Fire Safety with Phil Reynolds

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When I was thinking about writing this piece, it struck me that the subject I get asked about most is furniture and furnishings fire safety, in fact last year I recorded a whole series of videos interviews about the subject with Design Insider.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, as the UK has some of the most stringent and complex furniture and furnishing fire safety requirements in the world, and news about building fires, and one in particular, still regularly appear in the news. So, whilst I plan to talk about all types of contract and office furnishings and how standards are changing, don’t be surprised if I keep coming back to fire safety.

It still surprises me, that whilst we have very stringent regulations for the fire safety of furniture in people’s homes, that date back to 1988 and are a little out of step with the rest of the world (maybe more on that in the future), the guidance for the over and contract sector is a little vaguer.

We have the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which places an obligation on building owners/operators to ensure a full fire risk assessment is undertaken on the building and contents, and regularly reviewed, how often is this fully carried out? I’ve certainly worked in buildings where the risk assessment looked at fire doors, fire zoning, fire escape routes and fire fighting equipment, but ignored the furnishings, which as some of the UK Government’s own advice on fire risk assessments, highlights that furnishings, and particularly foam filled furniture can often be a significant source of fuel for a fire.

There are some very subtle difference in the responsibility for ensuring the fire safety of furniture in different environments:

In the home (and home office might be another topic for the future!), the responsibility lies with the furniture manufacturer to ensure a product is fire safe.

In the contract environment however, it is the responsibility of the building operator/buyer to ensure that they buy furniture with the correct level of fire safety, based on their building risk assessment.

So how can we make this process as easy as possible, for both the manufacturer and the buyer? Well, this is where standards come into play, offering a common specification, so that manufacturers know what to make, and buyers know what to buy.

The main standards for contract furniture are:

BS 7176:2007+A1:2011- ‘Specification for resistance to ignition of upholstered furniture for non-domestic seating by testing composites.’

BS 7177:2008+A1:2011 – ‘Specification for the resistance to ignition of mattresses, mattress pads, divans and bed bases.’

Both standards have different hazard categories based of the end use, but I’m sure I’ll revisit that in future columns.


About Phil Reynolds

Phil, is the Director of independent furniture technical consultancy Furnisafe. Phil is currently chair of BSI committees, FW0, developing furniture safety standards, as well the convenor of two European Standards committees for non-domestic furniture and common test methods for furniture. In addition, Phil sits as the UK expert on numerous European and International standards committees covering both structural and fire safety requirements for furniture, including chairing the European furniture committee developing standards for non-domestic furniture.
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