Throughout my career, I have traveled the world to participate in many different standards systems and dialogues related to safety. A common question I’ve heard during those discussions is, “How have the United States and Canada been able to build effective enforcement systems?”
The simple answer is that enforcement must be an integral part of the entire “system” of safety. Adopting a code or standard isn’t enough; to effectively protect the public, there must also be an infrastructure in place to ensure that compliance is achieved.
Over the last 100 years, the code enforcement systems in place in the U.S. and Canada have been critical to the reduction in fire and electrical related incidents, deaths, and injuries. However, we face some troubling trends that have the potential to erode this success and put communities at risk. Because the enforcement system has been successful for decades, it is now being taken for granted, and inspection and review resources are under tremendous strain. Enforcement officials tell us that they are not able to spend the needed time doing effective inspections or review. Meanwhile, policy makers and budget creators can suffer from “blue-sky syndrome”—when they consider safety issues, they don’t imagine fires or smoke, just blue skies, forgetting that it was the historical investments in effective enforcement that helped us get here.
So how can we reverse this development?
We are dedicating much more NFPA® time and resources to enhancing effective enforcement—that broader effort is one of the organization’s key strategy priorities. We will focus on further understanding the needs of the enforcement community, the tools that can be put in place to help, and the ways we can expand our role to ensure the enforcement system not only regains lost ground but continues to develop its critical role in keeping us safe. While we expect this to have a more immediate impact in the U.S., we also anticipate that we need to adopt a similar focus internationally in many places where enforcement is just getting started.
We all know that enforcement isn’t the only key to safety, but it is a critical one that we need to ensure remains viable and effective. For NFPA®, enforcement is also a critical part of how we advance our vision—the elimination of death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards.