We all know our an industry is governed by codes and standards. While many complain about some of the requirements, few try to do anything about it. We all have an opportunity to fix things that we don’t like. Most people don’t understand the process or believe they can have any effect. However, understanding the process will make codes and standards more usable.


The International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have totally different processes in code development. In this column, I address the ICC. 


With the ICC, there are no technical committees for each chapter of a document; there is one code committee for an entire document. Let’s use the International Fire Code as an example. The ICC holds two public code meetings each cycle; the first one in the current code cycle was in May. During that meeting, the Committee Action Hearings, the fire code committee listens to proponent and opponent testimony for code changes and votes to approve, approve with modifications, or disapprove each code change. During this hearing, any interested party can propose a modification for consideration. After the committee votes, the moderator asks if there are any motions from the floor, and any attendee can object to the committee action and ask for a floor vote. Every voting member, including corporate members, can vote to reverse the committee action. If the floor action is successful, both the committee action and the floor action are reported in the results of the hearing.


Once the Committee Action Hearing is completed, results are published, and the comment stage begins. Anyone can submit a comment on any proposal that was submitted.


There is a separate committee for each code. Fire alarm and suppression issues are primarily developed in the fire code and copied into the building code. However, proposals may also be submitted to the International Residential Code or mechanical code.


The second stage is much different. During the Final Action Hearings, the comment submitters present oral testimony to the attendees. Following debate, only the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) in attendance vote on the action. Again, they can approve as submitted with a simple majority of voting members, approve as modified with a two-thirds majority of the voting members, or disapprove with a simple majority. 


Complete information about the code development process can be found at www.iccsafe.org. Search for CP#28-05.


Getting involved and actively participating is the key to success with this process. Being involved in the ICC’s fire code action committees and industry advisory committee and building relationships with the AHJs all are useful ways to gather support for your code change proposals. Although anyone can submit a code change, active involvement and visibility is a factor in success. Someone who never attends a code meeting and hasn’t networked in advance may not have a great chance to successfully change the code. Since many associations actively participate, you should consider getting the support of your own to help with the proposed code change. AFAA, NEMA and other associations actively participate and discuss proposals and comments in advance and can be a great help with the process.


So how do you get involved? For starters, I recommend getting to know the individuals who head up the association codes and standards committees. Using the AFAA as an example, we have a codes and standards committee made up of our NFPA committee representatives and other interested individuals. We typically meet by conference call to discuss code changes that will affect our industry prior to submittal. Second, get to know your local AHJs. Discuss proposed code changes with them, and ask for their support. If nothing else, at least let your associations know your concerns. They always try to submit changes that will improve their industry, not unduly burden it with cumbersome requirements.


Most code changes are submitted with good intentions: to improve the code. Clearer language and specific requirements make the code easier to design and reduce interpretation issues. Remember, codes only go into effect in a state or local jurisdiction when it is adopted, so change takes time.


The ICC is in the process of allowing remote voting by AHJs, called cdpACCESS, in an effort to maximize voter participation. As you know, many fire and building departments are struggling financially and cannot attend the public hearings. The ICC will start this process with its International Green Construction Code this year and incorporate it in the processing of all codes beginning in 2015. There are concerns about this, so we will have to monitor it to see how it goes.


The NFPA process is much different than the ICC process. I’ll discuss that in my next column. Until then, get involved and help to improve your industry.