I often get calls from plant managers with concerns that their local AHJ suddenly wants a change, such as a reduction in the number of resin and gelcoat drums permitted in the fabrication area. They ask when the code changed. In most cases, the requirement now being enforced has been present in the code for a long time.
The truth is that codes have been enforced very inconsistently. However, this is changing. Investigation of recent fires at industrial locations, some unfortunately resulting in the deaths of first responders, revealed that the incidents would have been less severe or may not have occurred at all if the applicable codes had been effectively enforced. Aware of this, the fire safety community is working toward a more thorough and consistent enforcement of codes.
Some business owners find that their insurers more aggressively enforces fire safety than their local code officials. Factory Mutual has its own standards that can be more restrictive than the fire codes. For example, the FM Global “loss prevention data sheet” for organic peroxides limits the permitted storage quantities more stringently than the NFPA code.
People sometimes forget that insurance is a product just like gelcoat or fibers. The cost and “performance” or risk recommendations of a fire insurance policy varies by supplier and purchase agreement. Failure to follow or resolve risk recommendations may have adverse impact on premiums or coverage. Business owners may want to consider proactive engagement with their insurance carriers and conduct periodic risk surveys.
The existence of two separate organizations promulgating fire codes – NFPA and ICC – is also a source of confusion. With occasional exceptions, local code officials enforce ICC codes, while insurance carriers refer to NFPA codes. Even when the ICC code is the official code being enforced, the applicable NFPA code can provide requirements that better fit operations and hazards at a location.
It’s often effective for a business owner to work with the AHJ to evaluate the applicability of an NFPA code when the requirements of the ICC code are too costly or restrictive given the hazards. If the situation is complex, there are code consultants engaged with ACMA and its members that can be retained to help guide an owner.
Finally, we need to consider the role of fire codes in meeting OSHA fire safety requirements. When OSHA was established, Congress allowed the agency to codify the NFPA codes that were in place at that time. While the NFPA codes have since been updated, many of the OSHA regulations remain frozen in the 1970s.