Volume 46, Issue 6 - July/August 2007

The Next Step
sma shares information
by Dave Cooper, a past president of the Stairway Manufacturers’ Association (SMA). In addition to serving on several committees, he is the code development representative for the SMA.

Member Benefits
Association Has Brought Stair Codes a Long Way

The Stairway Manufacturers’ Association (SMA) is quickly approaching 200 members and is creating value for those members without becoming a trade-show organization and, for that matter, with little emphasis on sales. Instead, the SMA has developed valuable products for the industry that simply cannot be purchased. You might think this would be impossible for your business, or a challenge for any organization, but the viable products of the SMA are its essential elements—elements critical to the industry’s future and current healthful outlook. 

When about a dozen concerned members of the stair industry first met in 1988, their immediate concerns far outweighed their resolve as a constitutional congress, but the original two-fold charter of the organization remains unchanged to this day. Formed with the understanding of the advantages of a trade organization, they had the wisdom to bond a not-for-profit organization with the responsibility to participate actively in development of codes and standards affecting the stairway industry.

SMA efforts, based on research and tested fact, have helped produce codes and standards, but not without considerable sacrifice. For example, many years of effort have culminated in standards for rails that can be interpreted consistently by code officials across the nation. Although these standards have eliminated many traditional rail profiles, they have given the industry a standard it is willing to maintain and assured product safety and acceptance (see sidebar, “SMA in Action,” in this article). 

The SMA’s series of Visual Interpretations of the International Residential Code™ was the organization’s first effort to develop an educational product. These freely distributed publications have become an essential element of national “Code School” curriculums and the first step in developing a comprehensive educational program. Realizing the influence of sharing the benefits of its experience and an understanding of its complex craft, the SMA has created seminars, workshops and forums to provide educational programs for architects, builders and building officials. This has given all sectors of the industry a reason to value and respect the SMA. These products, also not for sale, are available on request to industry organizations representing these sectors. They also are made available at many national conferences in the industry.

Making it Standard
SMA member companies, from the largest to the smallest, realize that the standards they maintain substantiate their reputations. SMA Quality Standards provide architects and designers with an aid that helps assure the integrity of their designs and the resulting product quality. In order to be functional in any market, these quality standards are structured to give guidance to staircase projects of any scale or budget with adaptable levels that can be applied with accountability. SMA quality standards will become the hallmark of stairbuilders and stair-parts manufacturers and bring to every job the importance and value of doing business with the best professionals in the industry, the members of the SMA. 

Understanding that SMA members participate at different levels, as they can, but with an ever-growing increase, two additional committees, education and marketing, have been added to funnel this energy into the organization’s products. Just as in any business, growing a valued product line will net growth. The future of the organization is clearly in developing products to meet the needs of the industry and capitalizing on opportunities to bring these products to the forefront. Working on these committees not only provides benefit to the industry but learning experiences and opportunities for members to hone their skills and develop strategies that they can “try at home.”

The education committee is now developing programs to meet the needs of our member companies and aims to build an infrastructure that will provide their employees with the skills and training necessary to grow their companies. The organization is aware that, in this technological age, the industry simply is not doing a good enough job of making today’s youth aware of the potential for successful careers. The SMA is working to acknowledge the values of becoming a skilled craftsman and realize how the latest technological developments apply to opportunities in our niche industry. This approach will not only allow members to grow and retain their highly valued human resources, but also supply them with an expanded field of interested and dedicated candidates to nurture.

In combination with the SMA code and research committee’s efforts to promote stair safety, the education committee will soon introduce the SMA Stair Safety Program. This program will supply lesson plans and materials to support the education of children and teachers in home-safety issues regarding stairs, handrails and guards. Additional information will be provided targeting stair design for homebuilders and remodelers and use of stairs by the elderly. 

The marketing committee has an exciting, kinetic mix of ideas quickly being implemented. From an outstanding presentation at our recent annual conference of opportunities for members and potential members, to organizing editorial packages for the media, to plans for effective distribution of the Stair Safety Program, the committee’s efforts are producing results. Working closely with other committees and directors, its efforts focus not only on presenting our value to the industry, but also on public awareness of the value of doing business with SMA members and using their products. They look forward to household recognition of the SMA logo and what it represents.

In Chicago, May 1-3, 2008, the SMA will celebrate 20 years of service to the industry. You can reap the benefit by joining the SMA, or by simply understanding the value of doing business with SMA members. In Chicago, the SMA will provide two tracks of educational seminars spanning two days, working meetings of committees in which you can share or garner skills, as well as many networking events and some special pre- and post-conference opportunities.

Visit our website at www.stairways.org or call toll-free at 877/500-5759. 

SMA in Action
It is hard to imagine a company selling stair parts or building stairs that has not been affected by changes in the building codes related to handrail graspability over the last ten years. Although many on the outskirts of the industry may not be aware of the restrictions, even the general public is witness to the lack of wood handrails in public buildings and the necessary subscription of designers to specify small section profiles almost completely void of detail.

In 2002, the Stairway Manufacturers’ Association was successful in revoking most of the restrictions on residential handrails by introducing an enforceable, scientifically tested standard to the International Code Council (ICC). It was adopted and incorporated in its International Residential Code (IRC) model. This standard, known as “Type II,” regulates the size and position of graspable recesses in profiles of 1 1/4 inches to 2 3/4 inches wide, with no perimeter restriction. However, many jurisdictions do not adopt the IRC and elect to adopt only the International Building Code model (IBC), which also includes residential requirements. For example, the state of California currently is in the process of implementing the IBC model, but not the IRC. In the IBC, handrails were still restricted to those profiles with a perimeter of 6 1/4 inches or, in other words, the circumference of a 2-inch diameter. This was a drawback to early arguments that supported this restriction in the model code preceding the merger of Building Officials and Code Administrators, Southern Building Code Congress International and International Conference of Building Officials into the International Code Council.

At the ICC Final Action Hearings this May in Rochester, N.Y., an SMA code change proposal was adopted recognizing the extensive independent research and testing validating the “Type II” standard and incorporating it into the IBC. This will allow consistent acceptance of handrail profiles regardless of the model code used for residential code enforcement. This is a significant and historic step that has taken more than five years since the original acceptance by the IRC.

The SMA’s transparency in its mission and its work for consistent interpretation of the code has played an important role in developing respect for its positions and its accountability to comply with the code. There is still work to do, in the form of further education and possibly testing. SMA research validates reasons for changes in the restrictions on handrails used for commercial/public purposes. Many persons with disabilities cannot form an effective grip on the profiles allowed. Mobility experts are calling for solutions that allow for as many grip options as possible. 

Type II profiles do not require a complete wrapping of the fingers to form an equivalent grip and they can be designed to provide a continuous gripping surface without the interruption of mounting hardware and balustrades that cause grip and release usage. 

The current code for public buildings simply does not permit the functionality required by the elderly and the disabled. It restricts the use of wood and other low-cost alternatives to metal fabrications and prohibits design and engineering freedom to further develop improved solutions. The SMA is committed to continue its participation as a member on the ICC/ANSI - A117.1 Standard Committee for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. We will continue to support the adoption of TYPE II rails in the standard with our pending proposal to what will become the 2008 A117.1 standard. At the hearings in Rochester, it was clear that this would be an important element for the adoption by the IBC that currently perceives conflicts with the references to the A117.1 standards in the code. Clearly there are many people with questions that need to be answered and much to be learned, but you can be sure that the SMA will remain dedicated to the pursuit of liberty from unsubstantiated regulation and graspability for all. 

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