Statement about testing for The Furniture & Furnishing (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988
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One of UKTLF’s primary objectives is to improve consistency of results and interpretation between member laboratories.

There has, over recent months, been a very serious concern identified over some minor technical issues relating to the standard test fabric used in the testing of filling materials and interliners against Schedules 1, 2 and 3 of the 1988 Furniture & Furnishings (Fire)(Safety Regulations. THIS DOES NOT AFFECT THE TESTING OF COVER FABRICS!

UKTLF convened a meeting in July 2006 of all laboratories in the UK who are UKAS accredited for testing flammability against the Furniture Regulations and at which representatives of a manufacturer of the test fabric and LACORS were also present.

The 1988 Regulations introduced requirements for filling materials and interliners for the first time to raise consumer safety levels in domestic furniture.

The purpose of the standard test fabric is to contain those filling materials and/or to represent a nominal outer fabric which contributes little or nothing to the ignitability behaviour of the filling or interliner under test. A flame retardant polyester fabric was identified as meeting this requirement and was specified in detail in Schedule 1 of Statutory Instrument 1324 - the 1988 Furniture Regulations.

It has recently become apparent, after research by UKTLF and discussion with the current manufacturer of the test fabric, that the existing test fabric does not fully comply with the specification given in the Regulations. This is in part due to changes in manufacturing equipment and techniques and the apparent unavailability of the raw materials specified. However UKTLF is currently investigating a possible source of raw material in order to ascertain if it is feasible to manufacture a fully compliant fabric.

So what does this mean for consumer safety?

In the opinion of all the textile and flammability experts who form UKTLF, the technical issue does not affect the performance or validity of the test results produced. However, since the specification of the test fabric is detailed in the Regulations and therefore forms part of consumer law, a problem arises in both enforcement of the Regulations and laboratory’s abilities to test for strict compliance of filling materials with the appropriate ignitability tests as given in the Regulations if the fabric as specified in the Regulations is not available..

As we seem to live in an ever increasingly litigious society where lawyers seek to exploit any reason to challenge the validity of a test report, the use of a test fabric which does not fully meet the stated specification provides such an opportunity for the test report to be challenged in Court.

This means that the validity of testing carried out for either Local Authorities or for manufacturers, importers and retailers as part of their due diligence programme could be challenged on technical grounds in a Court.

In the event of a successful challenge in Court, this could have the effect of rendering the current Regulations as unenforceable as it would be proven impossible to conduct the testing in accordance with the relevant ignitability tests for filling materials and interliners. It does not, however, affect the validity of tests on fabrics for cigarette and match resistance.

The impact of the Regulations becoming unenforceable could be to potentially reduce consumer safety back to the pre-1988 levels.

What should be done in the meantime?

After discussions with LACORS (Local Authority Co-Ordinators for Regulatory Services), UKTLF recommends that manufacturers, suppliers, importers and retailers should not abandon their own quality control programmes or test procedures for demonstrating compliance with the relevant ignitability tests. Irrespective of the above issues, the conducting of testing will still show evidence of due diligence.

This does not affect the testing of cover fabrics and non-visible fabrics to Schedules 4 and 5.

Equally it does not mean that furniture already on sale or currently being manufactured would fail to meet the requirements of the Regulations, merely that it will be impossible in the opinion of UKTLF, to demonstrate that the filling materials used meet the letter of the law. It remains to be determined by the Courts whether it is the letter of the law or the spirit of the law which will prevail until such time as the matter is resolved.

There has been some debate about whether the General Product Safety Regulations would provide an alternative defence in law in the event of a claim against a supplier. It is for the Courts to interpret whether the General Product Safety Regulations could be applied but it is the opinion of UKTLF that continuing to test filling materials and interliners using the existing test fabric may contribute to a defence under the General Product Safety Regulations (assuming that the Courts deem this an acceptable alternative). UKTLF is unaware of any currently pending cases where these issues could be tested in the Courts.

UKTLF member laboratories will continue to provide testing services. Test reports produced after 1st August 2006 will carry a disclaimer in respect of the use of the specified standard test fabric (where applicable). 

The text of the press release issued on 27th July is given below.

PRESS RELEASE

An urgent meeting was convened by UKTLF (the trade association for UK-based UKAS accredited textile laboratories) on 20th July 2006 to discuss a potentially serious problem arising with the Furniture & Furnishing (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988.

The meeting, which was held at the Furniture Industries Research Association in Stevenage, was attended by UK based flammability testing laboratories including representatives from all of the major international textile testing companies and a representative from LACORS (Local Authority Co-Ordinators for Regulatory Services).

The issue under discussion is that the Furniture Regulations require a flame retardant polyester fabric to be used in the testing of filling materials and interliners used in domestic furniture. However it has become apparent in recent months that a polyester fabric fully complying with the specification given in Schedule 1 of the Regulations is not currently available. This may potentially affect the validity of test reports being produced not only by UK laboratories but by any test laboratory carrying out these tests.

The fabric currently used by testing laboratories, although sourced through a number of different suppliers, all originates from a single manufacturing source and deviates from the specification only inasmuch as the fibre diameters and yarn twist levels differ from that specified in the Regulations.

Textile and flammability experts present at the meeting expressed the opinion that, as the test fabric is intended to contribute little or nothing to the ignitability of the test sample, the deviations do not affect the burning behaviour and therefore does not affect the validity of the test results obtained.

Following investigations by UKTLF, it has also been claimed that it not technically possible to produce the fabric as specified in the Regulations as suitable fibres are not commercially available and the twist levels specified could not result in a satisfactory fabric of consistent quality and behaviour. This view was also supported by the manufacturer and by a leading provider of textile higher education.

Speaking on behalf of UKTLF, the Honorary Secretary, Alan Ross said “Whilst this is not the only problem with the Regulations most of the other problems involve shortcomings in the testing methods or interpretation of the Regulations. If test laboratories cannot carry out the test exactly as specified then the Regulations for filling materials potentially become unenforceable. The consequence of doing nothing would be to increase the likelihood that consumer safety levels on domestic furniture will drop, possibly back to pre-1988 levels when the requirements for filling materials were first introduced. 

As the introduction of requirements for filling materials was in direct response to public outcry after several fatalities in 1987 arising from furniture fires, we are calling on the Government to take the opportunity to urgently amend the Regulations. The UK maintains possibly the highest safety standards for flammability of furniture in the world and we would not like to see these compromised simply because the test fabric specified in 1988 is no longer available. The Minister must act and act now if we are not to see the UK market flooded with dangerous furniture.

In the meantime, UKTLF is advising the industry to continue testing their products as, even if compliance with the Regulations cannot be proven, at least doing something may continue provide some defence of due diligence until this problem is resolved. With effect from 1st August 2006 and where applicable, test reports issued by UKTLF member laboratories will carry a disclaimer relating to the deviation of the test fabric.”

To date, the Department of Trade and Industry have resisted all calls for the Regulations to be amended even though it is now 18 years since the Regulations were introduced and changes are needed to clarify a number of issues which have arisen since the last amendment in 1993 and to take account of other developments in the furniture industry.