By Delon Shetler, SMA Member, Heartland Stairways

Several weeks ago the International Code Council (ICC) held public comment hearings in Louisville, Kentucky. As most of you know, code is arguably the single most important action item of the SMA. Stair code concerns are the single and initial reason why the SMA was born in the first place. The stories of how the SMA was started, how very few contributed huge sums to get things started, how a small group of individuals started advocating for the stair industry, and how the SMA has evolved into the many faceted, very active, and influential entity it is today is fascinating and inspiring.

Our company didn’t join the SMA for many years because we thought the cost was too high. After seeing all the code advocacy the SMA had been doing for us all those years that we weren’t members, we realized we had a duty to become involved and give back. Funny thing is, the more we become involved the more we seem to continue to get back. One area we haven’t delved into helping out very much as a company is code, and therefore, when we heard the hearings were in Louisville it made sense to make a little 4 hour road trip and see what David Cooper experienced at these events.

I have always been impressed by how much heart and effort Dave has put forth toward the SMA and a person doesn’t have to spend much time with Dave to see how passionate he is about stair code. He lives and breathes stair code…the truest of stair nerds. The SMA had a substantial contingency attend this event and the collective that was present and ready to back Dave was pretty impressive. There were 9 issues that Dave had planned to testify and I think most of us other attendees had varying degrees of passion on the various topics.

Dave put forth a lot of preparation on the various topics and on several topics he had assistance from others. Issues ranged from application of a load to determine the guard opening limitations in cable systems, to the relationship of balustrades to floor structure, several relating to the definition of a landing, and more. Dave had received a great deal of input and assistance with the balustrade/floor structure issue and the SMA and fellow industry advocates were very well prepared for this topic. This article isn’t intended to be about the issues but more about the process so I encourage everyone to look at the various issues the SMA argued, the side we chose to argue, and why. You may have ideas and input that could change our argument or give ideas on how to bolster our arguments.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected but I do know there was much more real world experience and common sense present than I expected. I had a somewhat jaded view and expectation of a “big government lobbying” type of atmosphere where money and the loudest mouth has the most influence but this was not the case. You could tell most of the people there were industry experts and the process has enough steps and parliamentary procedure to ensure that all are heard but no single voice gets favoritism by getting more time or attention. Also, any individual that wants to attend can have their two minutes at the podium without any association to any organization. Everyone also gets to have one minute of rebuttal after all are done with first round of testimony. The Chairperson has a timer and no one gets a second more.

This was the Public Comment Hearing (PCH) the second of two in the process. At the first hearing an ICC committee rules in favor or against each of the issues. After their ruling and prior to the PCH, there is opportunity to submit public comment in favor or against their ruling. It can become quite confusing to a newcomer knowing if you are arguing for or against because you are arguing either for the committee ruling or against the committee ruling which could be for or against the issue at hand, or for or against public comments relating to the issue at hand. Such as, you could step up to the podium and argue in favor of the committee ruling which was actually opposed to the issue you also oppose. Each time you had to get straight which side you were on. Plus, sometimes arguments are for or against public comments that were submitted after committee rulings. On the first day it was funny, as John Wonderly, Terrie Stokes, and I approached the podium behind Dave we were still whispering about whether we were for or against. We knew full well what we wanted to argue but we had to get straight which way the committee had ruled prior. We were going to argue in support of Dave about some of the public comments but the issue was voted upon in favor the committee ruling so the public comments became non-issues and further testimony wasn’t necessary. Are you confused? It took me over half of a day in attendance before I became comfortable with knowing the order of processes and knowing how the rulings, arguments, and voting really worked.

My big take away was, the code process is quite lengthy and complex. I have a new and greater appreciation for Dave and his familiarity with the code process and the product he advocates. It was interesting and good to see how much collaboration goes on amongst various trade associations and to a much lesser degree, private businesses. The code process is about as fair as I imagine it could be. There is obviously no perfect system and there are obviously going to be selfish interests and biases to be encountered for such programs but the process has a way of sorting through the BS and letting truth and common sense prevail.

My old take away still is, we need to be very thankful for the SMA, Dave, and all the volunteers that are on the front lines fighting against frivolous regulations that hinder the stair industry’s ability to function while also bringing forth new codes needed to ensure safety to our clients and continued public trust in our organization and industry.