This is the first part of a two-part column on NFPA 86 and the ongoing updating process through public proposals and comments.

Founded in 1896, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is the world’s leading advocate of fire safety. The NFPA publishes more than 300 codes and standards dealing with subjects as diverse as combustible metals, vehicular fuel systems and fire-hose connectors with an overall goal of minimizing the occurrence and effects of fire.

The NFPA’s “consensus standards” are documents that contain fire-safety requirements developed by a technical committee, using a consensus-based process. The technical committee, which is the heart of the NFPA standards-development process, is comprised of approximately 30 voting members representing a balance of interests. The process is called “consensus” because the committees are balanced, with no more than one-third of the members belonging to any single-interest group (e.g., manufacturer, user, enforcing authority, insurer and special expert).

A primary objective of the standards-development process is to produce “model” codes that can be adopted into law at the local, state or federal level, and many NFPA standards are broadly adopted as such. But even if a particular document has not been designated law of the land in a particular jurisdiction, it is nonetheless an “industry standard,” and the contents should be reviewed and considered as a representation of the state of the art in fire safety.

NFPA 86, the Standard for Ovens and Furnaces, was first published in 1931 and has undergone more than a dozen revisions in the past three-quarters of a century. The current (2007) edition was designated as an American National Standard on Aug. 17, 2006.

In 2007, the NFPA 86 Technical Committee was comprised of 10 “manufacturers,” eight “special experts,” seven “insurers” and six “users.” A few of the individual members also represent trade associations such as IHEA, FIA and NEMA.

The standard-development process involves three main steps: proposals, comments and final approval. The technical committee handles the first two steps, and the last step is carried out at the NFPA Standards Council level.

Anyone may submit a proposal to modify an NFPA standard, and the technical committee will consider it. Proposals can be submitted online at the NFPA website in the Code Development Process area or by fax or mail.

The closing date for NFPA 86 proposals in the current cycle was Dec. 1, 2008. Approximately 100 proposals were received, and the technical committee reviewed them in February of this year. By the time this column appears in print, the Report on Proposals (ROP) will have been published.

After publication of the ROP, there is a 10-week period for public comments. The deadline for comments in the current cycle is Sept. 4, 2009. Then the technical committee will meet to consider the public comments, and a Report on Comments (ROC) will be produced.

After the ROC is published in February 2010, the work of the committee is complete, and the document is ready for publication.

The final step in the process is approval by the NFPA membership at the 2010 annual meeting. Generally, the final vote is uneventful for most documents, but occasionally one or more individuals will make a motion to amend a particular requirement in opposition to the vote of the committee. In order to prevent prolonged floor fights, the NFPA requires such motions to be submitted in writing prior to the annual meeting as a Notice of Intent to Make a Motion (NITMAM).

If no NITMAMs are submitted, the assembly invariably accepts the recommendation of the technical committee and approves the standard. Occasionally, a floor motion is persuasive to the voting members, and a document is rejected and sent back to the committee to resolve the disputed language.

Once the document is accepted by the membership, it goes to the NFPA Standards Council where it is formally approved and published as an American National Standard. Barring any unresolved challenges, the 2011 edition of NFPA 86 will be issued in August 2010.

Next month, this column will discuss some of the specific proposals that were approved at the ROP stage, some implications of the committee’s preliminary actions and information about how to influence the process during the remaining steps of the current cycle. Included will be information about new requirements for Explosion Relief, Safety-Rated PLCs, Atmosphere Furnaces, Natural Draft Furnaces, “Pulse-Fired” Burners and Isolation Valves.IH