013, three standards development organizations - NFPA, ASTM, and ASHRAE - filed a lawsuit against Public.Resource.org (Public Resource) to stop a massive copyright infringement, to ensure that the development of codes and standards in the U.S. is done at the highest levels of excellence and to protect public health and safety.
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.
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.