Bob Graham was speaking "against" me: the Chair referred to this as an "argument" with the two "sides" being one against flame retardants and the other for keeping the existing Furniture Regulations. I said that I did not see it as an argument; that it was just about the evidence.
What I said at the meeting:
My case is based purely on evidence which can be found on the website of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which proves that the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 are not fit for purpose. This evidence has never been challenged with anything other than opinion. Up until around 2014, like most people, I believed the FFRs worked. However, it was revealed in BEIS’s (then BIS) 2014 consultation document and the Technical Annex that the current match test in the FFRs does not work and that the proposed new test would work.
Those who still believe the current Regulations are effective tend to cite two government-sponsored reports which analysed UK fire statistics and concluded that lives were being saved because of the FFRs: around 70 per year in the first report in 2000 by Surrey University and around 54 lives per year in the second, by Greenstreet Berman in 2009. However, there are two fundamental problems with these reports. First, Surrey claimed it is possible to identify a life saved from fire by the FFRs. But it isn’t. What Surrey did was look at the drop in fire deaths since the FFRs were introduced and guessed what percentage of those were down to the FFRs, the other two main factors being reduced home smoking and increased smoke alarms. The fact that New Zealand’s drop in home fire deaths mirrors the UK’s but they have no furniture flammability laws, however, suggests that the latter two factors are in fact the main cause of the reduction of deaths. Second, these reports can no longer be seen to be valid because they were based on the assumption the Regulations work; we now know they don’t. The fact that Surrey University was and may still be funded by the flame retardant industry is significant in my view. Professor Gary Stevens who wrote the report produced a fuller version a few years later, funded by the European Flame Retardants Association.
The FFRs mean that UK homes contain the highest levels of flame retardants in the world: around 45 kgs per dwelling, just in upholstered furniture. A paper by Richard Hull, Anna Stec and others, based on testing research, published in Chemosphere in December 2017, proved that a typical chemical-treated UK sofa is actually more dangerous than an untreated EU sofa because quickly after the flame retardants in it ignite, they produce large volumes of toxic fumes such as hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide.
I had a phone conversation with Bob Graham a few days ago in which he agreed that the current match test doesn’t work and the mattress tests are useless because bedding catches fire first and the resultant flames completely overwhelm the match and cigarette resistance of the treated mattress. There are several videos on YouTube made by UK fire services in which a typical bedroom is set alight, and this effect is clearly evident: the entire room is ablaze in less than 3 minutes. Which rather calls into account the flame retardant industry’s claims of 12-14 minutes, never proven by the way. Bob insists that the fillings test must be retained but I pointed out to him that because the match test fails, entire covers are on fire which, like with mattresses, completely overwhelms the fillings test – 18g of paper set alight in a wooden crib.
In short, while it’s possible that the FFRs have saved some lives, no one can prove it and fundamentally they have never been fit for purpose. All they do is provide huge profits for several industries:
- Flame retardant producers
- Chemical treatment companies
- The furniture industry – which benefits greatly from the trade barrier the FFRs represent
- Foam producers
- Test houses
As for BEIS’s recent response to their 2016 consultation, it displays high levels of fraudulence and incompetence. X of the Baby Products Association is here today. The BPA were double-crossed by BEIS officials who included a provision in the consultation to remove child products from scope and thereby bring an end to babies and children being placed in or on products containing large amounts of toxic flame retardants. But the response dismisses this proposal, meaning the BPA has wasted three years waiting to produce less toxic products for nothing.
In short, BEIS are claiming that the British Standards Institute has agreed to come up with in effect new Regulations. This is a lie; my sources at BSI inform me that they know nothing about this plan. BSI management has been internally informed that they cannot do this work because they are not the regulator; they are a standard-making body. In addition, BEIS seems to have completely forgotten that it tried to do the same thing in 2015 – I know because I was directly involved – only for BSI to withdraw its support on the grounds that they should not be involved in politically sensitive regulatory work. BEIS also appears to have forgotten that in 2012, BIS made the decision to put all the requirements directly into the Regulations, thereby removing the need for standards that are under the control of what is now largely a commercial body. BEIS lawyers approved this move and the work of integrating all the requirements was finished. I don’t know what’s happened to it since.
Even if BSI agree to do this work, the committee responsible for it says it will be several years before anything results. A non-contentious standard can take 3 years to produce. Here, we’re looking at several highly contentious requirements.
Finally, the Environmental Audit Committee’s report published on 16 July, recommends that the UK should follow the USA and Europe in providing just a smoulder/cigarette test for upholstered furniture. This covers the most dangerous kind of home fire while also removing flame retardants from UK furniture. I believe the APPFSRG should also support this recommendation.
The following are my additional views on BEIS's response to its 2016 consultation on the Furniture Regs, requested by the Group:
The bottom line is that BEIS is not going to implement any of the proposals in the consultation, three years after it was issued. Instead is it going to take a different course of action that was not consulted upon. In the meantime the current unfit Regulations will remain in place.
At the very least, this step means hundreds of stakeholders have wasted nine years (since the review of the Regulations began) of discussion, work, researching, attending workshops, having to chase BEIS endlessly via letters, forced meetings, etc, and now face several more years of further such efforts.
In effect, the response says that BEIS intends to dismantle the Regulations, handing over responsibility to manufacturers, combined with getting the British Standards Institute to come up with new requirements. This amounts to deregulation which may suit some industry purposes, but in the age of the Grenfell Tower fire is a damaging step. In the wake of Grenfell, the call is for more prescriptive fire and buildings legislation: BEIS is going in the opposite direction.
The British Standards Institute is not the appropriate body to be working up new regulations (see notes above).
The 2016 consultation contained exactly the same proposed new match test as BIS published in 2014. Given that BIS itself demonstrated that the current match test does not work and therefore UK furniture is dangerous, it is deeply irresponsible for it to be consigning the country to the same unfit regulations for many more years to come.
Bottom line: this move means there could be up to another million tons of toxic flame retardants getting into UK homes that do little but make fires more toxic, thereby continuing to give firefighters above-normal levels of cancer and other diseases – from a Department with the stated objective to reduce flame retardants in furniture.