A variety of test methods for flammability standards for furniture exist in Europe. Some of them lead to the use of hazardous flame retardant chemicals without providing a demonstrated fire safety benefit. The complexity of standards and regulations to comply with imposes a costly burden on furniture producers.
Furniture products are currently not subject to harmonised European legislation, and in the absence of European rules, certain Member States have been active in drafting country specific fire safety regulations and standards for upholstered furniture, bedding, mattresses etc. Office furniture and furniture for the public and contract market are often subject to different standards and fire safety regulations.
For domestic furniture, most EU Member States have no regulations imposing fire safety requirements for the production or sale of furniture products. Some Member States apply EN 1021-1. Two Member States, UK and Ireland, have national regulations in force, imposing specific requirements and test methods for domestic furniture.
Flammability standards that require resistance to an open-flame ignition source, such as the current British fire safety test method (BS 5852) and the Irish method (I.S. 419:1988), have led to intensive use of flame retardant chemicals. Open-flame tests are frequently requested in the public and contract market, including in many public tenders.
Furniture for the Contract and Public Market, Office Furniture
In the office and public market, a number of different regulations, standards and test methods exist.
- In many EU countries, requirements are set by the local risk assessment/safety authority or other buyers/tenderers.
- The absence of harmonised rules creates obstacles to trade, barriers in the internal market and an overall system that is difficult and costly to comply with.
- Compliance to any given standard may be requested in any country. For instance, public procurers might require compliance with the British BS5852 standard.
- Sometimes, standards made for other products (e.g. building products) are applied to furniture products.
The Alliance is calling for an EU harmonization for flammability requirements using smoulder ignition tests instead of open flame tests that require the use of flame retardants.
Green Public Procurement (GPP) criteria
for furniture products, 2017
The European Commission warning Member States on negative effects from flame retardants’ use when choosing open-flame tests for upholstered furniture.
Furniture for the Domestic Market and Private Use
The European Furniture Industries Confederation (EFIC) has filed a legal complaint against the furniture regulation in the UK and Ireland, and replied to a public consultation on updating the British Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations.
Legal complaint against the UK and Ireland
The British Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations No. 1324 1988 and the Irish S.I. No. 316/1995 – Industrial Research and Standards (Fire Safety) (Domestic Furniture) Order, 1995 are in breach of Articles 34 and 36 of the TFEU.
It is up to the Member State imposing a restriction on trade to provide satisfactory proof of justification of the measure, setting out technical or scientific evidence to the effect that: (a) the intended decision is justified on one of the grounds of public interest set out in Article 36 of the Treaty or by reference to other overriding reasons of public interest; and (b) the intended decision is appropriate for the purpose of achieving the objective pursued and does not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain that objective.
The United Kingdom and Ireland fail to provide satisfactory proof of justification on the overriding reasons of public interest. For the reason explained in this complaint, there is a strong indication that the measures are neither proportionate nor effective.
In the light of the existence of a barrier to trade and in the lack of justification for the measures in place, taking into account the breach of the principle of proportionality as required by Article 36, we urge the European Commission to investigate this complaint.
Roberta Dessì, Secretary General, EFIC
The UK has evaluated its furniture flammability regulations and asked the opinion of stakeholder in 2016. Read more about it at the following links:
EFIC’s public consultation response on updating the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations in the UK
The Alliance for Flame Retardant Free Furniture in Europe consists of stakeholders ranging from environmental and health NGOs to industry, cancer organisations, fire fighters and labour unions.
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