Compare And Contrast: NFPA Codes

In my last column, I discussed the ICC code process. This month, I look at the NFPA process. As I previously mentioned, the ICC and NFPA have completely different processes for codes and standards development. Yet, both operate on three-year cycles. Proposals to both organizations have suggested changing to a six-year cycle, and, while that may work for some codes, that is too long in most cases, as it would curtail introductions of new technologies.

NFPA develops more standards, recommended practices and guides than codes. Although some documents are called codes, they are standards. The primary difference is that codes tell you what you need to install and where to install it. Standards tell you how to install and maintain it. For example, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, NFPA 72, is called a code, but it is really an installation and maintenance standard. NFPA 72 is mainly called a code so state and local jurisdictions can adopt it just like a building or fire code instead of merely being referenced as a standard.

The NFPA process is to have technical committees for each document and, in some cases, a separate technical committee for each chapter. For example, there are nine committees and a correlating committee for NFPA 72. Each committee is made up of various classes of members, and no single category can have more than about 30 percent of the seats on the committee. The committees meet twice per cycle, similar to the ICC. The first meeting is now called the First Revision meeting. The committees discuss any public inputs submitted for consideration. The results of these meetings are published as the First Revision Report and then are open for public comments to be submitted. The correlating committee meets to review the proposed changes to ensure there are no correlation issues from one chapter to the others.

After the public comment period, the committees meet again to review and discuss any comments made. Public comments can only be made for code sections that had a proposal submitted to change it. In other words, no new code changes can be introduced at this stage. After the technical committee meets, the correlating committee meets again to review any changes made during the comment stage for correlation.

The next step is to present the code for approval by the NFPA members at their annual meeting. If someone objects to the changes made, they can apply to submit a Notice of Intent to Make a Motion (NITMAM). Only certain individuals can submit NITMAMs. Anyone who submitted a public input or comment may submit a NITMAM. If the NITMAM is accepted, the individual will appeal to the membership to change the committee action. If successful, it goes back to the committee to either agree with the motion, or reaffirm what they had done previously. If the committee does not agree with the membership action, the code section in question reverts to the text from the previous edition. In other words, nothing changes. 

The last step is for the NFPA Standards Council to approve the document and establish a publish date.

One major difference between the ICC and NFPA process is voting. With the ICC, only governmental members get to vote during the public comment hearings (formerly final action hearings). Other members, such as corporate members, can only vote during the committee action hearings and then only when a floor vote is called. With the NFPA, codes are primarily decided by the technical committees, and any NFPA member can vote during the annual meeting hearings.

So, although the two code-making organizations have vastly different processes, the end result is pretty much the same—a new code every three years. I don’t think either process is better than the other; they are just different. Both organizations are under the ANSI umbrella and are consensus codes. The only difference is that one is a consensus of all members, and the other is a consensus of authorities having jurisdiction.

About the Author

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist
Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is president of Hammerberg & Associates Inc. He serves as Director of Industry Relations for the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) Inc. and represents the association on a number of NFPA committees, including the...

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