Access + Mission
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2013
For the last century, local, state, and federal governments have relied on private non-profit organizations like NFPA to develop the codes that are adopted into law to protect public safety. The cost of developing the codes is covered not by taxpayers but by the standards organizations themselves, who recover those costs through their ownership of the copyrights in the codes and standards.
Even though we own those copyrights, NFPA strives to make its documents as accessible as possible, because we believe this is the best way to accomplish our mission. For more than 10 years, NFPA has offered free access to all of our codes and standards on our website; to read a current edition of any NFPA code or standard, simply sign in at nfpa.org/freeaccess. This is a read-only site — documents cannot be downloaded or printed, because we cannot survive without the revenues from people who want to own their own copies. But for users who need to familiarize themselves with a code or check a requirement, this kind of access is invaluable. It should also satisfy the wishes of those who feel that, as a matter of legal principle, all mandated regulatory requirements should be available online at no charge to the public.
We have invited the agencies responsible for code promulgation in every state to link to NFPA’s free access site, and we hope that federal agencies will, too. We will do all we can to make sure that the public knows about our free access policy, because we have always been convinced that a greater understanding of NFPA codes and standards will improve fire and electrical safety for everyone.
NFPA is proud to have been the first organization to have taken this bold step of creating free public access to privately developed codes and standards, and we are happy to see other organizations following our lead. There are some who argue that we should do more and immediately make all of our documents available online without any restrictions. Taking that action would be suicidal, however, since most of the money we need to fund our process and other vital mission activities comes from the sale of codes.
It has also been suggested that we ask the industries that use our documents to pay for their development. This would also create significant problems, since one of the beauties of the system as it has always existed is that it provides us with an independent source of revenue. Nobody can influence us by threatening to withhold funds, because our system is funded not by a few big interests but by the thousands of users who pay for their copies of the code.
As the Internet emerged, there was a fear it could damage organizations like NFPA, and we still worry that misguided legal or public policy decisions could lead to the destruction of a system responsible for countless improvements to safety standards. Even so, we decided long ago to view this revolution in information technology not as a threat but as an opportunity to fulfill our mission on a grander scale than anyone could have imagined. Free access to NFPA codes and standards was the first great step in realizing that ambition.