Yesterday, I was invited to attend a meeting in the House of Lords of the All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group. Jon O'Neill of the Fire Protection Association gave a short talk on third party certification. He also talked about the need to update the Fire Safety Order, particularly in light of the Grenfell Tower fire. He and the FPA have talked a lot about the FSO recently but strangely have never mentioned the Furniture Regulations. This, despite O'Neill, along with Sir Ken Knight and Dave Sibert, having given a presentation to the Department of Business in December 2014 where they agreed that the current match test does not work and the new one will improve fire safety.
At the end of the meeting yesterday, I approached Mr O'Neill and asked him: "Where is the new test foam formula you insisted BEIS needed before putting the new match test in place?" There was quite a long pause then he said: "We passed it to British Standards."
Below is an entry from a paper I've written detailing the way that various parties blocked safety changes to the changes proposed by the government to the Furniture Regulations in 2014. It's based on BIS's meeting note and on the FPA's own presentation slideshow. I've mentioned before that Jon O'Neill was particularly aggressive over these changes, initially commanding my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government to stop them. DCLG was not of course the department in charge of the Furniture Regs but then Mr O'Neill knew that. He also knew that Sir Ken Knight was the big fire chief at DCLG and had considerable influence over the officials working there on fire safety. In the event, two meetings were held in order for O'Neill, Sir Ken and others to try to bully BIS into dropping the changes. Unfortunately for them, the evidence that we had provided was unequivocal: the current test did not work and the new one would.
Finally, O'Neill etc talked my BIS managers into a third meeting at which they said they would provide a new test foam formula for the new test – even though this was not needed since we already had one (that is actually in the current regulations). They did not come with the formula, however; instead they presented a delaying tactic (see below), i.e. that British Standards should be commissioned by BIS to spend 12 months coming up with a new test foam formula. As you can see from Mr O'Neill's follow up email to Bridget Micklem at BIS, he assumed that she had agreed they could go ahead. She did not reply to this email; however, the same suggestions were put to the minister, Jo Swinson, a few months later by amongst others, Dave Sibert and Paul Fuller (well-know lovers of flame retardants). She agreed. However, British Standards bailed at the last moment (in July 2015), informing the Chair of their relevant committee that they did not want to get involved in regulatory work especially when it was so politically sensitive. Since that time, changes to the Regulations remain blocked. BEIS did however go out to consultation once again in 2016 with exactly the same new match test proposal containing exactly the same test foam formula as proposed in 2014. In short, Mr O'Neill, Sir Ken Knight, etc, had done nothing more than hold up important safety changes for two years, and counting.
As I've recorded elsewhere on this website, I wrote to Sir Ken Knight twice in his capacity as Chair of the Grenfell Independent Experts Group, reminding him of the December 2014 meeting where he'd agreed that the current match test doesn't work and therefore to look at the role the failed Furniture Regulations played in the Grenfell fire. He didn't respond; neither has his panel ever even mentioned the Furniture Regulations. I also wrote to Jon O'Neill on the same lines who also did not reply.
Back to yesterday . . . I reminded Mr O'Neill that British Standards had refused that work, then asked him why the Fire Protection Association has done nothing about the fact the current match test fails in practice ever since (more than four years and counting), i.e. they're failing to protect the public from fire risk. To which he said, "We didn't agree the current match test fails." See below and make up your own mind about that.
But here's the thing: even if what he said was true, i.e. that in effect he believes the current match test works, why did he insist on a different test foam for the new test. Why not simply state that we should stick with the current one? Well, he was lying anyway. Just check out the third bullet point on his slide below: that the new test "should improve fire safety through the inclusion of materials which appear within 40mm of the cover fabric of a furniture product." Now I don't think I'm putting unfair interpretation on this but surely this is saying that because the current test doesn't allow for this effect, finished sofas are clearly not fire-safe? Also, a man apparently dedicated to fire safety has never since mentioned this failing of the current regulations.
At this point, Mr O'Neill was ushered away by a colleague, arm around his shoulder, to protect him from further questioning. Really, I'm not kidding.
I've shown the links before between the FPA and the FR industry. One such being that after Dave Sibert was sacked by the FBU for colluding with the flame retardant industry (Matt Wrack's words), he was offered a lucrative new job by Jon O'Neill running the FPA's new test laboratory.
Does the FPA really care about fire safety? Well, I think that depends on who's paying them.
Oh, by the way, that colleague of Mr O'Neill's said that I should not be making these these claims (such as they were) without proof. If he's reading this blog, I suggest he checks out the entry below.
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Third meeting with the FPA/FSF – December 16, 2014
Sir Ken Knight, Jon O'Neill and Dave Sibert attend for the FPA/FSF (Fire Sector Federation). They start by giving a presentation, the essence of which is that they agree the new match test will work and that the current one has many problems. But they do not as agreed provide a new test foam formula. Instead, they insist that BIS commissions the British Standards Institute to 'fast-track' (over 12 months) a new formula for the regulations, in the meantime suggesting that BIS should go ahead with an interim test.
See key slide in the FPA/FSF's presentation at bottom of this entry.
The important bottom line here is that the FPA/FSF is agreeing with BIS's proposed test, even if they're falsely claiming these are all FSF proposals! The only addition they're making is that BIS should initially go ahead with the new match test but continue using the old test foam, while British Standards comes up with a new one. However, this is blatant back-covering since they know very well that BIS cannot simply introduce a new interim test: that would require another consultation and would in any case be an unfair burden on industry. On the last slide point: they have of course ensured that this issue has continued to drag on ever since.
It’s perhaps worth mentioning here that there is no evidence at all that the British Standards Institute had agreed to these proposals. In fact, their actions over the meeting they hosted on July 15th suggests they did not. For example, they instruct the Chair at the last moment, that they want this whole subject off their agenda since it is too political for them and in any case they do not believe they should be involved in drafting legislation.
Immediately after the meeting, O'Neill writes to Bridget Micklem of BIS to thank her for the meeting and ask her views on their proposals (see email below). She doesn't respond, despite Terry advising that this proposal from the FPA is pivotal, i.e. it is a Yes or No situation: if BIS says Yes, then a) the new match test will surely be delayed for at least a year, and b) BIS will have accepted FSF/FPA/Sir Ken Knight as being the main authority on the FFRs, and that will mean they’ll be able to extend the delays indefinitely. Not responding is likely to be taken as Yes, as indeed proves to be the case when the FPA/FSF gets their proposal confirmed at the Minister's round-table meeting in February 2015.
From: Jon O'Neill
Sent: 16 December 2014 14:43
To: Micklem Bridget (EU); Earl Philip (EUD); Mike Larking; Louise Upton; Ken Knight; Dave Sibert; Edge Terry (EUD)
Subject: Furniture Regulations.pptx
Thanks for your time today. As promised please find enclosed copy of my presentation. Having got the support of individual insurers to the proposal I am speaking to the ABI tomorrow and will pass on ant comments that arise.
I look forward to receiving your feedback to our proposal in due course.
Thanks & regards