07 Nov The importance of UK flammability standards to ensure fire safety of domestic furniture
Modern homes contain increasing levels of flammable materials which pose significant and new challenges in terms of fire safety. Measures that play a role in fire intervention are needed to reduce the risk of a fire starting and/or spreading, alert families, and allow more time for people to intervene or escape in the event of a fire. Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) are crucial in this regard. They offer a simple and safe solution to ensure fire safety in furniture, providing people with more choice, comfort, and affordability without compromising safety.
Across various geographies and notably within the UK, there is a growing emphasis on fire safety driven by a range of factors, including recent fire incidents and evolving safety standards. This attention has led to an increased interest in the use of flame retardants to enhance fire safety measures and has prompted the UK Government to revise existing standards for domestic upholstered furniture and furnishings, which dated back to 1988.
While technical progress and new hazards and risks need to be accounted for to ensure that legislation is up to date, existing UK standards for fire safety have proven to be instrumental in reducing the numbers of fires, casualties and deaths from furniture and furnishings fires. A UK Government research showed that existing standards and flame retardants have saved around 54 lives annually, preventing 1050 injuries and £140 m of property damage. Another study assessing differences in fire performance of an identical room based on furniture fire safety standards in the UK, France and the US, concluded that the UK room configuration was the less flammable.
The ongoing revision of existing UK standards notably aims reduce the use of ”chemical flame retardants” without considering their safety benefits for human health and the environment. The idea that flame retardants create more problems than they solve lacks support from any studies or cost-benefit analyses to date. “Flame retardant” refers to a function, not a specific group of chemicals, and bromine-based flame retardants are crucial for fire safety and consumer protection. BFRs ensure high levels of fire protection leading to a significant decrease in fatalities across the world, preventing losses, and preserving surrounding nature. They also support the circular economy by maintaining their efficacy over time, ensuring an extended product lifecycle. Additionally, BFRs are subject to strict regulation to ensure all products and appliances are safe for everyone to use, handle and store at home or at work. In the UK, only products that have demonstrated safe use are allowed under chemical legislation.
Updating legislation to ensure it reflects current environment and technical innovation is vital, but any revision must not compromise the safety of buildings or their inhabitants. The current regulation strikes an optimal balance between fire safety and safeguarding health and the environment. Data-driven policymaking is essential to navigate our complex society and ensure positive change through coherent legislations. Any revision of current legislation should therefore be based on a thorough assessment of potential risks emerging from lower fire safety standards.