Code Making Panel (CMP) 9 is being forced to revisit the question of whether most residential ceiling boxes should be required to be listed as suitable for fan support. Although the panel rejected a proposal to this effect during the 1996 code cycle, the question is back before the panel as a proposed Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA).

The proposed TIA would rewrite Sec. 370-27(c) to classify most residential ceiling boxes "as likely to support a fan" in the future. Those boxes would be required to be listed as suitable for fan support, even if there were no fan initially installed. This would apply to all indoor ceiling boxes in the habitable rooms, foyers, stairways, and bathroom areas (except near the tub) of dwelling units, except those 3 ft or less from walls, or less than 7 1/2 ft from the floor, or except boxes not supplied by a general-purpose branch circuit, as in the case of smoke detectors.

Panel work to date

The specific language in the TIA was developed by a CMP 9 task group that met in July 1995 to work on technical refinements to language the panel had worked on (but ultimately rejected) during the 1996 cycle. The CMP 9 chair, Dale Deming, had agreed to convene such a task group during a discussion at the 1995 NFPA Annual Meeting because additional substantiation was available that had not come before the panel at its last meeting (in December 1994.) Although the task group came to consensus on the technical language, the task group only said that the issue "might" have sufficient emergency character to warrant a TIA as opposed to being held until the next cycle.

Ralph Tidwell of Reiker Enterprises, Inc. submitted the resulting language as a TIA. His company is a leading manufacturer (and an important supplier to home-center type stores) of support systems and boxes that have been listed as suitable for fan support. A TIA must be endorsed by a panel member, and Artie Barker gave his endorsement. He is a special expert on the panel and had been retained by Reiker in an attempt to reverse the previous CMP 9 action.

In support of his request, Tidwell cited a report from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that there were 40,055 injuries in a recent one-year period from fans, of which he claimed only 6% could be shown to be due to other types of fans, or causes unrelated to installation practice, such as accidental contact with moving blades or faulty mounting brackets. Then he cited the likely 4.6 million new home starts before the next Code, which he claims average eight possible fan locations each. Therefore, he concluded that adoption of the TIA would eliminate 36.8 million potential accident locations.

Under the NEC operating procedures, a TIA cannot be processed, even after receiving the endorsement of a panel member, unless it is determined to be of an emergency nature. An ad-hoc committee is established under the auspices of the Correlating Committee to make this determination. This committee consists of the relevant panel chair, the chair of the Correlating Committee, and at least two members of the Correlating Committee (CC). In this case, the members were Harold Ware (Chair, CC); Dale Deming (Chair, CMP 9); Paul Duks (UL, CC member); Phil Simmons (IAEI, CC member); and Bill Summers (CC member). This group voted 4-1 (only Harold Ware in favor) against consideration as being of an emergency nature, and the TIA was rejected for processing.

Standards Council reverses decision

After this decision, Robert Jorgensen of RACO appealed to the NFPA Standards Council requesting that the TIA be processed. The Council held a hearing on January 10, 1996 in Miami, Fla. Mr. Tidwell and other representatives of Reiker Enterprises and RACO spoke in favor of the TIA.

Mr. Deming opposed the TIA, arguing that although fans do fall, he doubted that box failures were the cause. He said, based on his conversation with William King of the CPSC, "there's not one shred of evidence in here that the [CPSC] has any complaint against the outlet boxes."

The Standards Council agreed that the potential problem of falling ceiling fans was of sufficient magnitude that the issue should go to the panel for ballot. Accordingly, the proposed TIA will appear in NFPA publications with a closing date for public comments of April 26, 1996.

Under NFPA rules, a TIA is balloted in two parts; part one is whether the panel agrees with the technical merits, and part two is whether the panel agrees that the question is of an emergency nature, according to the published criteria. A three-fourths affirmative vote on both aspects is required to show panel support. The Correlating Committee is concurrently balloted under the same procedure. Even if the required majority is not obtained, the Council may, and occasionally will, overturn a panel vote.

Conflicts of interest

The Council pointed to standing requirements for special experts who are retained to advocate in support of a specific issue. They must declare those interests and refrain from voting. This rule would appear to apply to Mr. Barker.

The Council also criticized Mr. Deming for functioning as Chair when his company (Thomas and Betts) makes fan boxes. The Council said this would apply even if his company would gain no advantage from the defeat of the TIA. Mr. Deming had said to the Council that although he was opposing the TIA on principle, in fact his company (which also makes fan boxes) would benefit from its adoption because at present "there is about a 325% extra profit margin if you buy the fan box."

Since boxes (Art. 370) are a major part of CMP 9's work, the Council's criticism carries serious ramifications because it makes it difficult to understand how a manufacturer could serve as a CMP 9 Chair. Nevertheless, Mr. Deming has had an exemplary record of service in that capacity since 1986.

Editor's note: I am not a disinterested observer in this case, because I am a principal member of CMP 9, classified as a special expert. I voted affirmatively on the TIA's technical merits, and negatively as to its emergency character on the initial ballot. My ballot may change after the circulation of comments.