Journalist, Cherry Park

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Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
March 1, 2013

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International Fire Code: Not International at All

The International Building Code (IBC) and the International Fire Code (IFC) are compatible US-based model codes in the sense that other jurisdictions may adopt and adapt them.

They have been adopted in most of the United States and territories such as the US Virgin Islands. However, despite their misleading titles, the codes cannot be said to be international in any sense, since they have not been adopted elsewhere.

The IBC and the IFC are published every three years by the International Code Council (ICC), a group formed in the US in 2003. The latest revisions were published in 2012. The IBC deals with fire prevention in the construction and design of new buildings, while the IFC is concerned with fire prevention and fire risks once a building or facility has been completed and occupied.

2012 International Fire Code
The 2012 IFC aims to safeguard public health and safety by addressing conditions hazardous to life and property from fire, explosion, the handling or use of hazardous materials, and the use and occupancy of buildings and premises. It establishes minimum regulations for fire prevention and fire protection systems.

The code regulates minimum fire safety requirements for buildings, facilities, storage, and processes. It addresses fire prevention, fire protection, life safety, and the storage and use of hazardous materials, providing a total approach of controlling hazards (whether indoors or outdoors) at all buildings and sites.

According to the ICC, the purpose of the IFC is to establish “minimum requirements consistent with nationally recognized good practice for providing a reasonable level of life safety and property protection from the hazards of fire, explosion or dangerous conditions in new and existing buildings, structures and premises and to provide safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.”

The IFC topics include “general precautions, emergency planning and preparedness, fire department access and water supplies, automatic sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, special hazards, and the storage and use of hazardous materials.”

According to the ICC, key changes to the latest edition of the fire code include:

 

  • Revised definitions for health, day and ambulatory care occupancies clarify how they are classified.
  • New requirements for photovoltalic solar cells on roofs will help ensure safe fire fighting operations.
  • Mass notification fire alarm systems with text displays and captions are now required in Group A stadiums and grandstands with an occupant load of 15,000 or more.
  • The automatic sprinkler protection requirements for manufacturing, display and storage of upholstered furniture were clarified.
  • Portable fire extinguishers are now required in Group A, B, and E occupancies regardless of automatic sprinkler system protection.
  • Requirements for dry cleaning plants using Class III-A and III-B combustible liquids were relaxed.
  • New provisions in the semiconductor fabrication facility requirements address sub-atmospheric pressure gas systems.
  • Dust deflagration hazards must be reviewed, analyzed and engineering or administrative controls are now required to be documented and implemented in the IFC hazardous material provisions.
  • Code text addressing automated LP-Gas cylinder exchange cabinets was added.

 

 

Fire regulations around the world
Australia has its own building code. Europe uses Eurocodes as models for structural design. Canada has its own model building code, which forms the basis for all of its provincial building codes. Even Russia and South Africa have their own versions of building regulations. Most of these building codes incorporate aspects of fire prevention.

But why have these countries — and others whose fire regulations are clearly not fit for the purpose, such as Brazil — not adopted and adapted the IBC and/or IFC? The codes are freely available for use by jurisdictions internationally, but it seems that only the US is doing so. It is puzzling. These codes, which have been carefully honed in the last 10 years, would save countries the time, expense, and expertise required to develop their own codes.

Perhaps these countries need to remember the lessons of past disasters, including two we discussed recently: the Brazil nightclub fire and the Lakanal House tower block fire in London.

Could other countries consider the use of these codes to improve their own fire safety standards?

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Sheh
Sheh
March 2, 2013 9:47 am

There is no doubt that International Fire Codes is a comprehensive documents aimed at safegaurding life and property. But it could only be implemented across the world other than US when its credibility is established and people see visible benefits after estabishing such codes. Nobody denies the dividends it could accrue but an international body with renewed vigor is needed for the proper implementation of this code. we hope that by adopting this fire codes in other countries lots of lives and properites of millions could be saved in future. 

gbrown
gbrown
March 2, 2013 4:59 pm

This is quite true . Most countries especially Africa and Asia lack proper safety and fire prevention codes which meet international standards. I am currenting educating Ghana government the need to have fire prventions and fire alarms in every home and in building plans for both domestic and corporate buildings.
I think, with your support we may be able to influence other countries to adopt and adapt this best practices. Send me the link to soft copies of the revised code for 2012
 

pparsons
pparsons
March 3, 2013 10:28 pm

International Standards are recognised by the World Trade Organisation. International Standards development bodies are further recognised in the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.  These are ISO, IEC and ITU. The ICC does not make the list. International Standards organisations include broad stakeholder representation from member countries around the world. When we look at the membership of the IBC-FS Code Committee, we see it has 15 members, all of whom are domiciled in the USA. This is not internationally representative, despite the optimistic name of the ICC. Establishing international credibility would include the need to engage people from countries other than USA.… Read more »

Sheh
Sheh
March 4, 2013 9:43 am
Reply to  pparsons

It’s true that International Fire Code can play a very significant role to protect lives and property. But I would like to emphasize on its implemenation. Sometimes lax implementation of codes does not produce better results and create an imagine of negativity. The efficacy of these codes would only come to surface if their strict implemenation is ensured. 

Welland
Welland
March 6, 2013 5:41 am
Reply to  Sheh

It would never work, buildings are built to different standards, the response by the fire service is different etc etc. There are so many ways in which each country require a different approach to fire safety. A true International code of practice would be so complex it would make the document redundant as it wouldn’t be understood by most. Why would we need an International code I have no idea.

Finbar
Finbar
March 13, 2013 5:24 am

As per usual, the Americans call something “international” even when it is only themselves that use it and then expect everyone else to fit around their assumptions! … Don’t they also call baseball “The World Series” and yet it is only American teams that play in it! The problem with this is that it is making an assumption that only their ideas are correct and fitting for every country and their economy. I have never heard of let alone read these “International” standards and I know without even looking it will be based around their companies and their products! Why… Read more »