UK REGULATION

UK FURNITURE AND FURNISHING (FIRE) (SAFETY) REGULATION

The United Kingdom has one of the most stringent flammability standards in place for furniture. In 2016 the British UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial strategy stated the following in their 2016 Impact Assessment evaluating the Furniture and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) Regulations:

“Firstly, in order to meet the requirements, manufacturers use significant quantities of potentially harmful Flame Retardant chemicals (FRs) to make [furniture] covers fire resistant to the required standard. Secondly, weaknesses in the current testing regime mean that the testing which takes place (particularly the ‘match test’) may not actually be delivering the desired outcome (i.e. match-resistant furniture) for finished products.” “We do not have comparative data which allows us to assess whether the UK regulations actually lead to safer furniture than in the rest of the EU.”

The UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Impact Assessment on UK furniture safety regulations (2016)

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Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Impact Assessment, 2016
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial StrategyTechnical paper, 2014 

“We do not have comparative data which allows us to assess whether the UK regulations actually lead to safer furniture than in the rest of the EU”

“There is growing evidence that a) BFRs are worn away during normal use, getting into house dust and b) they damage the environment by releasing toxins and dioxins when burnt or dumped in landfill at end of life.”

« There is growing body of literature that has linked health and environmental harm with the flame retardant chemicals brominated, chlorinated and phosphate) used in furniture. Furniture flame retardants can be associated with endocrine disruption, immunotoxicity, cancer, and/or reproductive and neurological impairments, lowered IQ, and hyperactivity. Flame retardants migrate out of furniture, settle in dust, and are ingested by humans and animals. Young children have the highest blood levels due to hand-to-mouth behaviour. In the USA, a majority of residential fire deaths result from inhalation of toxic gases, and soot and smoke can obscure escape. »

“Old upholstered furniture ends up in land-fill. Some of the FR chemicals present therein leach out into the environment and, according to Food Standards Agency research, get into the food chain.”

« Firstly, in order to meet the requirements, manufacturers use significant quantities of potentially harmful Flame Retardant chemicals (FRs) to make covers fire resistant to the required standard. Secondly, weaknesses in the current testing regime mean that the testing which takes place (particularly the ‘match test’) may not actually be delivering the desired outcome (i.e. match-resistant furniture) for finished products”

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Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Impact Assessment, 2016

Ongoing evaluation of UK Regulations

2016 PUBLIC CONSULTATION

The British Government is revising its 1988 Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations. A public consultation took place in 2016. Several organisations, including industry and NGOs together with independent scientists asked for a change to a smoulder ignition test in the UK. Scroll down to see some of the replies.

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BRITISH PARLIAMENTARY EAC REPORT ON TOXIC CHEMICALS

To push the British Government to publish its response to the 2016 public consultation, the British Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC)  issued a report on 15 July 2019 stressing that the Furniture and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 have been under review for nearly ten years with no reforms enacted. In this time frame some of the most commonly used flame retardants have been classed as persistent organic pollutants and substances of very high concern. The report has been welcomed by the Alliance, stating that alternatives to toxic flame retardants in furniture are urgently needed.

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BRITISH GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE TO THE 2016 PUBLIC CONSULTATION

On 18 July 2019, the British Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published its response to the 2016 public consultation on “Updating the Furniture and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988”. The Government announced that it would “Develop a new approach to address the different sources and chemical risks posed by fire to upholstered furniture and furnishings, which will focus on safety outcomes and will be underpinned by a set of essential safety requirements which all upholstered furniture placed on the market must meet. The new legislation will be supported by British Standards which will be developed by the British Standards Institution.” In the meantime, the Regulations continue to apply.

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BRITISH GOVERNMENT’S REPLY TO THE EAC REPORT

In its response of 30 October to the British Parliamentary EAC report, the British Government further elaborated on the envisaged new approach to the Furniture Fire Safety Regulation, consisting of developing new legislation supported by technical standards in collaboration with the British Standards institution, which would be followed by a public consultation.

This Alliance believes that the suggested actions will further delay reforming the outdated fire regulations, which are no longer fit for purpose. The Alliance is also concerned about the fact that the British Government does not plan to undertake further research to assess the dangers posed to furniture workers from the handling and use of foams and flame retardants, as it considers the current regulatory framework adequate.

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« EFIC does not agree with the proposed update of the Regulation as it maintains the existing barrier to trade, and it may even lead to more use of hazardous flame retardant chemicals, opposite of the rationale for changing the tests. »

EFIC, European Furniture Industries Confederation

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 «I have yet to see data that clearly show the need for an open flame flammability standard for upholstered furniture items. »
« …flame retardants used to meet open flame standards may actually exacerbate fire-related deaths and injury. »

Miriam Diamond, PhD University of Toronto

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« Using a smoulder test instead of a match test not only has the potential to reduce the number of fire deaths resulting from the inhalation of toxic gases and fumes, but also prevents the unnecessary exposure of the entire UK population to proven and potentially harmful chemicals. »

CHEM Trust, Chemical safety NGO

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« Open flame furniture flammability standards have not been shown to be effective at improving fire safety. Furthermore, where fire incident data is available, smoulder ignitions – not open flame ignitions – are the predominant source of furniture fire deaths and losses. »

An alliance of NGO’s and Scientists in the US

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« The fire problem with upholstered furniture is overwhelmingly caused by cigarette ignitions. This is where regulatory attention should be focused, since such solutions can be both highly effective from a fire safety point of view, and devoid of negative impact on health and environment ».

Vytenis Babrauskas, Phd fire safety expert

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ABOUT

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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