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Whether you’re a new engineer, old engineer, inspector, manufacturer or contractor, everyone needs an understanding of codes. Codes, along with physics, dictate engineering our plumbing systems. They are established to protect and maintain public health, and there is likely no single more important item in an engineer’s skillset than to understand codes.
I suspect that is why I am often asked, “How do you get involved with codes?”
My answer varies depending on the role the individual asking is interested in pursuing. Sometimes, they only want to gather a better understanding of codes. Other individuals however, want to affect changes in codes. For an engineer, more often their charge is to affect codes with the intent to make them more cohesive or standardized.
To that individual I say, get involved.
If you’re interested in influencing codes, you should make it a point to join professional associations, as well as code bodies and enforcement groups. In most cases, you’ll be volunteering your time, but it’s an opportunity to open up the doors of communication and to understand and influence.
Below is a partial list of groups and associations to be considered:
Within each of these professional organizations there typically are committees that operate to coordinate with code bodies and other organizations. For example, ASPE has a legislative committee that has members representing the organization and engineering community. These liaisons work with their members to impact the codes. Getting involved with the committees, or networking with its members, is good starting point. Take the time to visit the websites for each of the organizations listed above and inquire about the committees most involved with codes.
In addition to joining a committee within a professional organization, you could apply for a position on a technical committee with code bodies such as the ICC and IAPMO directly. Or, suggest a code modification during a “Public Review Process” or “Comment Process.” The committees reviewing the code modifications will go through a series of drafts, and each will go through a review process and a public hearing until the code change is either accepted or rejected. Use this as an opportunity to stay informed and get involved.
An enforcement association is also a unique avenue to communicate and impact code and its interpretation. My experience of being a member of my State Fire Marshalls Association has been immeasurable. Building these relationships and bonds improve the understanding of application of code and the direct impact of its interpretation. I have found that being involved with the people who review the plans, inspect the buildings, and fight the fires makes me a better engineer/designer.
Getting involved and volunteering your time can open the door to opportunities very quickly. City’s often work with associations and individuals to staff their review boards and code committees; it’s just another way to get your foot in the door. You can call the mayor or city engineer, or even talk with the plan review. Communication and knowledge opens these doors.
Personally, I have been involved with multiple review boards and code adoption committees. Because of my extensive knowledge of codes and involvement through volunteer work, these doors were opened. Please note that you should always understand what your liabilities can be when volunteering.
Engineers can be involved with and influence codes by volunteering their time and selecting a path that meets their interest. Volunteering with enforcement associations, professional associations, standard committees and code bodies is the key to code influence, and code influence and understanding keeps humanity safe.