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Handling Code Conflicts

by Mark Lamendola

Where there is a conflict between the code and the requirements of a particular application, what do you do? The typical reaction is to ignore the code. As long as the inspector doesnít notice the violation, everythingís cool, right?

Suppose someone dies because of a fire or other catastrophic event. A forensic expert uncovers that code violation. Well, guess what? Whether that violation was the cause of the death or not, things donít look so good for you. You could face jail time.

Another common reaction is to try to browbeat the authority having jurisdiction or some other party who has authority to make code exceptions. Or, rather than browbeat, just "color" things a bit to get approval. This approach, also, can send you to jail.

The ethical approach is the only way to resolve code issues. The requirements are:

  • Complete analysis: Show why the conflict exists, and why implementing the code in this application violates the intention of the code and/or will prove excessively burdensome.
  • Full disclosure: If there is a possible downside, donít hide it.
  • Full documentation of proposed solution, including technical references, to show how it conforms to the intent of the code.
  • Full authorization: Get a Letter of Exception or other formal document to show your solution is acceptable, even though it deviates from the code.

If your design or intended work exceeds the code, thatís usually not a problem. But, when you cannot implement the code as a minimum standard, make sure you get legal authorization for an alternative method. If you cannot get such authorization, you may have no choice but to abandon the project or take a different approach to accomplishing it.

Do you think a code violation is minor, and "just this one time wonít hurt?" Many people think that about safety practices. The problem is, that kind of thinking manifests itself repeatedly, like a cancer. When a forensic investigation into an industrial accident produces a final report, that report almost always shows a series of violations that led up to the disaster.

You are either code-compliant or you are not. If you are entrusted with public safety, you have an implied contract with the government and your customer that you will follow the appropriate codes. Failure to do so might save a little money in the short run, but it could ruin you and others shortly thereafter.

And donít forgetóyou can join a code-making body to revise the codes. Just donít go revising them on your own.