Sent:28 May 2019 09:48
To:Russell, Graham (Office for Product Safety and Standards)
Cc:A wide range of interested parties.
Subject:The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988
Dear Mr Russell,
Please let me help you and BEIS find a sustainable solution to overcoming the current impasse regarding the review of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (FFRs).
Since BEIS's 2016 consultation, your response to stakeholders repeatedly asking when you will amend the FFRs has remained "soon" (e.g. as stated by the Minister, Kelly Tolhurst, to the APPG Fire Safety and Rescue on 30thApril, and in the latest Parliamentary Q&As raised by the Countess of Mar). Citing this long delay as the issue being 'complex' must be increasingly embarrassing to the Department.
It is evident that BEIS is still struggling to grasp the full complexities and undertones, and find the technical expertise necessary to make realistic recommendations and changes in this vital area of product safety.
I wish to propose that with a group of genuinely independent experts I form a small consortium to help BEIS:
- bring the FFRs into line with the rest of the EU and the USA by adopting a new cigarette test, dropping the match and fillings tests, thereby removing all flame retardants from UK domestic upholstered furniture; and
- revise the other outstanding aspects of the FFRs, which everyone agrees are hugely out of date, including those not covered by the 2016 consultation for whatever reason.
As you probably know, with full stakeholder support I first introduced proposals to revise the FFRs back in 2009 because they were already outmoded and not fit for purpose. I have worked consistently since to try to improve these regulations for the good of product and public safety, first as a full-time civil servant and now as an independent. I believe I still possess the most comprehensive and unbiased knowledge of the FFRs and their flaws that you will find. I also have the technical expertise and understanding for what needs to urgently change and how to achieve it.
I also understand the political, industrial and academic landscapes to help you navigate conflicting stakeholder interests to make this right. I have maintained excellent contacts across the globe including both US and EU experts in furniture flammability standards, and I continue to work on a daily basis with groups and individuals campaigning for better health and environmental management regarding flame retardants, such as the Cancer Prevention Society and the Countess of Mar.
I am therefore confident that I can bring the right mix of people on board, and that this proposal could be fully completed by the current exit target date for Brexit (31 October), enabling the UK to have the means to quickly remove the trade barrier the Regulations currently represent.
I believe my proposal will be supported by, amongst others:
- The Environmental Audit Committee
- UK firefighters
- The European Furniture Industries Confederation
- Trading Standards
- Grenfell residents (I work closely with Justice4Grenfell and Humanity for Grenfell and was recently commissioned by an Inquiry solicitor to provide a memorandum for Judge Moore-Bick on the role the FFRs played in the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy)
- Universities researching the negative effects of flame retardants, such as Birmingham and UCLAN
- The Cancer Prevention Society, Breast Cancer UK, CHEM trust, Greenpeace
- The Countess of Mar and her supporters
- Furniture manufacturers - large, e.g. IKEA, and small, e.g. Cottonsafe
- The public
- The APPG Fire Safety and Rescue
I appreciate that certain elements of industry will not readily support the removal of flame retardants from furniture. However, if you watched the Environmental Audit Committee's session of 14 May, you will have noted the failure of industry to answer convincingly the EAC's fundamental question of why the UK alone insists on fire tests that don't work while the rest of the world is convinced that a cigarette/smoulder test alone supplies fire safety, without the need for any flame retardants.
I understand that Kelly Tolhurst is due to face the EAC on the 5thJune. Her discomfort at the APPG meeting was completely understandable when it was pointed out to her that the current and failing match test means that UK children are sleeping on mattresses containing flame retardants that were banned from weed-killer for being toxic. I believe she would be universally applauded if she was able to tell the committee that she has put into action a proposal that will rapidly lead to children's mattresses and all other upholstered furniture being free of flame retardants.
I would be willing to work in a full-time capacity on this project with you (detailed proposal to follow if you agree in principle), with consortium members providing their time where best needed; funding to be provided by BEIS, possibly from the OPSS budget you described recently to the Environmental Audit Committee.
Thank you for your consideration of this offer. I would be pleased to meet with you to discuss this further.
Here is Mr Russell's reply:
From: "Russell, Graham (Office for Product Safety and Standards)" <email@example.com>
Date: Thursday, 30 May 2019 at 17:25
To: Terry Edge
Cc: as before
Subject: RE: The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988
Dear Mr Edge
Thank you for your email, the contents have been noted.
The government intends to publish its response following the consultation on the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 in due course.
It's difficult to know if he is being sarcastic with his first sentence, since we both know that 'noted' is one of the dismissive terms civil servants use when they really mean 'F*** off'. It's similar to another favourite word of theirs, often used in Ministers' replies, which is 'consider'. The Minister will consider your points, which means of course that he/she won't.
One can only speculate as to why he doesn't feel the OPSS could do with some help over the Furniture Regulations. Perhaps it's because they have around 300 people on their books, with a budget of £12m per year. Yet not one of them appears to know anything at all about the regulations. Also, it may be an embarrassment to Mr Russell that in OPPS's first year being responsible for the Furniture Regulations, prosecutions and convictions have fallen to their lowest-ever: just 3. This, despite Trading Standards having reported that over 80% of furniture covers fail the match test in practice. What are those 300 people doing, one might ask? Well, my sources in OPSS tell me that they do have a lot of meetings. Something that I know from my last few years in BEIS, civil servants have become expert in.
This lack of knowledge of the regulations in BEIS/OPSS was apparent when their Minister, Kelly Tolhurst, addressed the Environmental Audit Committee last week and amongst many inconsistencies and misleading statements claimed that the (still outstanding) 2016 BEIS consultation responses produced a consensus that there is not enough evidence behind the proposed changes to the (match) test. Unfortunately, there is a major obstacle facing anyone who may wish to verify this claim, which is that BEIS has refused to release the 2016 consultation returns, despite it closing nearly three years ago. The EAC asked to see them but was refused. I wonder why?
Well, while it is probably true that there would not have been consensus about changing the match test, since that would have led to huge losses in profits to industry, there simply cannot be an evidence-based consensus that BEIS's case regarding the match test has not been made. The clear-cut evidence for this is set out clearly in their 2014 consultation and accompanying technical annex.
So, why would Ms Tolhurst make such a false statement? Well, she is simply of course reading out from her briefing notes. Which are supplied by the OPSS. Why would the OPSS lie about their own consultations? I can only speculate but if the Minister had actually told the truth - that her own department has proved the current match test is unsafe - then of course she would be wide open to some serious questioning.
As it was, the EAC did seriously question her on this very subject. The Chair opened by saying that BEIS had proven 5 years ago that the current match test is not fit for purpose; did the Minister agree and if not, why not?
You can watch this session yourself to find how she replied but I don't think it requires a spoiler alert to tell you that no straight answer was forthcoming.
And so it went throughout the session, with the EAC asking Ms Tolhurst evidence-based questions and getting nothing but waffle or untrue responses. Her oft-repeated response to the question of why BEIS has failed to put these regulations right after so many years was that she would not do anything that might compromise fire safety; and her 'proof' that the regulations provide that, she claimed, lies in the government's commissioned report into the regulations by Greenstreet Berman in 2009.
Well, I commissioned that report, while at BIS (as it was then). And we commissioned it on the basis that at that time we all believed the regulations worked. On that basis, Greenstreet Berman guessed – because that's all you can do – how many of the drop in fire deaths was down to the furniture regulations and not, say, smoke alarms and the decrease in home smoking. Since then, of course, we have learned that the main ignition test in the regulations does not work; therefore, the estimates of lives saved in the GB report are invalid.
This point was put in a different way by the EAC to Ms Tolhurst and earlier to industry witnesses: that the rate of fire deaths per million population in the UK is not better than New Zealand (which has no furniture fire safety regulations) and at least 5 other EU countries (which only use at most a cigarette test that requires no flame retardants), therefore why do we have so much tougher furniture regulations? FIRA, extraordinarily, in response to this tried to claim that the UK suffers from 'unique' kinds of fires that warrant stricter regulations. But as the Chair pointed out, that's irrelevant (as well as being nonsense, of course) because the outcomeis the same. A point that FIRA appeared not to get, or want to get. Ms Tolhurst also had trouble understanding this somewhat fundamental point.
There were four witnesses at last week's session, all responsible one way or another for public safety. Without going into too much detail, what was depressing was that every single one of them, when asked about a subject that puts into conflict safety against profits, always gave industry the benefit of the doubt.
Behind them were two rows of civil servants, sometimes passing notes to their masters facing the Committee. My companion said to me, at the end of the session, "Look at those civil servants. They actually look happy – because they've got away with it."
Quite. And that, more than anything else, probably explains why Mr Russell told me and my colleagues to f*** off.
Even though he knows that if he took us on, we could sort out the mess he's maintaining at BEIS in nine months tops: we'd have safe fire regulations and an end to flame retardants in UK furniture.
And with that I'll f*** off for now.