29 Sep How flame retardants ensure product safety and can support the General Product Safety Directive
In 2001, the European Commission published the EU’s General Product Safety Directive (GPSD), a directive ensuring safe products are sold on the market. 20 years later the GPSD is open for consultation. What are the new challenges? The hyper connected society that we live in, together with the increasing number of electronic devices at our homes and offices. Flame retardants play a key role to help meeting fire safety requirements and protect consumers while using these electronics, but is the EU giving the necessary importance to the fire safety debate?
The last 20 years have seen a dramatic rise in the amount and variety of electrical and electronic equipment (E&E) in houses, offices and public buildings, with an estimated average of 22 electronic and electrical appliances in a typical home.
Flame retardants, used for example in electronics, furnishings, and building materials, are an effective element to protect people from fires. They can significantly delay ignition in the early stages of a fire when it can still be extinguished. Flame retardants also delay the spread of fire, offering more time for occupants of a building to escape.
Flame retardants assist in preventing the possible destruction of property by fire. In prolonging the life cycle of products, flame retardants can thereby be considered a key tool in contributing to the circular economy objectives of the EU. 1.14 million tons¹ of plastics used in electronic appliances sold annually in the EU can also be reused as secondary raw materials for the production of a new product.
While the percentage of fires caused by electrical appliances varies from country to country, many of them can be prevented with the right EU fire safety standards, the right legislation and the right product materials.²
The outdated GPSD no longer reflects the rapid developments in products, material composition and markets. This is particularly important with respect to electronic and electrical goods where there is currently a proliferation of applications and devices in homes and offices. There has also been a noticeable evolution in terms of building materials, furnishings and other products, many of which have been considered potentially hazardous with regards to starting fires if not adequately manufactured and treated. Some of these hazardous materials were responsible for over 5,000 deaths from residential fires in Europe. The number of people injured is, also according to cautious estimates, about 10 times as high³.
The ultimate goal of the GPSD is to improve consumer protection and the detection of unsafe products marketed in the EU before they are sold to consumers or as soon thereafter as possible., However the initiative does not currently address fire safety. The ongoing review of the GPSD could be an opportunity to tackle this major gap ensuring that fewer people are killed or injured in fires caused by faulty or unsafe products in the future.
In the review of the GPSD, incorporating a reference or objectives linked to fire safety of products and materials would ensure that products sold in the EU are safe, especially in European consumers’ homes where most fires occur.