AUTHOR: James Pauley

Two workers in hardhats

Standards are Evolving – Here’s How You Can Join the Movement

This spring, as we continued celebrating ANSI’s belated 2021 World Standards Week and gear up for further 2022 celebrations in October, we are reflecting on the history of how our codes and standards came to be and how they continue to evolve in our digital world. With over 125 years under our belt at NFPA, we have evolved the way we disseminate codes and standards. From our nineteenth century start to 2022 where we are leading the industry with an accessible, digital codes and standards platform, I would argue our organization has always been at the forefront of innovation. But where did we start? And why is joining the digital transformation valuable? Keep reading to learn more about where we were and where we are going. March 1896 – After a group of organization leaders representing sprinkler and fire insurance interests noticed inconsistencies in the installation of sprinkler devices, the group came together to create a set of sprinkler installation rules titled “Report of Committee on Automatic Sprinkler Protection.” That set of rules is now known as NFPA 13, “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.” November 1896 – After the first standard was declared in March 1896, a subsequent meeting was held where articles for a new association were created. Thus, the National Fire Protection Association was born. From there, the organization began introducing new members and standards for different devices. This core group committed themselves to building an organization that’s devoted to eliminating death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. As codes and standards became, and continues to be, the backbone of what NFPA does, the organization became the leading information and knowledge resource on fire, electrical and related hazards. Throughout the 1900s – Organizations in the stock fire insurance, fire departments, and sprinkler manufacturing and installation fields became members of NFPA and vowed to live by the standards set forth to reduce the burden of fire and related hazards. These codes and standards united multiple organizations to begin working with safety at the forefront of their daily operations. Since then, NFPA has continuously worked with the brightest minds to create standards that provide safety professionals with the guidelines needed to do their jobs safely and efficiently. Over the years, this organization has developed dozens of physical book editions, constantly publishing the newest information for our standards. As the years went on, NFPA sought out ways to ensure the information in these books were actively being optimized to share the latest information in the most accessible format. Redefining standards in a digital landscape September 2020 - NFPA is now redefining what it means to work together and access the codes and standards that have been crafted over the years. As part of a commitment to always provide our stakeholders with the best fire and life safety information and knowledge, NFPA’s next step was to modernize the way our codes and standards are accessed. While our world is evolving to welcome more digital accessibility, codes and standards are one of the best ways to unify our industry and join the digital transformation journey so many professions are experiencing. With NFPA LiNK®, a digital platform where users can easily access all the current NFPA codes and standards they need from their favorite electronic device, NFPA is redefining how we use and access these documents every day. As the pioneers in our industry, NFPA is at the forefront of digitizing our industry while continuing to deliver the guidance that make our world safer. Learn more about how your team can join the digital transformation at nfpa.org/link.
NFPA's 125th anniversary - A collage of memories

Honoring our history is the roadmap for advancing safety

The truism “history repeats itself” often runs alongside the notion that the future is predicated on the past. I can’t help but apply these sentiments when thinking about next month’s NFPA conference and expo (C&E) in Boston. While this represents the first time in three years that we’ll all be together in person to learn, network, and collaborate, the conference also allows us to officially commemorate the association’s 125th anniversary. We certainly plan to highlight this momentous milestone in a number of ways, but it is also has special significance among other critical elements of this year’s meeting. Let me explain why. We all know that the world is inordinately safer from fire, electrical, and other life safety hazards than it was in 1896 when NFPA was founded. There are countless advancements we can point to and be proud of as fire and life safety practitioners; these milestones will be recognized at the conference through various events and initiatives, as you might expect. For example, the very first standard developed by NFPA – NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems - was the result of widespread recognition among multiple audiences that sprinkler requirements were needed to adequately protect people and property from fire. Since that first standard was launched, more than 300 NFPA codes and standards have been developed with the ultimate goal of eliminating the risk of fire and associated hazards on the built environment. But celebrating NFPA history not only honors the impact of past efforts and achievements; it also sets the groundwork for successfully moving forward. More specifically, the work that has been done over the past 125 years and the vastly safer world we live in today is a direct result of the time-tested process for developing, updating, and disseminating NFPA standards. Our system of standards development has represented an integral element of public safety over the past century and a quarter. As the world continues to evolve and change in myriad ways, with emerging technologies and other circumstances presenting new potential threats, that infrastructure of safety is arguably more important than ever. For NFPA to continue advancing fire and life safety throughout the 21st century and beyond, we must remain committed to upholding our foundational beliefs about the extensive safety value of standards, as well as the process by which they are developed, updated, and used in practice. That process will be on full display at the 2022 NFPA Technical Meeting in Boston on June 8 and 9. Proposed changes to the latest editions of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® and NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code, for example, will be debated and voted on, highlighting that standards are dynamic documents that are regularly modified, expanded, and changed in order to keep pace with the world’s fire and life safety needs and challenges. It is a live example of the time-tested, open consensus process that benefits governments, industry, and the public. It also comes at a time when a vocal few are working to upend the ways in which standards are shared and disseminated by challenging our copyright that has existed for decades. This action threatens the ability of standards-making organizations like NFPA to continue doing the invaluable work we’ve done for 125 years. In that vein, I look forward to seeing everyone in Boston next month so we can celebrate all we’ve collectively accomplished, and to share more about our need to work together to maintain the standards developing process that is so integral to moving safety forward in the 125 years to come.  

In Today’s Remote World, In-Person Meetings Still Hold Value

In today’s business climate, amidst the pandemic, many of us are now used to working from home where Microsoft Teams or Zoom calls have taken the place of in-person meetings. According to a June 2020 study by Stanford University, 42 percent of the U.S. labor force was working at home full time. As more and more businesses opt for full-time remote work, face-to-face meetings seem a distant past. But can online conversations really take the place of in-person gatherings? Like many of you who manage businesses and organizations, as president of NFPA, I have been thinking a lot about this question during the last two years. There are some who say face-to-face meetings are not always productive and can be a waste of time. While at times that may be true, I happen to believe that in-person communication brings with it many great benefits. For example, last summer I had the opportunity to meet with attendees of the Urban Fire Forum at our Quincy Headquarters and later joined members of the Florida Fire Sprinkler Association at their conference in October. Both these live events gave those of us in the fire and life safety community the chance to interact with each other in a more meaningful way, to build trust through networking and peer-to-peer collaboration, and to establish stronger partnerships through the sharing of ideas, concerns, and solutions to the challenges we face today with even more focus and clarity than we ever could have achieved online. In 2020, like most businesses, our annual meeting was canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, we made changes to the program by creating a year-long, online conference series to commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the association with programs made available live and on demand. While our series was met with much success, what we heard time and time again from our stakeholders was how much you have missed the in-person connections that are the hallmark of our annual meetings. This year, we made the decision to host our in-person Conference & Expo in Boston and I can’t tell you how excited we are to welcome everyone back. Sharing our knowledge and information with peers and industry experts, and meeting new challenges head on, together and in person, is critical to our mission to better protect the world we care so much about. With more than 110 educational sessions plus exhibits and special programs, we know you will find the information, networking opportunities, and services valuable to your work. As we have learned in the months during the pandemic, however, there could still be obstacles ahead that stand in the way of a more “normal” way of working together, including in-person gatherings. But NFPA remains steadfast in its commitment to serve and support its thousands of members, volunteers, and specialists – our partnerships make us strong and are the cornerstone to helping solve today’s fire and life safety problems. On behalf of the entire association, I am excited to be working with all of you this year and look forward to seeing you in Boston.
Fire officials reviewing codes

Pro-Codes bill filed to preserve safety code copyright

Two weeks ago, Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced the Pro Codes Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposed legislation reiterates what we know to be true – copyright is protected for safety standards like those we develop. We applaud the introduction of this legislation and will work hard to support its passage. For some context on why this is so important, it helps to understand what we do and how we do it. As you all know, rigorous safety standards protect lives and property and help foster economic growth. For 125 years, NFPA and other nonprofit standards development organizations (SDOs) like ours have developed standards through a voluntary, consensus-based process at no cost to taxpayers. It has and continues to be one of the most successful public-private partnerships in American history. Governments at all levels sometimes incorporate privately developed standards by reference as part of their legislative or regulatory process. For example, NFPA’s flagship standard, the National Electrical Code, which has been recognized as the premier standard for safe electrical design, installation and inspection, has been incorporated by reference in all 50 states. In recent years, some special interests have made the misguided argument that when a governmental body incorporates by reference a privately developed standard, the copyright protection is forfeited. We strongly disagree with this campaign to destroy copyright protection for our works. Our creation and updating of these works provides critical public benefits. Like any other copyright owner, we’re able to fund the creative process by publishing, selling and licensing our standards. Again, the public benefits are enormous: We don’t depend on subsidies or contributions from government or those affected by our standards. This ensures we can be independent and put safety first. Extinguishing the copyright for standards incorporated by reference would dismantle the current system, which works because our mission is funded by those professionals who use our standards in their work. There are no alternatives anywhere as effective or efficient. NFPA alone develops more than 300 safety standards through an open, consensus-based process, and that’s just our organization. If SDOs were no longer able to carry out our work, there would be a disjointed and expensive patchwork of safety standards in the U.S. and around the world. Standards would probably be updated less frequently, if they were created at all. It’s no exaggeration to say that lives and property would be lost. The special interests’ main argument is that providing copyright protection for standards incorporated by reference prohibits free access to “the law.”  This is wrong. The law is authored by legislators. Our standards are privately developed. The special interests trying to destroy our copyright claim that anyone who wants to read what a legislative or regulatory body has incorporated by reference should be able to do so without charge.  NFPA has long championed that view. For years, we have offered free public viewing of our codes and standards online for anyone. The Pro Codes Act recognizes on its face what we believe copyright law has long made clear: copyrights held by organizations like ours are protected when the standards incorporated by reference are available for free viewing on a publicly accessible website. We’re grateful for Reps. Deutch and Issa’s leadership on this issue, and it’s particularly gratifying to see leaders on both sides of the aisle take up this cause. I think we can all agree that everyone has a right to safety. It may be the most truly bipartisan issue there is. We’re also grateful to see other influential groups including the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), International Code Council (ICC) and UL join us in supporting this legislation. Many of our colleagues in the fire service are also lending their support. If you’d like to be part of our efforts to advocate for this legislation, please reach out to Seth Statler, our director of government affairs: sstatler@nfpa.org. This legislation is important not just for our industry but for the American people who rely on the safety standards we create. We encourage Reps. Deutch and Issa’s colleagues in Congress to join them in swiftly passing this bill. It safeguards a public-private partnership model that truly works to advance safety and save lives.
Philly fire aftermath

Recent fires shed light on home fire problem

NOTE: NFPA will be leading a live discussion with some of the nation's foremost fire authorities on Tuesday, January 25. Register for the free event. The horrific residential fires in Philadelphia and the Bronx thrust fire and life safety in the United States into the spotlight. And while the stories out of these two cities are absolutely heartbreaking, the collective, heightened interest in the protection of people and property that we’ve seen among policymakers and the public may be somewhat encouraging – if it prompts needed changes and more awareness. Overall, we have made great strides in reducing the home fire problem. In fact, the recent tragedies we saw in Philadelphia and the Bronx present a stark contrast to the fire progress that has been documented over the last four decades and summarized in last year’s seminal Fire Safety in the United States report. That research picked up where the landmark America Burning research left off and highlighted substantive declines in hotel, hospital, and school fires over the years. Conversely, home fires have become more deadly as home fire escape times have dramatically decreased – due to a variety of factors. Combustible building materials and synthetic contents in homes burn hotter and faster. The danger of fire is compounded by open floor plans that are prevalent in newer homes and the lack of sufficient fire safety measures in older buildings, large and small. The headway made in these and other occupancies is, in large part, due to an effective policy and regulatory environment that sponsored and supported specific fire, electrical, building, and life safety guidelines and systems. But that same level of accountability and leadership has not been as evident when it comes to solving the fire problem we have today. In 2017, the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute surveyed U.S. residents about their perceptions surrounding government roles and responsibilities for building, fire, and life safety efforts. American citizens overwhelmingly conveyed that they expect and trust that local, state, and federal policymakers are acting in the interest of safety. Two key takeaways from that outreach show that 74 percent of respondents trust their state and local leaders to adopt the latest fire and electrical safety codes for safety in residential construction, while 65 percent trust those same officials to maintain code requirements, and to not weaken them by removing provisions that apply the latest knowledge and safety advancements. Government officials everywhere should be guided by these survey sentiments, as well as this month’s devastating fires, to focus their energies on: Earmarking funds for safety infrastructure, staffing, and protocols Using and enforcing current editions of fire, life safety, building, and electrical codes Inspecting and testing systems to address issues before things take a turn for the worse Ensuring there are ample professionals to enforce codes Prioritizing community risk assessment Making the right decisions in the true interest of safety, not special interests, convenience, or cost-cutting Policymakers, however, cannot stem the tide of tragedies alone. Everyone plays a role in safety, making it more important than ever to educate the public about their true risk to fire and the steps they can take to increase their own safety. And yet, the biggest obstacles we see, time and again, when it comes to reducing loss are the issues of over-confidence and complacency. The reduction in most fires over the years has led policymakers and citizens alike to erroneously think that fire is no longer a significant issue in our country. There is a prevailing mindset that tragic incidents like the ones that recently occurred happen to other people, in other communities, and in other homes. Until, of course, it happens to them. These sentiments were highlighted in results of a survey from the American Red Cross, which showed that people think they are more likely to win the lottery or to be struck by lightning than to have a home fire.   That over-confidence toward fire presents serious risks and concern, and should intensify our efforts to educate the public about the importance of fire and life safety. One of the slim silver linings of the two high-profile fires is that they have captured the public’s attention for a short time and have brought fire safety to the forefront. I strongly encourage everyone to capitalize on the recent groundswell as catalysts for change, and to better educate communities about the critical importance of: Properly installing, testing, and maintaining all smoke alarms in the home Developing and practicing home escape plans that include closing doors to rooms, hallways, and stairwells when exiting to slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire Using heating equipment safely Looking for and advocating for the increased use of sprinklers in all buildings and homes If the occurrence of two of the most fatal home fires in the last 40 years over the course of four days and just 100 miles apart does not serve as a substantial wake-up call, what will spur policymakers and the public to take action? The time has come for changing people’s perceptions of risk and proactive strategies for fire prevention and response. The best way we can do that, at this moment in time, is to challenge our government officials and citizens to take fire safety seriously.

Safety isn’t tops with Google, but it should be our priority

Each year, I make a point to check out Google’s top trends to see what captivated the attention of society. And it seems that yet again phrases such as “fire prevention,” “building and life safety,” or “electrical hazards” did not make it to the #1 search engine’s annual “Year in Search” roundup. To be fair, some of the terms noted in the review - sustainability, blackouts, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and even road trips – have safety ramifications, but they are not obvious references like Fire Prevention Week, emergency response, industrial hazards, arc fault, or fire suppression. Can you imagine how much easier it would be to do our jobs and effect real change, if we saw a high, sustained spike for these words (and so many others) on the web? NFPA and other organizations have conducted surveys over the years, which underscore the fact that the public is over-confident when it comes to fire safety, particularly at home, where they’re actually at greatest risk. As fire and life safety professionals, this complacency presents real challenges in reaching audiences with potentially life-saving messages. In fact, we know that fire safety messaging – particularly around issues like fireworks safety or turkey fryers - can be perceived as overly cautious, and more pointedly, we are seen by some as true killjoys. But those attitudes can’t deter us from our efforts to better protect the public, nor should they push us under the radar to quietly advocate for higher levels of safety. Whether you work at NFPA or not, or if hazards crop up in a professional environment or personal setting, we should make no apologies for keeping safety at the forefront. The intent is not to be a spoilsport, but to reinforce that we can never take safety for granted. Each year there are far too many tragedies that remind of this reality; 2021 certainly had its fair share. Several tragic incidents that occurred this year demonstrate why authorities need to better vet risks and the public needs to be more aware of their surroundings. In April, an estimated 100,000 pilgrims flocked to Lag N’Omer, a religious holiday, at the foot of Mount Meron in Israel. As the crowd swelled, revelers were squished and elevated from the ground. Their breathing was compromised, and many were trampled. Structures collapsed. In the end, about 150 were injured and 45 died. Six months later and more than 7,000 miles away, a similar scene unfolded at the Astroworld Festival in Houston. When the headliner hit the stage that night, the crowd of young concert goers surged. Ten attendees between the ages of nine and 27 perished, 25 were sent to the hospital with serious injuries, and more than 300 people were treated at the festival's field hospital. As the investigation into the Texas travesty continues, authorities will turn to NFPA 1®, Life Safety Code® to determine what benchmarks should have been followed in terms of occupancy load, life safety evaluations (LSEs), main entrances/exits, emergency action plans (EAPs), and crowd management protocols. Mexico City experienced tragedy in May, too, when 26 people died and 79 were injured during a Metro subway system collapse. NFPA Journal® wrote about the incident and flagged it as an  example of what can go wrong when governments under-invest in infrastructure and repeatedly ignore warnings about decisions — even when workers and others try to prioritize safety. The devastation experienced that day serves as a painful and poignant reminder of the foundational role that elected officials play in the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™. The need for prescribed and practiced ongoing inspection, maintenance, and code enforcement were the next components of the Ecosystem to be thrust into the spotlight in June. That’s when a 12-story condominium in Florida collapsed, killing 98 people. Major structural defects were identified three years ago in the condo complex and repairs were reportedly about to begin – but once again it was a case of too little, too late. The disaster stands as one of the deadliest non-deliberate building collapses in the nation’s history and prompted Michael Savage, director of the Building Safety department in Marion County, Florida to tell NFPA Journal “Unfortunately, it’s in situations like the collapse where a light gets shined on the important role a building safety department or code enforcement department plays in the betterment of our society.”  And while news from the Midwest may seem less profound, four electrocution deaths in Missouri and Kansas during a five-month span was concerning. The likelihood for risk where electrical work is being done cannot be overstated. That’s why NFPA began producing the National Electrical Code® nearly 125 years and we developed NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®. NFPA 70E is recognized around the world as a preeminent electrical safety document that helps companies and employees (electricians and other workers) avoid workplace injuries and fatalities. While the deaths of two electricians, an HVAC technician, and a power washer were heartbreaking, the US Department of Labor recognized this deadly workforce trend and urged Midwest employers to revisit safe electrical practices to avoid further loss. So, sadly, prominent safety phrases and fails may not have topped Google search terms in 2021, but they can and should be used by those of us who work in the safety realm. My hope is that we continue to take steps in the new year that collectively reduce risk around the world. We simply can’t let the public’s complacency and over confidence become our own. We need to remain cognizant of what can go wrong when we become over-confident, take shortcuts, or stay silent. Let’s all remain vocal and vigilant in 2022!
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