Case studies of the importance of Standard Development Organizations

Following are two case studies that demonstrate the importance and effectiveness of independent standards development organizations (SDOs) like NFPA.

Fire Sprinkler Safety Standards

Roughly 85 percent of all civilian structure fire deaths in 2010 resulted from home structure fires; an average of seven American deaths a day. To encourage fire sprinkler adoption, NFPA works to develop fire sprinkler safety standards and helped educate consumers about their benefits.

The challenge

Roughly 85 percent of all civilian structure fire deaths in 2010 resulted from home structure fires; an average of seven American deaths a day. Fire sprinklers, if installed in private residences would decrease the death rate per 1,000 reported home fires by more than 80 percent and lower property damage by almost 70 percent. It is no coincidence that fire sprinklers are now commonly found in businesses and hotels throughout the country, but fire sprinkler adoption, and subsequent protection, lagged in private residences.

The solution

Relying on a network of volunteer fire safety experts, engineers and other interested parties, in 1973, NFPA’s standard development committees started to develop safety standards governing how fire sprinklers are installed in private homes. By 1975, NFPA 13D was completed and set forth requirements based on the best judgment of the time addressing automatic sprinkler system design, installation, and maintenance including numerous issues such as component listing, hydrostatic tests, sprinkler temperature ratings, design documentation, and hydraulic calculations. The fire sprinkler standards, developed through an open, consensus-based process by volunteer engineers, scientists and other experts in fire safety, provide the highest level of safety to protect Americans from residential fire damage.

To encourage the installation of fire sprinklers in private residences, NFPA launched a multi-state effort titled the “Fire Sprinkler Initiative: Bringing Safety Home.” Armed with the quantifiable benefits gained from the adoption of fire sprinkler standards such the 80 percent drop in fire fatalities when sprinklers are installed, the network of interested fire safety experts and public health officials helped promote the adoption of new model safety codes which required the use of home fire sprinklers in new homes on a state-by-state basis. Thanks to the work of NFPA through the Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the initiative’s local advocates, state and local governments started to take notice.

The Result

As NFPA and its network of volunteer experts have worked to update and improve fire sprinkler safety codes more than ten times since 1975, there has been a concurrent effort to encourage the adoption of fire sprinkler safety standards in more than forty states. So far, two have adopted the code statewide:

  • The California Building Standards Commission voted in 2009 to adopt requirements for automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family dwellings, effective January 1, 2011.
  • The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development completed its adoption process of the 2009 IRC in January 2011.
In many states across the country, state legislatures and local jurisdictions continue to debate new requirements for fire sprinkler systems but increasingly greater numbers of private home owners and builders are voting with their wallets. In 2009, 4.6% of occupied homes (including apartments) had sprinklers, up from 3.9% in 2007, and 18.5% of occupied homes built in the previous four years had sprinklers.
  • Safe
    NFPA’s efforts to encourage the adoption of fire sprinkler requirements in one- and two-family dwellings has yielded an increase in public safety. Sprinklers are still rare in most of the places where people are most exposed to fire, including educational properties (34% of fires), stores and offices (23%), public assembly properties (23%), and especially homes (6%), where most fire deaths occur. The fire sprinkler standards developed by NFPA created best practices for how to protect private residences from fires.
  • Effective
    When fire sprinklers operate, they are effective in extinguishing a fire 96% of the time. In homes (including apartments), wet-pipe sprinklers operated effectively 93% of the time. Reflecting the level of protection fire sprinklers provide, insurance rates for homes fully equipped with fire sprinklers are on average 13% lower than homes without.
  • Trusted
    NFPA’s standards are developed in consensus-based process which ensures that all stakeholders – including users, manufacturers, insurance providers, consumers, government regulatory agencies, enforcers, independent experts and academics – can participate and that no special interest can predominate. The open and inclusive environment of consensus standards development promotes user acceptance and has created a system where public safety concerns are paramount.

Gas Explosion Prevention

The challenge
On February 7, 2010, Edward Badamo, chief of the South Fire District in Middletown, Connecticut, was at home when he heard the distant rumbling sound -- an explosion at Kleen Energy, a natural gas-fueled power plant under construction about five miles away. The damage was so catastrophic that it took Badamo and the other first responders nearly two days to account for all of the plant’s employees, both alive and deceased. Six workers died and nearly 50 others were injured.

The explosion was caused by a "gas blow," according to an investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB). Gas blows are a commonly used cleaning procedure in natural gas-fueled power plants, where flammable gas is blown through piping at high pressure to remove debris. Construction of the plant, nearing completion, was heavily regulated, but there was no standard guiding the gas-blowing procedure.

After a four and one half month investigation of the Kleen Energy explosion, the CSB, a federal agency that investigates industrial accidents, identified numerous unsafe practices that contributed to the disaster and noted the inherent dangers posed by using natural gas as a means of cleaning fuel gas piping. An industry survey, however, identified natural gas blows as a principal procedure for cleaning newly installed fuel gas piping. About half of the respondents who used the procedure indicated they did not conduct a technical evaluation for determining how much gas is actually needed to effectively clean pipes.

With the abundance of U.S. natural gas reserves, and the national push for greater energy self-sufficiency, nearly 4,250 natural gas-fired power plants currently operate in the U.S, and 145 additional plants are expected to be operational nationwide by 2016.

The solution 
The CSB, in its “urgent safety recommendations” resulting from its investigation of the explosion, recognized that voluntary consensus standards developers could play a vital role in providing standards that could be used by for industry guidance and as the basis for federal regulation to address safety in gas piping cleaning and purging practices. Among its recommendations, the CSB proposed that the NFPA conduct standards development activities that would address the safe conduct of fuel gas pipe cleaning operations. NFPA responded with the initiative and speed commensurate with the critical need.
NFPA’s standards development proceeds in regularly scheduled revisions cycles through which an NFPA safety standard can be created or updated, from beginning to end, in 104 weeks. This process is both efficient and reliable while providing adequate time for NFPA’s consensus “technical committees” to do their work, for extensive public review and comment, for debate and consideration at annual NFPA membership “technical sessions,” and for a final appeals and issuance process conducted by the NFPA Standards Council. But because so many new power plants were soon coming online, NFPA recognized that the regular process was simply not fast enough to meet these unique circumstances. Carefully adhering to guidelines of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) that permit a consensus standards developer to create expedited “provisional standards” to address emergencies, the NFPA Board of Directors authorized a special set of fast-track procedures to allow the development of a standard on gas process safety in record time.

  • Efficient and responsive
    NFPA acted quickly in responding to the needs of the public and of government. On June 28, 2010, the CSB issued it urgent safety recommendations on the Kleen Energy explosion. After completing a process of seeking input from all interested parties and reviewing various options, the NFPA Standards Council voted in October, 2010, to establish a consensus technical committee to develop a new standard specifically dedicated to gas process safety. Five months later, the technical committee had been assembled and appointed to begin work on the new standard. Utilizing the new fast-track process, the new NFPA 56 (PS), Standard on Gas Process Safety, was developed in less than 24 weeks, from the first technical committee meeting to issuance by the Standards Council on August 11, 2011. Fewer than 76 weeks had elapsed from the Kleen Energy explosion and 49 weeks from the CSB’s issuance of its urgent recommendations.
  • Stakeholder input
    In accordance with the principles of consensus standards development, the technical committee included a balanced representation of relevant interests and expertise. This included the American Gas Association, insurance agencies, independent technical experts, labor, and energy companies. Staff of both the CSB and OSHA monitored the committee activities and provided input.
  • Technical expertise
    One of the committee’s first actions was to expand the document’s scope to include new and existing flammable gas piping systems — not just fuel gas — for electric-generating plants and industrial, commercial, and institutional applications. Addressing these concerns, NFPA 56 (PS) requires an extensive written procedure for pipe cleaning and purging, taking into account the control of ignition sources, site-specific processes, and environmental conditions. 

The result
The rapid development of NFPA 56 (PS) demonstrates the ability of standards development organizations to move quickly to help safeguard lives and property. The new provisions now prohibit the use of flammable gas during cleaning procedures while safeguarding a range of activities related to cleaning and repairing piping systems.

State adoption
NFPA’s first provisional standard was celebrated by Connecticut’s elected officials, who announced at a September 2011 news conference in Middletown that the state had passed legislation to prohibit all gas blows in accordance with NFPA 56 (PS).

Safe & cost effective
"This is an example of the critical role NFPA plays in providing codes and standards for use by government and other entities throughout the world," says NFPA President James Shannon. "Our ability to bring together the right people at the right time and to facilitate a consensus process in very short order resulted in a standard that will save lives and prevent a tragedy like the one in Connecticut from happening in the future."

National application
Following Connecticut’s actions, the CSB is urging federal regulators to institute a nationwide ban on using flammable gases during pipe cleaning. "NFPA’s actions send a clear message to industries that gas blows are inherently unsafe," says CSB chair Rafael Moure-Eraso. "What would really establish this on a permanent basis is if there could be federal regulation under OSHA [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to specifically adopt NFPA 56 (PS) or address gas blowing by forbidding the act."

Robert Kowalski, area director for OSHA’s office in Bridgeport, Connecticut, stated, "Now that NFPA 56 (PS) has been created, if we find a company not complying with the standard, we can use that as a support for a general duty clause, which requires an employer to maintain a safe and healthy place for employees," Kowalski says. "That’s the importance of this standard."

Video: former NFPA senior engineer Denise Beach discusses practices covered by NFPA's provisional stardard 56, developed in response to the Kleen Energy explosion.