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Panel: Rob Simon
Media: Bryan Goodman

There are no U.S. federal standards regulating upholstered furnishings. However, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CSPC) is in the process of drafting federal safety standards for these products.

In 1975, with the implementation of Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117), California became the first state to set some flammability requirements for upholstered furniture paddings, and it is still the only state with fire safety regulations for upholstered furniture. California’s TB 117 requires upholstered furniture paddings to withstand 12 seconds of an open flame without spreading the flame.

In the United States, fire codes set by the International Fire Code and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the NFPA’s Life Safety Code require that upholstered furniture in health care facilities and university and college dormitories without building sprinkler systems, and all detention facilities must meet the requirements of California Technical Bulletin 133. This standard requires upholstered furniture to meet certain thresholds for heat release. Those same locations are required by these codes to comply with a test for cigarette smoldering.

For residential upholstered furniture, manufacturers, who are members of the Upholstered Furniture Action Council (UFAC), voluntarily comply with the UFAC smoldering test, which tests upholstery’s resistance to ignition from smoldering cigarettes.

Mattresses used in homes, including youth and crib mattresses, must meet two federal flammability standards set by the CPSC. The first, 16 CFR 1633, is a test that measures heat release when mattresses are exposed to an open flame. The second, 16 CFR 1632, tests mattress components to ignition from smoldering cigarettes and it applies to all mattresses. 

In 1988, the UK enacted the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, a strict set of regulations requiring all upholstery fabrics and polyurethane foams used in upholstered furniture (domestic and commercial) to meet fire tests. In 1989, the requirements were extended to other filling materials and in 1993 to mattresses. The regulation set flammability requirements based on both smoldering (cigarette) and flaming ignition tests. Fabrics had to meet a match ignition test while foams had to meet a test with a larger ignition source: a wood crib. The tests required no ignition or very low flame spread.

A December 2009 report, commissioned in the U.K. by the Consumer and Competition Policy Directorate of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), examined the effectiveness of that nation’s flammability standards for furniture and furnishings. An analysis of fire data offered a strong endorsement of the regulations and the use of flame retardants they require. The report found: “Both the number and lethality of F&F (furniture and furnishings regulations) fires rose before the introduction of the regulations and fell afterwards.” According to BIS, “the reduction in the rate and lethality of F&F fires was estimated to equate to 54 lives saved per year, 780 fewer casualties per year and 1065 fewer fires per year in the period 2003-2007.” Learn more about the protective benefits of flame retardants.

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