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5 Posts authored by: mhousewright Employee

Rio de Janeiro and Nowata County, Oklahoma—worlds away but not that far apart.  One a city of over six million people, the other, a rural county of less than ten thousand people northeast of Tulsa.  Two places, worlds apart, but ultimately caught in the same net: Under investment in safety and neglect of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem.

As was reported recently, it was likely a faulty air conditioning unit that sparked the devastating fire in Brazil’s National Museum that destroyed objects “beyond value”—irreplaceable artifacts of thousands of years of Latin American history.  But before that spark, the continued neglect of maintenance and lack of investment in any fire safety systems enabled a catastrophe for the people of Brazil.            

Nowata County has not yet had its spark but officials there seem to be lying in wait for a rhyming tragedy, though here, the irreplaceables are people, not objects.  In March, county Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett made national headlines when she resigned in protest.  The county jail, which was under evacuation after elevated carbon monoxide levels sent four people to the hospital, is in such a state of disrepair that Sheriff Barnett felt she could not conscionably obey a judge’s order to return the inmates to the facility.  In her resignation letter, which was joined by a number of her colleagues, the sheriff provided a list of dangerous conditions faced by inmates and staff, including that the cause of the CO leak had not yet been identified, the fire alarm system does not work, there are exposed wires throughout the facility and reports of inmates receiving electric shocks in the showers.  

Hopefully, Sheriff Barnett stopped a tragedy in its tracks, but the inmates may yet be moved back into the facility despite the fact Nowata County has offered no money to address the glaring life safety risks.  

While both fires and acts of defiance like Sheriff Barnett’s attract media attention, the public has few tools to proactively assess how strong fire and safety protections are in their communities and little sustained visibility into where the next accidents might be waiting to happen.  NFPA's Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem could be used to fill that gap.  The Ecosystem illustrates all of the interdependent components necessary for minimizing safety risks and preventing loss, injuries, and deaths from fire, electrical, and other hazards. This Ecosystem framework could help identify the policies and resources needed to support safety in a community.  And this framework could enable policymakers and safety advocates to gauge the performance of their community.    

The Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem gives us a tool to exercise foresight. It is now up to all of us to exercise it. For information about the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, please visit www.nfpa.org/ecosystem.

fire in building under construction

March was a rough month for fires in buildings under construction, wreaking millions of dollars in damage and undoubtedly causing major headaches for public officials.  Thankfully, no one was killed or seriously hurt in these fires, but their toll can be added to the over 6,310 fires in buildings either under construction, demolition, or major renovation between 2010 and 2014, which caused 9 deaths and $280 million in direct property damage.  Add to that at least $210 million in losses—and 2 fatalities--from construction site fires in 2017 and 2018, and it’s clear that a lot of construction sites have neglected fire safety.

Last month, fires included:

To help prevent these fires from happening, local officials must insist fire safety is a high priority for construction site owners, managers, and workers. To do this, they can take three critical steps:

  • Require the use of NFPA 241 Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition through the fire code.  Make sure your community enforces the most recent one to keep up to date as construction practices change;
  • Follow the standard and make sure your community requires written fire prevention plans as part of the construction permit process; and
  • Talk to your community’s fire officials to go beyond the minimum requirements—consider extra security, a higher trained workforce, and more fire suppression and detection measures.

To raise awareness of this issue and offer steps policymakers should take to reduce risk in their communities, the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute developed this policy brief.  Download it today to learn more. Find additional information and resources on the Policy Institute’s webpage.

Just last week the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute released a report on Wide Variations in State Adoption of the NEC® Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety. Rather than “neglect” though, perhaps “actively opposing” would be a better way to state it. Or, at least, this might better capture the statements and actions of some in the Kentucky legislature which recently passed a bill to open the gates to removing safety requirements from the state adopted National Electrical Code® (NEC). 
“[There’s] nothing in this bill that’s going to be a detriment to somebody’s safety,” stated Senator Jared Carpenter during a floor debate right after he offered that when a GFCI tripped in the bathroom of a tenant using a curling iron in one of his apartment buildings, he had electricians remove the device to make things “more efficient.” With this bill, rather than ensure the Kentucky Electrical Code protects people from shocks caused by faulty appliances through adhering to the NEC, Senator Carpenter and the other backers of HB 100 in the Kentucky legislature, are opening the door to potentially deadly shortcuts. Advances like GFCIs, which in 2003 the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission found could address nearly half of all home electrocutions in the U.S., are exactly the types of provisions that should remain in the code. (Hear Senator Carpenter address the Kentucky legislature in this short video clip below.)
This is a perfect, and unfortunate, example of politicians’ lack of education on codes leading to decisions with real safety consequences. It’s also examples like these that motivated the Policy Institute to look at state NEC adoption across the U.S. After reviewing the length of time it takes states to adopt the latest version of each NEC update and the practices used to promulgate those adoptions, as well as commissioning surveys and interviews with individuals recently responsible for NEC adoptions, several findings emerged:
  • Observers reported that the adoption process is under heavier political scrutiny, leading to delays and decisions motivated by factors other than safety concerns. In addition, members of promulgating boards worry increasingly about the political influence on such boards and board members.
  • Electrical regulatory boards tend to promote more prompt and consistent adoptions. States without such boards were twice as likely to skip a cycle of the NEC. States with electrical boards adopted each update cycle in about half the time.
  • Prioritizing the NEC is important. States that adopt all construction-related codes at once tend to take twice as long to adopt the latest NEC updates, leaving residents of their states well behind the national standard for safe electrical design, installation, and maintenance.
  • The cost of compliance is often considered in isolation, without any consideration of the benefits of advancing safety, and enabling new technology, and is often the sole driver in code adoption discussions.
The NEC is an important tool to help states advance electrical safety. In addition to educating policymakers on the role of the NEC in promoting electrical safety and on the independent, expert-driven process under which it is developed, the report offers several recommendations to policymakers. High among these recommendations is to steer special interests seeking changes to the NEC to the national-level development process, which is open to anyone to participate rather than making decisions to amend out important safety provisions. The report also encourages states to establish or maintain an electrical board, relying on further expertise for technical matters, and to adopt new updates to the NEC as soon as each one is available, rather than waiting to adopt the NEC with other construction codes.
The legislators in Kentucky should know that 65 percent of U.S. residents trust their policymakers not to remove code requirements, according to an independent survey commissioned by the Policy Institute last summer. They should also know that 81 percent feel policymakers should view keeping fire and electrical safety codes up-to-date as a priority. Data analyzed by NFPA reveals that each year, there are over 61,000 fires of electrical origin that kill roughly 432 people and cause over $2 billion in damage. Policymakers should move to embrace the safety advances available in new versions of the NEC rather than neglecting—or opposing—them. 
To learn more, check out (and download for free) the full Wide Variations in State Adoption of the NEC® Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety report, a report summary, and an infographic highlighting the making of the 2017 NEC, by visiting www.nfpa.org/policyinstitute. .
policy institute
 
American consumers expect safety to be a high priority for their government leaders. This is something the Policy Institute learned this summer by commissioning an independent telephone survey of over 1000 U.S. residents to learn their views and expectations on adopting fire and electrical safety codes and keeping those codes up-to-date. Overwhelmingly, people expressed the opinion that they trust and expect that government at all levels is keeping these safety codes current with the latest safety advances and is not removing requirements that weaken those codes. To see the results of the survey and related information, check out our new, free downloadable fact sheet.    policy institute
If citizens feel that keeping codes up-to-date is a government responsibility, they likely feel similarly about other parts of the safety ecosystem. The safety ecosystem--all of the functions that support safety, like enforcement of codes, oversight of professionals responsible for the design and construction of the built environment, and raising awareness of risks posed by hazards both natural and man-made— depends on the support and attention of policymakers. None of these functions should be taken for granted.
As we learned from our survey, 86 percent of consumers believe that if they purchased a new home today, it would meet the most up-to-date code. And, 81 percent expect policymakers to view keeping electrical and fire safety codes up-to-date with new information and research a high priority. Decisions to remove safety requirements or delay the adoption of updated codes contravene this public trust.    
These results should be an invitation to learn more about the entire safety ecosystem, as well as the role of organizations like NFPA within it. The resources available to support safety are expert-driven, extensive, and waiting to be put to good use by policymakers.    
For more information about the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, visit our website: www.nfpa.org/policyinstitute.              

policy institute

I’m excited to tell you about the launch of NFPA’s new Fire and Life Safety Policy Institute. NFPA established the Policy Institute to develop an arms-length view on policy issues that impact fire, life and electrical safety. Policymakers, elected officials and other government leaders play a critical role in the development and maintenance of a strong fire prevention and protection system including using the most current fire and building codes to diligent code enforcement. The Policy Institute will develop proposals and best practice recommendations to guide policymakers toward decision making that best protects citizens. Hear how NFPA president, Jim Pauley, describes the Policy Institute in our short video below:

 

 

Right now, our work includes investigating what U.S. consumers expect of their government when it comes to safety and codes. We’ll also take a look at the electrical code adoption process across the country to understand the pain points and provide suggestions to make the process more efficient. Going forward, we’ll look at the safety infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad and how government decision-making can help or hinder hazard mitigation. Ultimately, our goal is to provide key analysis and ideas that can help governments meet one of their core responsibilities—protecting public safety.  

 

So stay tuned for more Policy Institute announcements, including current and upcoming projects. Download for free our Policy Institute one-page fact sheet to get the overview (hyperlink one-pager). You can find this along with other great information and resources about the Policy Institute by visiting our webpage at www.nfpa.org/policyinstitute.

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