A look at the legal requirements in relation to the bed industry.

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Following mounting speculation, September of last year saw the Government announce that it would open a consultation document on its proposal to make the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 2016, replacing the 1988 Regulations. Established in 1988, the regulations set levels of fire resistance for domestic upholstered furniture, furnishings and other products containing upholstery in order to ensure they are safe for use. Indeed, this has arguably been successful as, according to a report commissioned by BIS in 2009, the regulations in their current form were annually saving around 54 lives, preventing around 800 injuries and more than 1,000 fires, providing savings to health and property at an estimated £140m per year.

“Areas of concern include the scope of the Regulations, their enforceability, and the effectiveness of the testing regime”

It makes sense, then that any amendments to the existing regulations must be made with a view to further improving these figures. So, what are the current legal requirements in relation to the bed industry?

The domestic sector has two sets of legal requirements that must be adhered to: general safety regulations and product specific regulations.

General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR) require domestic furniture that is likely to be used by consumers to be ‘fit for purpose,’ ‘satisfactory’ in quality and, importantly, ‘safe’. The product specific requirements are those detailed in the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, amended 1989, 1993, 2010. It is an offence under the GPSR to supply products that are unsafe and it is illegal to supply items that do not comply with the regulations and the GPSR. Punishments can range from civil claims to fines, product recalls and even prosecution.

Upholstered headboards and footboards of beds must meet all requirements under the regulations. For headboards, the external surface where a label should be attached might be the reverse side. In addition, the regulations consider the fabric on the reverse of the headboard to be a visible fabric.  

Mattresses, bases, pillows, divans and toppers are slightly different in that the regulations apply to the filling material only. The GPSR requires that a risk assessment is carried out to assess the safety of a product, one way is to use standards and BS 7177 is widely used in the UK to demonstrate compliance.

The relevant British Standard tests are smouldering cigarette (BS EN 597-1) and match flame (BS EN 597-2). Product specific requirements are also crucial to meeting BS 7177. Unless the fillings are ‘legal,’ any claim to compliance with BS 7177 is automatically rendered invalid. The tests determine the resistance to ignition of the products in their finished form and mattresses have to be labelled to show compliance with BS 7177. Compliance with BS 7177 entails provisions on sampling and frequency of testing.

Under Schedule 2, Part IV of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, the procedure for testing the ignitability of composite fillings requires that:

1. The test specimen is prepared as set out in BS 6807. It may be constructed from the filling materials to be used or by removing existing ticking from a mattress or upholstered divan or bed-base.

2. The test fabric shall be made of 100% flame retardant polyester fibre, woven to a plain weave, and shall be scoured and heat set; the regulation sets out the warp and weft of the yarn.

3. The test shall be carried out according to Section Four of BS 6807 using ignition source 2 as specified in BS 5852: Part 2. Smouldering or flaming failure shall be as defined in BS 5852: Part 2.

Safety compliance with BS 5852 stipulates the test requirements for various foam and non-foam fillings. Any samples that fail the product-specific tests automatically fail to satisfy the requirements of BS 7177.

Depending on the filling, different aspects of the regulations must be satisfied. For example, polyurethane foam, whether used as the only filling or as part of a composite    must be combustion modified to satisfy test requirements in Schedule 1, Part 1 of Regulations: ignition source 5 of BS 5852: Part 2, using specified cover.

Latex foam needs to satisfy test requirements in Schedule 1, Part 3 of the Regulations: ignition source 2 of BS 5852: Part 2, using specified cover.

For a single non-foam filling, prescribed test requirements in schedule 2, Part 1: ignition source 2 of BS 5852: Part 2, using specified cover, must be satisfied.

In the case of a composite, either (a) each separate filling has to be tested individually or (b) the application of the prescribed test for composite fillings: Schedule 2, Part 4. (ignition source 2 of BS 5852: Part 2 using BS 6807 as the method). In the case of (b), where foam is part of the composite, it must be ‘combustion modified’.

The tests are carried out in two stages, the first with the smouldering cigarette and match flame tests stipulated in BS 7177. If this stage is passed, the mattress would go onto a second stage. For mattresses that contain one or more types of foam, each foam component is covered with a 100% fire retardant polyester covering using the BS 5852 – part 2: 1982 test, which is a more intense flame test than the match flame. For mattresses with more than one type of filling, the ticking is replaced with a100% flame retardant polyester and the BS 5852 – part 2: 1982 test is carried out.

So, to the proposed changes to these regulations. The consultation document, which closed on 11 November, stated that: “the review undertaken with stakeholders over the past few years has indicated that the Regulations are no longer entirely appropriate to changing consumer expectations, and furniture manufacturing practices. Areas of concern include the scope of the Regulations, their enforceability, and the effectiveness of the testing regime. In addition, it was felt that the testing regime, most particularly the match test prescribed in the FFRs, could be updated so that it reflects more closely the way modern furniture is constructed.”

The paper aims to improve the information and traceability requirements for furniture and ensure accurate record-keeping throughout the supply chain. The proposals for amends to testing are intended, according to the document, to:

• Ensure no reduction of safety;

• Allow industry to reduce its use of flame retardants in response to concerns about the impact of these chemicals on health and the environment;

• Leave room for innovation and the development of new technology particularly new barrier technology that would allow fire resistance to be achieved without the use of chemicals - and also innovation as to the materials used in furniture;

• Give industry choices for adapting to change; and

• Be capable of enforcement by Trading Standards.

Whether it is possible for a reduction in FRs without a negative impact on fire safety remains to be seen, but whilst the industry consensus is that a reduction in chemicals would be a good thing, there is some concern.

In its 2017 manifesto, the British Furniture Confederation (BFC) stated that the proposed revisions don’t take into account many of the important issues that have been communicated to the Government over the years from the united industry and that a number of important criteria still need consideration. These include:

• Ensuring test protocols are practical, achievable and representative of materials in the market

• Reflecting the now widespread use of combustion modified foams

• Aligning requirements for upholstered headboards with those for mattresses and upholstered bed bases, which predominantly use the same materials.

• Updating test procedures to reflect best practice

• Improving the requirements for labelling of products

• Adding basic due diligence systems requirements, such as an indication of testing frequency

• Improving clarity and scope to aid enforcement, which, it is believed, is at a low level across the UK.

The BFC has said that it is committed to continuing to raise these concerns, and it supports the Government’s desire to see a reduction in the use of fire retardant chemicals, so long as it does not compromise safety. However it feels that the current proposals could have the opposite effect, in addition to being more difficult to police or to achieve consistent results in comparison to the current state of affairs.

Let us know your view.

To view the consultation: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553216/beis-16-11-furniture-fire-regulations-2016-consultation.pdf

To view the BFC Manifesto: http://britishfurnitureconfederation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BFC-Manifesto-for-the-UK-furniture-industry-2017.pdf