Government Consultation on Draft Fire Regulations An Interview with Interested Parties

The Government has published a consultation on new draft fire regulations for upholstered furniture so we arranged for our in house blogger Cameron Temple to interview and get the viewpoint of Delyth Fetherston-Dilke and Sharon O’Connor.  They were also interviewed on the Gavel and The Gabble podcast it is well worth a listen and available wherever you get your podcasts.


The government want to introduce new regulations that will turn the upholstery industry on its head and we have until October 24 to change this, so we need your help.


Unsurprisingly, big businesses and mass manufacturers will likely breeze past the change in regulations, with the exception of some time-consuming admin, whereas small businesses, who take care over their craft and deliver high quality products, will seriously feel the effects.


To put it as simply as possible, current regulations dictate that a piece of furniture has to pass an open flame test.


This means that the manufacturer has to put a Bunsen burner against it and see how long before it sets fire.


Under the new regulations an upholsterer has to pass the same test, but on each layer of fabric and filling that they use.


For example, let’s say an upholsterer uses one layer of wool, one of cotton, foam, horsehair or any other fabric, then every single layer has to pass the open flame test, which is extremely stringent.


This is where flame retardant chemicals come in.


For an upholsterer to adhere to the governments strict regulations they have to use a lot of flame-retardant chemicals, which are highly toxic.


The chemicals are can cause cancer, infertility and neuro-toxicity in children, which can lead to behavioural problems and reduced IQ.


To make matters worse, a different department of the government has openly acknowledged the toxicity of these chemicals and as such said that all waste furniture, anything at the end of its life when a consumer doesn’t want it anymore, has to be incinerated.


They say that we can’t risk these chemicals going into landfill and then seeping into river systems where they can become harmful to humans and wildlife.


But, from an environmental perspective, this is counter-productive, as incinerating every piece of waste upholstered furniture will be appalling in terms of progression to net zero carbon emissions, which is something the government has promised.


A solution could be to move towards similar fire regulations as the USA, which a 2019 environmental audit in this country had already decided would be a good idea.


Across the pond they use a smoulder test, which requires putting a cigarette on the top fabric of a piece of furniture for 45 minutes and if the fabric sets fire, then it gets rejected.


In this case, far fewer toxic chemicals are used in the fabric and instead fire safety is ensured by tightening the weave of the fabric.


This is a really effective and relevant test.


Manchester Fire Service says that 57% of furniture fires are started by a cigarette and since the US moved from an open flame test to the smoulder test, they have seen no increase in fire deaths related to furniture and as such Europe now also avoid the high use of flame-retardant chemicals that exists in the UK.


Another big issue for the auction industry in particular in the new regulations is if an item of furniture hasn’t got a fire label, and it’s post 1950’s, then you can’t sell it.


Antiques pre 1950 are excluded from these regulations but valuable pieces by Arne Jacobsen or Hans Wegner will not be allowed to be sold at auction if the government get their way as it stands.


The auction and upholstery industries are the greatest recycling businesses in the world.


Upholsterers will work with sofas up to 400 years old, encouraging their customers not to throw their old sofas into landfill and buy a new one.


Instead, people can look at their furniture in a different way, if they love the style, shape and it still fits their living room, then an upholsterer can bring back to life a piece of antique furniture that will be better than anything that can be bought in a store.


It’s not only sustainable, in that customers don’t have to replace their furniture every four years, due to mass manufacturers using poor quality materials such as cardboard and chipboard, but it’s a really beautiful way of refurbishing bespoke furniture and it helps support small businesses.


These new government regulations, however, could potentially cripple this industry.


A big business like IKEA or can afford under the new legislation to burn one piece of furniture for every new design they create.


Whereas for a small maker who creates bespoke furniture or an upholsterer reinvigorating an old sofa, they don’t have the budget to do that, especially if they’re doing a one-off job for a client, and the government has completely disregarded these people in their new regulations.


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