horrific nightclub fire in Santa Maria, Brazil in January last year,
Brazilian officials knew they needed to improve fire safety in their
country. Instead of building their fire safety program anew, they turned
to century-old expertise at the National Fire Protection Association.
NFPA staff and Brazilian officials are now collaborating to translate
the needed documents and ensure they meet the needs of that country.
represent the knowledge and experience of the experts that develop
them. As trade and communication technology erode national borders, the
reach of this knowledge and experience should not be confined by
With the U.S. and the
European Union in the first round of negotiations for a Transatlantic
Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal, this issue is ripe for
discussion. These negotiations will cover many topics, from tariff
levels to rules for investment ventures. One topic, though, stands out
for standards developers: regulatory cooperation. In dozens of economic
sectors, differences between regulatory schemes in the U.S. and the E.U.
create non-tariff barriers to trade that result in billions of dollars
of lost trade revenue, without necessarily improving the health and
safety of the citizens on either side of the Atlantic. Standards, as the
basis of many regulations, have therefore become a topic of interest
among negotiators and stakeholders.
both U.S. and European standards are used throughout the world, they
are developed through two very different systems. The three European
standards bodies – European Committee for Standardization (CEN),
European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), and
the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) – have a
close relationship with the E.U. government. Furthermore, participation
in these bodies is limited to European national players. In contrast to
the E.U.'s top-down approach, the U.S. standards system lives in the
private-sector. Several hundred organizations, both big and small,
develop standards to meet the needs identified by their stakeholders.
The process is open for anyone to participate. Over the years,
government involvement in this process, and use of these standards, has
led to a very effective public/private partnership.
the two systems meet different needs, in a globalized economy their
differences can pose a challenge to free trade. Manufacturers, and
others, may strongly prefer a single standard, applicable worldwide, but
governments have the right to set health and safety standards to
protect their citizens as they see fit. To help ease potential
conflicts, World Trade Organization (WTO) Members must consider the use
of international standards in developing their regulations before
resorting to nationally developed standards.
the U.S. and the E.U. embark on trade negotiations, there is lingering
contention over which standards are actually "international.” Standards
developed by U.S.-based organizations are used all over the world.
Hotels in Dubai follow the requirements of the Life Safety Code,1 international pipeline developers use ASME's Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code,2 and these are just two among hundreds of examples.
of the global footprint of U.S. standards, the E.U. narrowly defines
international standards as those developed by the International
Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International
Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), or the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU). WTO rulings that international standards
can be any that are developed under open, transparent, and balanced
systems have not changed the E.U.'s position.
the trade negotiations are to put the U.S. and the E.U. on a path
toward greater regulatory harmonization and cooperation, standards must
be part of the discussion. As the current situation in Brazil shows,
regulators must have the choice to pick the standards they believe will
best protect their citizens. And, if regulators are to have a choice,
the global standards system must thrive. As stakeholders in the TTIP
process, NFPA and other U.S.-based standards developers have been vocal
in educating U.S. negotiators about the benefits and vitality of our
system. While the E.U. has adopted a top-down approach, the U.S. system
relies on flexibility and autonomy for both the private sector and the
regulators. It also relies on open, transparent, and increasingly
How does this
impact the fire protection engineering community? Safety codes and
standards are developed and maintained by subject matter experts, like
fire protection engineers, and they reflect the will of society on
complex technical subjects. The example here is fire safety in
nightclubs. Working together, we can seek to mitigate and eradicate
fires like the recent one that occurred in Santa Maria, Brazil. To
paraphrase the great philosopher George Santayana, if only we can learn
the lessons of history, we will not be condemned to repeat them.
Meghan Housewright, Casey Grant, and Don Bliss are with the National Fire Protection Association.
- NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2012.
- Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, ASME, New York, 2013.