Posted on 14/09/2023 in Furniture & Textiles Fire Safety Regulatory 2023
UK consults on Furniture Fire Regulations

Public consultation on recast of UK’s 1988 Furniture Fire Safety Regulations open to 24th October 2023. The consultation includes a draft regulatory text “to illustrate the approach”.

The proposed new regulations would require (art. 12) the finished upholstered furniture item, and all (polyurethane) foam used in it, to both be resistant to an open flame and to smouldering ignition and also to be self-extinguishing or slow burning. A compulsory “Flame Retardant Technology Hierarchy” is defined (art. 14), requiring to assess practicability of using “inherently flame-retardant materials” and of adapting design rather than using “chemical flame retardants”. Any FRs used (art. 11) must not (as present in the furniture) “jeopardise the safety of any consumer or other person”. An obligatory label must indicate that “Carelessness causes fire”, must specify that the furniture contains “chemical flame retardants” if this is the case, and must list all FRs used (the importance for end-of-life recycling of knowing which FRs are used, is noted). The scope of the Regulations is modified: for example, floor cushions and pet pads are now included, baby equipment is excluded, smaller items are excluded. Outdoor upholstered furniture is excluded, subject to being labelled “Do not use or store inside due to risk of fire”. Reinforcement and supply chain responsibility are emphasised.

The Ministerial foreward states “The Government is clear that upholstered furniture placed on the market in the UK must be fire safe to protect consumers in their homes. The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 have reduced deaths by fire and are recognised and recommended internationally as a gold standard for furniture fire safety to this day”.

The consultation introduction indicates “a new and more proportionate approach that is directly focused on risks, potential hazards, and harm, while ensuring accountability throughout the supply chain”. It notes that “Manufacturers are already increasingly finding innovative ways to meet fire safety requirements. This includes developing new chemical flame retardants solutions which are mineral, phosphorus and nitrogen-based that, as yet, have no known hazards …”.

The consultation document notes that naked flames still today represent the ignition source in 30% of fires where furniture is the first item ignited and in 9% of all domestic fires, but that smouldering ignition sources have developed, in particular ubiquitous electronics and batteries. It therefore concludes that both flame and smouldering ignition tests should be required. The document also notes that because polyurethane foam is a highly flammable and lethal in fire, and that fire barriers can be breached, foams themselves should be fire tested, as well as fire testing the finished furniture item.

The consultation is supported by publication by the Office for Product Safety and Standards of a report by consultants and academics which develops a “matrix”, for different upholstered items and sizes, of fire risk against flame retardant exposure. This report cites four risk assessments of FRs in upholstered furniture stating “The starkly contrasting conclusions of these studies exemplifies the difficulty in evaluating the relative risks and benefits of CFR use in furniture.”

pinfa notes several technical questions:

  • Reactive and polymeric FRs: How will the “Flame Retardant Technology Hierarchy” implement the requirement to consider “inherently flame-retardant materials”, for which the proposed definition (art. 7) is “A material which offers a level of flame resistance without the use of additional chemical additives or treatments”. Does this authorise use of materials containing polymeric or reactive FRs?
  • Why only polyurethane and latex foams? The current definition (art. 7) of “foam” covers only polyurethane and latex foams. The specific fire testing requirements for foams (as naked foam, not as in the final product) would thus not apply to any other polymer foam.
  • Enforcement for imported furniture. How will testing requirements and documents be ensured for importers (e.g. respect of the “Flame Retardant Technology Hierarchy”, list of FRs in an item of furniture)? In 2014, BBC “Fake Britain” showed that furniture and mattresses sold by leading UK retailers (Tesco Direct, Argos, Amazon, Homebase, SCS, Harveys) badly failed UK furniture fire safety regulations (pinfa Newsletter n°41).


  • Fully supports the overall approach of the proposed new Regulations, but clarifications will be needed to ensure feasible applicability by manufacturers and retailers
  • Welcomes the strong commitment to a high level of furniture fire safety and the recognition of the effectiveness in saving lives of the 1988 UK Furniture Fire Safety Regulations.
  • Notes the recognition that flame retardants can be effective in preventing and slowing fires
  • Supports that FRs should only be used where appropriate
  • Supports that only FRs which are safe as used should be authorised
  • Recommends to modify the label wording from “contains chemical flame retardants” to “contains flame retardants to reduce fire risk”.
  • Underlines that need for better enforcement and to ensure that imported furniture fully respects fire safety specifications and FR documentation

UK public consultation on recast of the 1988 Furniture Fire Safety Regulations, open to 24th October 2023 (midnight, UK time). “Smarter Regulation: Fire safety of domestic upholstered furniture”. Includes: public consultation document (19 questions), Impact Assessment, draft regulations (“Draft legislation for illustrative purposes only”.

Research Report for the UK Office for Product Safety and Standards, April 2023, contributors Nia Bell, Oakdene Hollins Ltd, Stuart Harrad, University of Birmingham, T Richard Hull, University of Central Lancashire, Paul Whaley, Whaley Research, 114 pages. “Fire risks of upholstered products”

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