Keep big picture in mind for one plumbing code

BY BOB MIODONSKI PUBLISHER AND EDITORIAL DIRECTOR WHEN THE TWO major model code bodies began talking about a single national set of plumbing and mechanical codes a little more than a year ago, we admit to greeting the news with a healthy dose of skepticism. "Where have we heard this one before?" we asked ourselves. Yet, the early discussions between the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical

BY BOB MIODONSKI
PUBLISHER AND
EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

WHEN THE TWO major model code bodies began talking about a single national set of plumbing and mechanical codes a little more than a year ago, we admit to greeting the news with a healthy dose of skepticism. "Where have we heard this one before?" we asked ourselves.

Yet, the early discussions between the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and the International Code Council appeared to be sincere. We encouraged the two groups to put aside their differences and reach their goal of a single plumbing code for the entire country.

In this space one year ago, we stated that the concern for the public's well being should be the foundation of one national plumbing code. We noted then that achieving the goal of safeguarding consumers should enable code body officials to overcome any political, legal, geographical and labor issues that may divide them.

Since then, the talks between IAPMO and ICC had progressed to the point that we could sense the momentum building toward making a single plumbing code a reality. We started to believe that the two groups might actually pull this off — to the benefit of consumers, contractors, labor and the country in general.

So, we felt more disappointment than surprise when we reported last month that discussions had collapsed. The two organizations could not overcome their differences after all, at least for the time being.

The chief sticking point is a disagreement about who decides exactly what the code should contain. ICC members oppose IAPMO's ANSI consensus code development process, contending that it allows parties with economic interests to write codes.

ICC, on the other hand, uses a code development process that permits any interested parties, including consumers and industry members, to participate on committees, recommend code changes, testify, make motions and vote. ICC's process reserves the final decision on code content for governmental members, who are not supposed to have any vested interest except public health and safety.

Given that the health and welfare of the nation is at stake here, we urge both groups to get back on track. While not easy, finding common ground is possible for at least three reasons.

First, both organizations knew quite well the process by which the other developed its code when they started talking last year. Despite their reservations, ICC and IAPMO were working on a hybrid code development process intended to satisfy members of both groups. ICC said itself in July that "after much hard work, we have reached preliminary agreement on the basic code development processes that could enable us to jointly provide one plumbing code and one mechanical code for the country beginning in 2009."

Second, while we respect the code development processes of both groups, we cannot say that one is clearly better than the other. The suggestion that one process is too beholden to parties that could make a buck off provisions in a model code rings about as true as the belief that government officials in the other can never be influenced by special interests. Again, both sides have room to compromise.

The third reason is the most compelling, and that's the big picture of what a plumbing code represents. Codes are adopted and administered for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare.

A national plumbing code would instill public confidence that isn't going to be shaken by conflicting provisions from different organizations. It would end the confusion frequently experienced by plumbing contractors as you go about your important task of protecting the health and safety of the nation. Further, it would increase resources available for training and reduce expensive code adoption struggles.

A single plumbing code is a worthy goal, and one that the ICC and IAPMO set out to achieve with the best of intentions last year. Even as discussions fell apart recently, both sides left the door open to resuming talks with each other.

We encourage both organizations to return to their work of creating a single set of documents, and we encourage you and other industry members to support their efforts.