29 May 2024, 23:11
By Furniture News May 07, 2014

Fighting the fires of Fake Britain

The revelations disclosed in an episode of BBC’s Fake Britain in January threatened consumer confidence in beds and upholstery nationwide – for a market with such stringent flammability regulations, how could so many unfit products slip through the net? After featuring on the show, testing specialist FIRA International became the first port of call for many, from industry members to the general public, seeking clarification on the issue and safety reassurance – COO Phil Reynolds offers his thoughts …

What impact do you think the Fake Britain episode had on the industry, and what were your thoughts on the show?

The show certainly caused some major ripples. Nobody wants to supply potentially dangerous or illegal products, and nobody wants the brand damage that appearing on a show like this can cause – it has certainly caused the industry to focus in on its due diligence systems.

Whilst I think everybody would welcome a focus on enforcement of the Furniture & Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, the timing of the show, in line with the January sales slot, was less than helpful. The way some of the results were presented was also slightly sensationalist, suggesting that eight out 10 sofas on sale were non-conforming and, with sofas in particular, did not necessarily reflect the true safety risk posed to consumers.

What kinds of enquiries have you been handling since?

From the industry we have been helping our clients regain confidence in their due diligence systems through training, technical support and testing.

From the general public we have been fielding all sorts of questions, from “what is the correct label for my product?” to “can I set fire to my furniture to see whether it is fire-safe?”

Where in the supply chain do you think the problem lies?

It is very difficult to define whether there is actually a significant problem and what the root cause is. What is good is that the whole supply chain is getting around the table. We recently arranged a meeting involving retailers, manufacturers, back-coaters and chemical suppliers to discuss potential issues, solutions and risk minimisation.

“The timing of the show, in line with the January sales slot, was less than helpful. The way some of the results were presented was also slightly sensationalist”

What’s happening with the Regulations?

The programme highlights one issue with the current Regulations – and that is the difficulty of enforcement. The Regulations are designed to help manufacturers combine compliant fabrics, foams and fibres into a final, compliant product. All the tests are generally carried out on virgin materials.

When Trading Standards come to enforce the Regulations, they have to buy final items and strip the materials out for testing. There can be a number of problems with this, such as not being able to get enough fabric or foam from a product to test, or potential contamination of the product during manufacturing, storage or delivery.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has just launched a consultation into a potential amendment to the Regulations. This won’t address the enforcement issues, or indeed many of the areas that need clarification. The change is to look at undertaking the match test, used for cover fabrics, over combustion-modified foam, rather than non-combustion-modified foam as at present. This should have the advantage of more closely reflecting real life and also reducing the levels of fire retardants used.

However, some research is needed to confirm BIS’ claims that this will significantly reduce cost, while not affecting safety. FIRA has responded to this challenge and is currently undertaking a project, in conjunction with a fabric manufacturer, back-coater and furniture manufacturers, which should help answer these questions.

How do you believe the industry should respond to the BBC programme?

Obviously, it is great that the whole supply chain is getting together to look at potential issues and solutions. Already, the industry is tightening up its due diligence systems, which can only be a good thing for minimising any risk to the consumer. It also highlights the value of good, independently-audited codes of practice – such as the National Bed Federation’s NBF Approved members’ scheme. Such schemes really give added confidence to both retailers and consumers.

There is opportunity for the wider furniture industry to benefit from a similar scheme. What I would say is that I would urge the industry not to be complacent – there is a strong likelihood that the BBC will revisit this issue when the main Fake Britain series is aired later in the year.

Phil Reynolds is COO of FIRA International, which provides flammability services to the industry alongside a wide range of trade support services. This article was published in the April issue of Furniture News magazine.

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