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Experience in the Field is Vital to the NFPA Code Revision Process

by Chad E. Beebe, AIA, SASHE, CFPS

It’s the bottom of the ninth, ASHE is down by a run, two outs, bases are loaded . . . Although hitting a single may score two runs and win the game, hitting a home run will seal the deal. The ASHE advocacy team has found itself in all sorts of close call situations like this, but the most recent was our experience in Boston at the NFPA Technical Association Meeting, when NFPA 99 and NFPA 101 were up for final consideration in their current revision cycle. Members from various ASHE regions attended the session June 14 and 15, and we won approval for most of the issues we brought before the NFPA membership. On the whole, we feel we were successful at participating in a process that has yielded two great documents.

One benefit of the NFPA code process is that the documents are modified using an open, consensus-based process. However, the process depends not only on the proposals and comments submitted by users of the documents, but on membership representation at the final meeting. The significance of an ASHE presence at the final meeting in a code revision cycle is brought home by how close the votes on many important issues were at the June NFPA Technical Meeting finalizing the content of NFPA 99 and NFPA 101.

Why should you be interested in the details of the NFPA code reform process? Because the final code language that is approved could have serious financial consequences for your facility.

While there are many advantages to the NFPA process, there are some disadvantages. To be eligible for American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accreditation, the NFPA process must be open to input from all points of view. Anyone who has a direct and material interest in a document has the right to participate. In an environment filled special interest groups with deep pockets, it is imperative that the ASHE members attend these meetings in numbers comparable to those who may have the ability to financially gain from decisions made at the meetings. At the meeting in June, those in attendance influenced decisions that could cost health care facilities hundreds of thousands of dollars on several fronts.

The reality is that ASHE needs hundreds more people to get involved in the NFPA process, many on the front end—during the proposal and comment process—and many more at the end of the process— at the technical association meeting. The cost for attending the meeting is nominal compared to the cost of the outcome. For example, an investment of $2,000 to $5,000 to send one or two people to the June 2011 meeting could have saved your facility about $10,000 to $20,000 per operating room. It’s easy to think “someone else is representing my interests, I will let them take care of it,” but in reality this is not happening. Testimony about their real-world experiences with the issues from people with firsthand expertise is powerful and can make a difference.

NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code and NFPA 101: Life Safety Code® are on a three-year revision cycle. Your next opportunity to participate in final meetings for these documents is June 2014 (exact dates and location TBA). Although we don’t know what the issues will be at that meeting, we highly recommend you begin to get involved in the process now. If you’re not a member of NFPA, join today. Pencil in the second week of June 2014 on your calendar, and watch the ASHE Insider for news and opportunities to get involved in the process.