What Is NFPA?
Written by Steve Hudgik
Basic fire safety practices, many governed by the National Fire Protection Agency, factor into the daily activities of almost every industry. But exactly what is NFPA's mission? What efforts and programs does it sponsor to achieve its goals?
What is NFPA? NFPA Develops Consensus Standards to Guide Industries in their Fire and Electrical Safety Efforts
In professional safety circles, the NFPA is probably best known for the many standards and codes it produces relating to fire and electrical safety. These guidelines are known as consensus standards and govern many routine industry safety practices.
Well-known NFPA consensus standards include:
- NFPA 1, Fire Code: Outlines physical requirements for new and existing buildings to ensure fire safety and property protection
- NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code: Details safety practices for fuel gas installations
- NFPA 70, National Electric Code: Specifies necessary safety practices and precautions for electrical installations.
These standards are largely accepted as the best available guidelines for fire and electrical safety, but what is NFPA's legal purview in instances of non-compliance? Technically, the NFPA as an organization holds no authority to legally prosecute those who transgress their standards. OSHA, however, does have this authority, and may frequently refer to NFPA-produced standards in its citations. In cases where a hazard is clearly present but OSHA regulations lack a clear recommendation, NFPA standards may be referenced and the offending organization held accountable to them.
What is NFPA? NFPA is a Member Organization
Professional organizations exist for almost every job imaginable, and the NFPA is one of the largest organizations of electrical and industrial safety professionals. For an annual fee, individuals may join and enjoy increased access to industry standards, networking opportunities and the latest news in the fields of fire and electrical safety.
What is NFPA’s goal in opening up the organization to widespread membership? For one, the NFPA certainly hopes to organize interested individuals into groups capable of representing specific industries impacted by fire and electrical safety regulations. The NFPA offers members the opportunity to join one or more of sixteen “sections,” including AEBO (Architects, Engineers, and Building Officials), Health Care, Aviation and others. This allows members to "...exchange ideas, solve problems, and build a network of peers.” It also gives the NFPA a community of invested professionals to contact when input is needed.
Members of the NFPA also enjoy voting rights - the opportunity to weigh in on proposed changes to standards and new standards up for consideration. This opportunity is a win-win for both industry professionals, whose daily activities can be greatly dependent upon NFPA standards, and the NFPA, which relies on input from the front lines of the industry to craft feasible standards.
What is NFPA? NFPA is Actively Involved in Fire Safety Advocacy
If asked "What is NFPA?", most industrial safety specialists will most likely refer to the functions described above of creating consensus standards and fostering professional networking. But the NFPA, in fact, participates in another crucial and far-reaching aspect of fire safety: public advocacy.
Education programs and initiatives geared toward the public target several key audiences. The Learn Not to Burn preschool program, for example, aims to teach 4- and 5-year-old children basic fire safety principles through songs such as "Do You Have a Smoke Alarm?" and a series of hot things flashcards, which depict risky household items. According to the NFPA, children under the age of five are almost one and a half times as likely to die in a fire as the average person, a statistic that the Learn Not to Burn program aims to reduce.
In another program similarly targeted to citizens at large, the NFPA's Firewise Communities Program attempts to teach those living in proximity to wildfire risks how to best protect life and property in the event of a wildfire outbreak. These outreach efforts and many others embody the NFPA's mission to extend knowledge about fire safety to as many people as possible, both within specific industries and to the public as a whole.