Online Exclusives

CPSC Revives Interest in National Flammability Standards for Upholstered Furniture

By Peter G. Mayberry, president, Mayberry & Associates | April 11, 2013

Fire safety technology meeting scheduled and comments sought.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is revisiting proposed test methods for ensuring that upholstered furniture can meet national flammability standards. The proposal dates back to 1993 when the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) filed a petition seeking national standards, and was followed up in 2008 when CPSC proposed two options: 1) use of upholstery cover material that complies with a prescribed smoldering ignition resistance test (“Type I furniture”); or 2) use of an interior fire barrier that complies with specified smoldering and open-flame ignition resistance tests (“Type II furniture”).

In its 2008 proposal, CPSC called for performance tests based on furniture mockups to simulate the “intersection of the seating are of an item of upholstered furniture” along with standardized test materials. At the time it was thought that furniture mockups should be sufficient to predict how full scale furniture would perform under flammability testing and would be more cost effective for manufacturers since they wouldn’t have to burn “real scale” furniture.

Since the 2008 proposal, however, CPSC staff has conducted flammability testing on full-scale furniture and bench-scale mockups and found that the bench-scale approach does not offer “an adequate prediction of real furniture flammability performance, especially in the smoldering ignition tests.” Continued testing also found that the open-flame ignition on bench-scale qualification tests for fire barriers do appear to result in improvements in full-scale fire performance. At this point CPSC's testing further indicates “significant promise for barriers as a means to address the flammability risk posed by upholstered furniture.”

This is good news for nonwovens producers who offer fire-resistance barrier materials as national standards could eventually require that every piece of upholstered furniture offered for sale in the United States meet standards that can be cost-effectively and reliably met through use of barrier material.  

To further investigate the state of fire-resistant technology, CPSC has announced that it will hold a Fire Safety Technology meeting on April 25, 2013 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at its laboratory in the suburbs of Washington, DC. The street address is 5 Research Place, Rockville, MD 20850. The Commission is also seeking public comments on the issue and complete information can be found online at:!documentDetail;D=CPSC-2008-0005-0002

The deadline for filing comments is July 1, 2013 and, interestingly, not a single comment had been filed as of April 8 even though the meeting was first announced on March 20 (Federal Register page 2013-06372). 

According to the notice, the Fire Safety Technology meeting is intended to gather additional information about the current and anticipated progress in fire barrier technologies and their application to upholstered furniture which, again, could be a great opportunity for the nonwovens industry. Another purpose, according to CPSC, is to discuss other technologies and options to reduce the fire hazard posed by residential furniture. 

Topics for the Meeting

In general, the April 25 meeting will focus on current and anticipated progress on fire barrier technologies and other options to reduce the fire hazard posed by residential furniture. The topics for the meeting are below.

1. Fire Barriers
• Types of products available
• Materials and technologies used in fire barriers
• Capabilities and limitations of fire barriers
• Mattress fire barriers
• Cost considerations

2. Commercial Furniture Fire Safety Technologies
• Fire reduction strategies
• Applicability to residential furniture

3. Application of Other Fire Safety Technologies to Residential Furniture
• Fire technologies used in marine and aviation furniture
• Fire technologies used in other countries
• Cost considerations