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Make your voice heard

HOW TO RESPOND

We need your help: the government consultation on UK furniture fire safety regulations is asking for our views and every voice counts. 

Consultation documents on the government website (opens in a new window) 

 

The consultation is now closed - thank you for your response. 

How to respond:

 

  • Or send an email or letter to:

New approach to furniture fire safety consultation Office for Product Safety and Standards

Department for Business and Trade

4th Floor Cannon House

18 The Priory Queensway

Birmingham B4 6BS

To help, we have provided sample answers to the questions found on the online and downloadable response form below, or please feel free to use your own words. 

If you only have a few minutes, the key questions to answer are questions 7 and 12.

​If you have a little more time, please answer questions 1-14.

​If you have any questions about this consultation or the answers we have drafted, email delythupholstery@gmail.com 

SAMPLE ANSWERS

Question 1 / Transitional period

We are happy with a transition period. We are concerned about any further delays in the adoption of both Standards and Regulations. We would suggest 3 years for a review of the regulations. A study of the occupational exposure of upholsterers to flame retardant chemicals has been submitted for funding and its results should tally with a 3 year review.

Question 2 / Economic Operators

The onus in the draft regulations is on the upholsterer to retain records of the chemicals used in a piece they reupholster and to ensure that these have fire testing records. Upholsterers are almost all micro businesses buying upholstery supplies not from manufacturers but from upholstery supply distributors. How will it be ensured that the manufacturer provides the upholstery supplier who in turn provides the upholsterer with the relevant information on chemicals and fire testing?

In answer to question 12 we propose that on reupholstery, the upholsterer should either fit a naturally fire retardant interliner or use top fabric that has passed the cigarette (smoulder) test.   

 

Question 3 / Baby products

We do agree that baby products be excluded.

By excluding baby products, the Government is clearly acknowledging the harm to small children caused by toxic flame retardants.

 

We are surprised that the draft regulations are not more robust at moving away from toxic flame retardant use in sofas and single bed mattresses and other furniture.

Note the Whaley/Hull 2023 report refers to sofas as a “large reservoir of flame retardants which may also present a disproportionately large source of exposure of chemical flame retardants". Babies can spend large parts of their day sitting on sofas and close to the floor in homes where the toxic flame retardants have settled in the dust, and children as young as 2 years old can move to sleep in single mattresses.

Modern scatter cushions are usually 50cm square. So cushions that used to fall outside the regulations will now be included and this risks increasing not decreasing chemical flame retardant usage.

Where furniture is built with natural materials such as wool and coir and horsehair we believe this should be excluded from the regulations.

Question 4 / Baby product types

No comment

Question 5 / Outdoor furniture

Yes

Question 6 / Pre-1950 furniture 

Yes

Question 7 / Open flame test

We are concerned that the harm outweighs the good with chemical flame retardants and that the new essential safety requirements may not lead to a meaningful drop in flame retardant usage.

(a) The upholstery industry has been aware of the health risk posed by flame retardant chemicals since the 1970s. When a fabric is back coated and we sit at a sewing machine with a needle perforating holes in the back coating 15cm away from our face we risk breathing in chemicals released. When we fit fabric to a chair we lean our face and whole body into the chair or sofa to be able to squash our arms down the gap between seat and seat back. We strip top covers off older furniture to find crumbling orange foam part of which has disintegrated into a dust. We are concerned by our occupational exposure to toxic flame retardants and the health risks of infertility, cancer, thyroid problems and neurotoxicity. 

(b) We note the multiple ways in which children are adversely affected by toxic flame retardants as noted in the Whaley/Hull report 2023. Children lack the enzymes needed to break down and remove toxic chemicals from their system. They mouth items, they spend more time close to the floor where the chemicals collect in dust, their metabolic pathways are too immature to metabolise the chemicals and they ingest more dust, breathe more air and consume more food relative to their body size when compared with an adult.  Chemical flame retardants have been linked to impaired neurological development in children, reduced IQ and behavioural problems.

With this information we question whether the benefit of flame retardant chemicals is worthwhile in any situation, for any piece of furniture.

(c) For a manufacturer, under the new regulations, the finished furniture article is fire tested rather than the constituent parts. It is hoped that the manufacturer will spend time developing a product that is slow to ignite and slow to burn without the addition of chemical flame retardants. This will involve time, knowhow, experimentation, layering of materials and expensive fire testing of finished products. To then say that the foam needs to be tested separately completely undermines all the good work of this research and development process. If the finished article meets the fire test without chemical flame retardants in the foam, why then add them to the foam? This goes against the stated aim of the new legislation - to reduce the use of toxic flame retardants. Furthermore if foam is treated with chemical flame retardants it will require incineration. Whereas if the foam was not treated it could be suitable for recycling.  The flame retardant chemical treatment of foam is contrary to the move to a circular economy, its incineration will release carbon.

(d) Studies have shown that chemical flame retardants used in furniture exacerbate smoke and fire toxicity. The Fire Brigade Union supports increasing evidence that chemical flame retardants provide negligible delay to fire ignition, worsen fire conditions, and therefore will increase dangers to firefighter safety and welfare. We do not believe that any benefit of flame retardant chemicals can be assessed without also looking at their proven harm. 

(e) Despite much of Europe and the whole USA using a smoulder test, and the UK Environmental Audit Committee 2019 having recommended a smoulder test, the regulations contain an open flame test. Only with the smallest flame size will we see the potential to design out chemical flame retardants and then only for the companies with research and development departments large enough to dedicate time and money to these fire safe & chemical free design solutions. We would ask for a smoulder test to apply for all furniture.

(f) The number of fire deaths in the UK is not out of kilter with the number of fire deaths in other countries across Europe - this shows no clear causal link between the use of chemical flame retardants and fire fatalities.

(g) Manufacturers are required to consider alternatives to chemical flame retardants “if practicable” - we are concerned that this is not a robust obligation.

(h) We are aware that chemicals migrate out of foam and furniture, so is it only when furniture is new that these flame retardant chemicals offer any benefit and in weighting benefit versus harm has this short lifespan been taken into account?

(i) the 2023 Consensus Statement called on the Government to achieve fire safety without a blinkered single focus on ignition tests, and instead to look systematically at the evidence available. The report Characteristics of Modern Domestic Fire Scenarios is such evidence. It has various recommendations to improve fire safety including: regulation of consumer electronics, creating a metal wall barrier in fridges between sound insulation foam and ignition source, public awareness of lithium ion batteries and where to safely charge, routinely inspecting imports of furniture, consider practical help for those in single occupancy dwellings given 95% of fatal fires occur in single occupancy dwellings. The Manchester Fire Service as referenced in the Whaley/Hull 2023 report believes 57% of fire deaths are initiated by smoking materials - could the cigarette industry be compelled to improve the reduced ignition propensity cigarettes so that they extinguish.

(j) the reference to “inherent” fire retardant materials and "chemical flame retardants" are both confusing as drafted. In common parlance "inherent" means wool and horsehair and natural products that do not readily burn. However the industry markets “inherently flame retardant fabric” as  fabric where the flame retardants are chemically bound into the yarn rather than back coated.  These chemically bound fabrics should not avoid consumer labelling.  Note that the Whaley/Hull 2023 report notes that even where the chemicals are chemically bound into the fabric they are still released into homes and the environment by abrasion and to a lesser extent by volatisation and diffusion.

(k) the regulations measure the human health safety of a chemical with reference to UK Reach. UK Reach is currently assessing chemicals at a much slower rate than EU Reach. Therefore if chemicals only need to comply with UK Reach consumers in the UK will potentially be at a greater risk of harmful chemical exposure than they were under previous regulations within EU Reach. Reliance on the UK's slower paced chemical regulation presents a significant barrier for international trade. These draft regulations risk acting as a barrier to trade with Northern Ireland (where EU Reach applies) and also to Europe. Europe judges many flame retardant chemicals to be damaging to the environment. This also leaves the UK vulnerable to regrettable substitutions where chemicals banned are replaced by similar formulations.

Question 8 / FR technology hierarchy

 

Given the risk posed to human health, the environment and the occupational health of upholsterers who strip down furniture revealing foam dust, we do not feel that the hierachy imposes any firm obligations on manufacturers to be responsible for what they manufacture and the toxicity of the chemicals therein. 

The obligation to consider how to design-out chemical flame retardants “if practicable” risks hitting a cost hurdle and being abandoned. There is no benchmarking, monitoring or enforcement and no clear circular economy or producer responsibility goals.

Question 9 / Composite testing

Yes we believe composite testing gives mass manufacturers the opportunity to design for fire safety whilst reducing chemical flame retardants.  However it is hugely disadvantageous to small manufacturers and upholsterers creating bespoke pieces - who do not have research and development laboratories and cannot afford the cost of burning one whole item to comply. For truly bespoke pieces this problem could be overcome if the smaller manufacturer meets a smoulder test - either of the top fabric or of the natural interliner. Look to the studies undertaken by NIIST in the US into the success of interliners in a fire in comparison to flame retardant chemicals.

Question 10 / Labelling

 

We fully support the introduction of robust labelling requirements. First it is hoped these will offer consumers the choice of whether to buy a product with or without flame retardants. Second, at end of life of the product it allows the waste disposal company to only incinerate the part of the furniture that contains persistent organic pollutants. It should also facilitate the recycling of the parts of the furniture that were not contaminated by toxic chemicals.

We would like to see:

(a) The chemicals listed for each individual filling material separately (so those fillings containing toxic chemicals can be incinerated at end of life);

(b) The chemicals being clearly identified with their common chemical acronym (such as TCPP rather than a “firemaster” type brand name)

(c) A separate label for the reupholstery industry identifying either that an interliner has been used (and leaving any existing fire labels if these survived in place); or that the top fabric was smoulder resistant - and if this was achieved through flame retardant chemicals then the chemicals should be clearly identified - or if this was achieved through design without flame retardant chemicals that too could be listed.

(d) The responsibility for providing a label for a chemically treated top fabric should rest with the manufacturing fabric house.

We believe the labelling per component part is necessary for end of life recycling and moving to a circular economy. It is also important for the occupational health of an upholsterer. 

Question 11 / Technical file

No comment

Question 12 / Permanent label

 

We do not agree with the proposals for re-upholstery.

 

The reupholstery industry offers a meaningful contribution to the circular economy in repairing, refreshing, renewing and recycling furniture and in designing and building one off quality long lasting bespoke pieces, yet the regulations as drafted disproportionately harm the industry.

The manufacturer need only test the “finished product” (and currently the foam) rather than each constituent part. Mass manufacturers will be able to use their research and development departments to repeatedly amend and burn test whole pieces of furniture until they have passed the test.

This discriminates against the smaller furniture manufacturer who cannot afford to burn whole items of furniture.

 

For upholsterers creating one off entirely bespoke designs and having these built on a one off basis by a carpenter is a meaningful part of their business. This is also a skillset as a country that we should want to preserve as these products tend to be well built and built to last. However this part of our business will be rendered impossible if the entire item needs to be burnt. Truly one off bespoke furniture needs to be treated differently. 
 

For upholsterers stripping down a piece of furniture to its wooden frame and rebuilding it, the upholsterer is discriminated against when compared to a mass manufacturer. The mass manufacturer might be able to design a product that is chemically flame retardant free. The upholsterer however has to rely on each layer of the upholstery having been component tested - so the fabric would be treated with chemical flame retardants and probably each constituent layer. This is because it is easier to create a whole chair that does not ignite than it is to create an individual layer of filling that does not ignite.

The 1988 regulations were introduced to address the fire risk presented by petro-chemicals. Natural materials such as hair and wool and coir do not present the significant fire risk that foam presents. For the past 30 years hair wool and coir have been used by upholsterers on pre and post 1950 products without being treated with FR chemicals. It now appears that each of these natural products will need to be tested and if they fail the test then treated. This is entirely illogical, because these materials are compressed by the upholsterer to a firm density making the already inherently fire retardant natural material less likely to ignite due to its density. These natural materials have not ever been subjected to fire testing and they should not now be subjected to testing. These natural materials are used on pre 1950 frames, it is illogical that they cannot also be used on post 1950 frames. This again results in the unfairness that the product an upholsterer can offer is inferior to that offered by a mass-manufacturer.  

Where an upholsterer receives a client’s sofa and due to a slight degradation in fillings the upholsterer chooses that the most cost effective way forward is to add a small level of new filling materials - in this case would the upholsterer have to turn the business away unless the chair was provided with an intact existing fire label? The regulations are not clear on this point.  Most of the chairs and sofas we are handed for re-covering and “adding” filling material do not still have a fire label still intact. We risk losing the majority of our overall business if this were the case and perfectly refreshable furniture would have to go to incineration.

 

Where an upholsterer buys old chairs or sofas at auction or markets, intending to restore them, recover them and resell them - this would only be possible if a fire label was intact (or the chair pre-dated 1950).  It would be historically tragic that the only future for our depth of post 1950 vintage furniture is incineration, or a full strip down and rebuild using individually chemically treated filling materials. Sites like Ebay, Vinterior, Etsy, Pamono, 1st Dibs, Facebook marketplace, The Saleroom, Decorative Collective, Instagram, auction houses, antiques markets and shops and car boot sales will be frozen out of selling vintage upholstered furniture under this restriction.

Currently an upholsterer working with a 75% natural fibre top fabric and a certified wool interliner can avoid the use of chemical flame retardants in the top cover - this exception seems to have disappeared - are the regulations insisting that all top fabric applied by an upholsterer is treated with chemical flame retardants?

A workable solution to all the above problems would be for the upholsterer to either 

(a) apply a fire safe 100% natural interliner immediately under the fabric top cover, or 

(b) for the fabric top cover to be certified as smoulder resistant. 

The Whaley/Hull report (page 105) notes the effectiveness of a barrier/interliner solution. Interliners are effective for fire safety and for reducing the hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide released in a fire situation.
 

The top fabric supplier would be responsible for certification of the smoulder resistance status and whether this had been achieved with or without chemical flame retardants and for the clear labelling and identification of chemicals used.  

The top fabric supplier and interliner supplier should be accountable for providing the upholsterer with the relevant fire label which would in turn by applied by the upholsterer.

There seems little logic in an upholsterer retaining records of each filling material for 10 years. In reality that data needs to rest with the piece of upholstered furniture itself for end of life recycling. If the manufacturer of fabric/interliner/filling supplies multiple labels with its product, these could be affixed by the upholsterer. This would have the benefit that at end of life the furniture could be properly assessed and potentially avoid incineration.

Question 13 / Second hand products

Please see our response to question 12. 

Question 14 / Online listings

Where new furniture is sold online we agree that fire labelling should be shown. 

For vintage furniture however we refer to answer 12 above. We would not like to see the trade of vintage furniture shut down because items post 1950 do not  carry a fire label.

Question 15 / Legal period

No comment

Question 16 / Review clause

No comment

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