Author(s): Gregory Cade. Published on July 1, 2017.

TRUE COST

In the regulation-averse climate of Trump-era Washington, NFPA makes the case for federal use of codes and standards

An often-repeated phrase in Washington these days is “show me the money,” as agencies across government review current and potential future regulations to see how they align with President Trump’s aims of deregulation. Overshadowing it all is the executive order Trump signed in January requiring federal agencies to repeal at least two existing regulations before enacting any new regulation, and strictly controlling the costs of any new regulatory action.

In my view, the Trump Administration’s focus on avoiding costly and unnecessary regulations does not have to set up an adversarial relationship between standards development organizations like NFPA and the federal agencies that use our codes and standards. We must, however, take the initiative and participate in the agency review process to make sure they understand the costs and benefits of safety regulation. The White House Office of Management and Budget is currently creating the all-important guidance documents that federal agencies will use to implement Trump’s order, meaning the time to engage is now.

Because we are in the early stages of this new review and cost/benefit process, NFPA has an opportunity to influence the discussion. We need to ensure that the discussion is not solely focused on the costs of regulation implementation, but that it also recognizes the considerable benefits of regulation. For example, we know from NFPA’s research report, “Fire Loss in the United States During 2015,” that there were 3,280 deaths, 15,700 injuries, and $14.3 billion in losses from fires that year. On top of that, 24 firefighters died while operating at fires, and 29,130 sustained injuries at the scene of these events. How do you measure those costs?

A recent report by the American Burn Association used data from 2006 to 2015 to estimate that the average cost to treat a burn injury at a burn center is $258,000 if there are no complications. The treatment cost with patient complications is $340,000. The long-term costs of these injuries are much higher: $1.6 million for burns without complications, and $10 million for burns with complications. The economic impact increases when you include lost wages, lost tax revenue, and other factors. You can begin to see how the combination of these costs can be used to explain the enormous implications to our nation’s economic well-being if safety regulation is ignored. We can use these arguments to encourage the use of up-to-date building codes and standards that will prevent injury and death from fire incidents to civilians and first responders.

A second area where NFPA can offer its expertise is in supporting the numerous first responder grant programs. With Congress’s finalization of the 2017 fiscal year budget in May, work on the 2018 budget has begun in earnest, and both the Trump Administration and Congress are looking closely at the efficacy of grant programs. While this particular effort is not new, there is an increased emphasis on ensuring return on investment. Once again, the reports created by NFPA’s Research Group can help provide the dollar-value impact. NFPA’s “Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service” report has been used several times already on Capitol Hill by NFPA and numerous other fire service organizations to support the reauthorization of grants such as the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, the Fire Prevention and Safety grant, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant. I’m glad to say that the report has shown the positive return of federal dollars spent at the local level to improve the safety of responders and the community.

We will continue to be bugs in the ears of decision makers to ensure critical safety regulations and programs remain intact.

GREGORY CADE is division director, Government Affairs for NFPA.