Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on May 2, 2016.

Standards without Borders

Why NFPA documents are increasingly used worldwide


AT A RECENT FIRE SAFETY CONFERENCE in Malaysia, I had the pleasure of meeting four fire officers from Tehran, Iran. Anyone listening to our conversation would never have known that our governments have been divided for more than 40 years. We immediately bonded, as firefighters do no matter where they’re from. After being queried about some NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, requirements, I discovered that NFPA’s codes and standards have been adopted and used in Iran for many years and have been translated into Farsi. My new colleagues were anxious to learn when NFPA could provide training and technical assistance to the Iranian fire service, which can’t happen until the current economic sanctions have been lifted.

NFPA’s codes and standards are in use in more than 50 nations and have been translated into at least 14 different languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Arabic. In many cases, NFPA provides a royalty-free license to government organizations that wish to translate and adopt a standard. A foreign language adoption furthers NFPA’s global mission, and can result in requests for NFPA training. It can also open the door for United States-based providers of fire protection products and services in jurisdictions that recognize NFPA codes and standards.

NFPA codes and standards can be adapted for use in jurisdictions throughout the world. Requirements that work well in the U.S. may not be appropriate in some countries for technical reasons or due to cultural differences, and in those cases NFPA works closely with national standards bodies, regulatory agencies, and the fire service to help them understand how a particular NFPA standard can best serve their needs. Following a tragic 2013 nightclub fire in Brazil, the Rio de Janeiro Fire Department sought NFPA’s assistance with the development of a fire code that could help it improve fire safety in advance of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. We translated NFPA 1, Fire Code, into Portuguese, provided training for authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), and offered technical support during the code adoption process in Rio. Similar efforts are underway in many other countries.

I’m often asked why a country would turn to an NFPA standard when there are other internationally recognized standards that have been promulgated by groups such as ISO or the European Union. Stakeholders tell us they prefer NFPA standards for several reasons: our open, transparent, and balanced consensus process strengthens the technical content; the scheduled revision cycle of each standard ensures that the latest technology and design considerations are incorporated into the codes; and NFPA provides expert technical advisory services for members and AHJs. These factors can explain why NFPA 130, Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems, and NFPA 502, Road Tunnels, Bridges, and Other Limited Access Highways, are in such wide use on every continent. Many of our standards related to industrial processes, flammable gases, and other hazardous materials have become the de facto industry standards in many parts of the world.

When it comes to fire safety, cultural and political barriers are quickly subsumed in the effort to reduce deaths, injuries, property loss, and economic loss. NFPA is proud of the role it plays in supporting the adoption and use of consensus codes and standards both at home and abroad.

DONALD P. BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA. Top Photograph: Corbis