Code? Standards? Guidelines?

Code? Standards? Guidelines?

Many years ago a wise old friend told me, “Words have power and value, so use them with care and economy.”   Sometimes words come out easily, but they are like arrows from a bow, once you let them go you cannot take them back.  When we are with our friends and associates in the industry, it may be okay to be a little careless with what we say.  But in the wrong company, say a regulator, code authority, or an attorney, and what we thought we said may take on a whole new meaning.  So we need to be sure that what we say is what we mean.  If I haven’t confused you yet, read on.

Why do we need to be worried about words in refrigeration?  You can barely hear words in a noisy engine room.  If we get a little too informal with our words, it might get us into trouble.  It may be acceptable mix up words to describe equipment; like slop tank, knock out drum, accumulator; or evaporator, evap, air unit, AHU, or heat exchanger, and so on.  We usually know what we mean.  But to mix up words such as code, standard, and guideline may be a whole different story.  These are distinct and different documents that should not be confused.  They may provide support for each other, however, they are not the same, and they are not all codes.  Guidelines and Standards are valuable documents to our industry for proper installation and promoting safety.  But, Guidelines and Standards should not be called codes.  Each has its own language.  The codes will have “will” and “shall” which is mandatory language.  Standards will also have this language and also words like “may”, recommended language.  Guidelines will have suggestive language, like “may,” “it is suggested or recommended,” you will not mandatory words in the guidelines.   It is important to know what each document type is and to use the correct words when talking about them.

When talking about codes, they are rules that are enforceable, they are legislated by city, counties, States, and national authorities.  The codes set a minimum required level of quality for materials and the construction of various buildings and systems.  In the case of our industry, there are several codes that apply:  International Mechanical Code (IMC); International Fire Code (IFC); Uniform Mechanical Code (UMC); Uniform Fire Code (UFC); American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code (BVP); and ASME B31.5 Refrigeration Piping and Heat Transfer Components – part of the ASME Code for Pressure Piping B31.  Codes are discipline specific.  However, the codes often refer to other codes such as the fire codes, electrical codes, and so on.  This helps to maintain the continuity between the disciplines and to prevent conflicts.

Standards are a sort of an abridgement of the codes, kind of hitting the high points. The standards are generally produced by the various trade organizations such as American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); and International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR).  Examples of the standards of the industrial refrigeration industry are the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/ASHRAE 15 Standard for Refrigeration Systems; and ANSI/IIAR 2 Equipment, Design, and Installation of Closed-Circuit Ammonia Mechanical Refrigeration Systems.  Standards are not codes and should not be referred to as the ASHRAE Code or the IIAR Code.  Standards are not enforceable.  But the standards may be interpreted as best industry practice, and may by reference be enforced as part of a code.  This is the case of both the ANSI/ASHRAE 15 and ANSI/IIAR 2 which are referenced in the IMC.

Guidelines are mostly like suggestions, and are task oriented.  An example of a guideline will be IIAR Bulletin 114, Guideline for: Identification of Ammonia Refrigeration Piping and System Components.   This is a suggested method for marking pipe, valves, and system components.  Guidelines are not Standards, and they certainly not codes.

I highlighted code, standard and guideline above, I did that for a reason.  Each document tells you what it is in its name.  It may not make any difference what title you use to describe each one; but on the other hand, depending on who hears your words, it could make a lot of difference.

Author:  Jim Price

Past National President RETA