Some of the most dangerous “fuels” in the home and other occupancies include upholstered furniture, mattresses, flammable housings of computer and consumer electronic equipment, and wearing apparel made in certain ways and with certain materials. But they can be made safer! Find out how, and what NASFM is doing to help.
NASFM statement opposing California Senate Bill 147 regarding upholstered furniture flammability
State Fire Marshals Renew Call for Fire-Safe Home Furniture
Fire Fighters, Survivors Join Demand for Flammability Standards
NASFM President Calls 10 U.S. Deaths per Week “Unnecessary and Preventable”
Washington, D.C., October 30, 2006–Flanked by the State Fire Marshals of more than 10 states, as well as fire chiefs, firefighters and survivors of furniture fires, National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) President John Dean today renewed the call for enactment of effective national flammability standards for upholstered furniture. Fires originating in upholstered furniture account for 20% of all fire-related deaths each year in the United States and claim the lives of 10 people each week, according to data from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
“Many people don’t realize that the chairs and couches they relax on every day are a potential fire waiting to happen,” because of the flammable fabrics and filling materials often used in upholstered furniture, said Dean. “Without national furniture fire safety standards that address both cigarette and open flame ignitions, these preventable fires will continue to cause horrible deaths and injuries,” he noted.
The CPSC initiated a furniture flammability rulemaking in mid-1994, in response to a petition from NASFM. Yet the government is still studying the issue after more than a dozen years, thousands of deaths and injuries, and millions of dollars lost due to upholstered furniture fires, said Dean.
“Affordable technologies exist now to make upholstered furniture in the home safer,” Dean said. “What we need now is agreement around effective national standards, so that we can stop the unnecessary loss of life occurring each day across the U.S.” Dean invited the upholstered furniture industry to “let people come before profits” and join in serious discussions about the content of effective standards.
“Upholstered furniture is probably one of the most flammable items in the home,” explained Jonathan Riffe, a firefighter with the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Furniture fires “generate much more heat and much more thick, black smoke” than fires involving wood or paper. “The blacker the smoke, the more toxic and deadly it is to the people inside the dwelling,” as well as to the firefighters responding to the fire. “A standard could increase safety for everybody,” added Riffe.
“For a few dollars more, we can prevent fires and, more important, prevent serious injuries and scars that last for lifetimes,” said Dave Borowski, a burn survivor and Executive Director of the Flicker of Hope Foundation, which advocates for the burn survivor community and provides educational scholarships for burn survivors.
California is currently the only state in the U.S. with fire safety regulations for upholstered furniture sold for use in the home. Following the adoption of those regulations in the 1970s, fatality rates fell by more than 25% in California, according to the California Bureau of Home Furnishings. National flammability standards for cigarette and open flame ignitions could take advantage of technological advancements since the California standards were enacted, said Dean.
While urging progress on a national flammability standard, Dean also asked that Americans follow simple safety tips that will help them keep their homes safe from upholstered furniture fires. For example, Dean recommended that consumers buy upholstered furniture that meets California’s Technical Bulletin 117 fire safety standard, and reminded them to keep candles, cigarettes, and other lighted materials away from upholstered furniture and all other combustible materials. Dean also urged consumers to regularly test their smoke alarms, consider installing residential sprinklers and, as always, keep lighters and matches out of reach of children.
- National Furniture Flammability Standard: Fact Sheet
- National Furniture Flammability Standard: Frequently Asked Questions
- National Furniture Flammability Standard: Fire Safety Tips
- National Furniture Flammability Standard: Press Release
- Letter from NASFM to American Home Furnishings Alliance October 2006
- NASFM April 2008 Comments to CPSC on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Standard for the Flamability of Residential Upholstered Furniture
- NASFM May 2008 Comments to CPSC on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Standard for the Flammability of Residential Upholstered Furniture
Based on U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data from 1996, there are about 26,000 mattress and bedding fires resulting in about 700 deaths and roughly 2,600 injuries each year. About half of the mattress fire deaths (330) are attributed to careless smoking, but this number has dropped significantly because of a federal mattress flammability standard adopted in the early 1970s. About 130 deaths a year are attributed to small open flame ignitions, and 240 from other causes.
Criticisms of the mattress industry ignore its many positive actions to improve mattress fire safety. The mattress industry has been a full partner in the pursuit of safer products. For example, the industry:
- Worked with the CPSC in the early 1970s to establish mandatory federal standards for cigarette ignitions of mattresses.
- Is now working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the CPSC and NASFM on an open flame standard for residential mattresses. The easy way out would have been to work on a standard limited to small open flame ignitions, but the industry recognizes that most mattresses are covered with sheets, blankets, comforters and pillows which ignite first and, in turn, ignite mattresses.
- Is working with NASFM’s Arson and Fire Investigation Committee on the juvenile fire-setter problem.
- Conducts its own consumer safety awareness program and attaches fire safety messages to almost every mattress sold in the US.
In spite of all efforts to address mattress fires, one challenge remains unresolved. Virtually hundreds of thousands of improperly renovated mattresses are being sold each year in the US, and pose a variety of safety and health hazards. The people engaging in this illegal practice ignore all standards – many simply put a new cover on old, contaminated mattresses. NASFM calls on all law and code enforcement officials to crack down on this disgusting and hazardous business.
- Petition to the CPSC for Rulemaking on Flammability of Certain Items of Bedding (November 2000)
- NASFM Comments on CPSC ANPR, Standard to Address Open Flame Ignition of Mattress/Bedding (December 2001)
- NASFM’s statement on TB 603 (Open-Flame Mattress Standard) proposed by the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Insulation (April 22, 2003 hearing)
- Additional NASFM comments on TB 603 (Open-Flame Mattress Standard) proposed by the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (May 1, 2003)
- Letter to CPSC on TB 603 (August 24, 2004)
- NASFM’s Comments On Revocation/Amendment of Cigarette Ignition Standard (August 2005)
Progress with making children’s rooms safer from fire: consumer electronics and computer equipment sold for use in the home NASFM releases DVD entitled “preliminary fire screening tests of consumer electronics and information technology equipment.” (clips can be viewed at the bottom of this page.)
The NASFM Consumer Product Fire Safety Task Force is pleased to report that some computer and consumer electronics manufacturers apparently are now voluntarily using the new draft “candle ignition” technical specification for at least some of their products, even though this new draft has yet to be formally adopted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and its international counterparts. The use of this technical specification by manufacturers will help to ensure that the outer housings of thousands of computer, consumer electronics and telecommunications products sold for use in the home and other occupancies are less likely to ignite by a small open flame such as a candle.
This is fire prevention at its best. Thanks to the strong leadership and integrity of corporations like IBM/Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard (H-P), Philips and UL – and the hard work of Science Advisory Committee members Hank Roux and Margaret Simonson – we have not been forced to wait for death and injury statistics to pile up before we “prevent” fires. The fact is that candle fires, juvenile fire-setting and electrical ignitions all are capable of igniting the typically plastic housings of these many products.
Earlier this year, we subjected eight new flat-panel television sets and monitors to a small open candle flame at the New Hampshire Department of Public Safety. All of our tests were conducted in the same environment with exposure to the same conditions but, as you will see, candle flames tend to jump around and came in contact at different angles, depending on how the individual TVs and monitors were built. Links to the video clips of these comparative tests can be found at the bottom of this page.
As you will see in the clips, some of these products did not ignite after as much as four minutes’ exposure to the candle flame. These products typically charred or bubbled, which demonstrates that they were exposed to heat from the candles. Other products ignited – some in under 15 seconds – and erupted quickly into large fires. (Some interior designers are recommending large flat-screen TVs be placed over fireplaces – not a great idea based on what we saw.)
We conducted these tests just to see what would happen. They were meant to be screening tests to determine which products would be used in similar tests conducted under controlled laboratory conditions. Therefore, we cannot say that the products that did not ignite are safe, but the products that did ignite clearly would be a problem up against a candle or a child with a lighter. The manufacturers are responsible for conducting fire tests under controlled laboratory conditions.
We now plan to move forward with several activities:
- Sharing the test results privately with the individual manufacturers – thanking those that have voluntarily moved forward with the technical specification and encouraging others to follow the example and do the right thing.
- Providing our findings to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s enforcement division to consider whether action under the federal Consumer Product Safety Act is warranted.
- Inviting manufacturers and retailers to join with us in warning consumers to keep these products and other combustibles away from candles and other small open flames.
- Sharing this information with fire department public educators and fire investigators.
Why parents should care about the flammability of the outer housings of TVs, stereos, video games, computers, printers and other electronic equipment.
As you will see in the videos, candles can ignite a TV or monitor. According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), “The explosive growth of the candle industry parallels the annual increase of candle fires – an average of 9,400 fires, $120.5 million in losses, 90 deaths, and 950 injuries … 45% of candle fires originate in the bedroom, 41% of candle fires are from either unattended candles or candles placed too close to combustibles.” The National Fire Protection Association reports that “Children under five faced the highest risk of death from candle fires.”
Even the best supervised child may make a mistake with fire. Juvenile firesetters are classified in different ways, ranging from those children (often under age 8) who set fires out of curiosity or accidentally, to those children (often older than age 8) who are motivated by psychosocial conflict or criminal intent. Children under 19 account for more than half of all arson arrests, although the vast majority of fires ignited by children do not result in arrests. Fires set by children playing in residences are more deadly, on average, than other types of residential fires, according to the USFA. One-third of the fires that kill kids are set by children playing with fire.
Some of these products have defects that can cause a fire. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission lists no fewer than 16 recalls since 2003 of information technology and consumer electronics products for reasons of fire safety.
What each of us can do to prevent fires in children’s rooms. Common sense tells us that preventing fires in children’s rooms is a priority, a big job but achievable if we all work together.
What parents can do
Common sense tells us that, especially with young children, parents must do their best to supervise kids. But the most attentive parent cannot be with their children every minute, and single parents often find it difficult to spend adequate time with their children. Even when they are not physically present, parents can do a lot to make their children’s rooms safer from fire. Parents can:
- Keep candles, lighters and matches away from their children.
- Look for the early signs that a child may have an abnormal fascination with fire. Mere curiosity can and often does turn into intentional fire-setting as children grow older. If you suspect a problem with your child, immediately contact your local fire department for assistance.
- Install smoke alarms in hallways and in every bedroom per manufacturers instructions — and keep them in working order. Smoke alarms save lives.
- Be a smart shopper. Fire-resistant mattresses, upholstered furniture, computers, TVs, video games and other common products are now available. Parents should ask about the fire safety of a product prior to purchase.
- Develop an escape plan and practice it as a family.
Also, know when to seek help if you suspect a child is setting fires. Curiosity about fire is normal in a child. Firesetting behavior is not. A good first step is to contact local or state fire officials for guidance.
What manufacturers and retailers can do
Common sense and ethical practice dictate that manufacturers take responsibility for the safety of their products and inform consumers if a potential fire risk exists.
Fortunately, many manufacturers care deeply about the safety of their products. But in a day when cheaply made imports are flooding the American market and the pressure is on to cut costs at every level, some products clearly are safer than others. Consumers need to be educated about a specific fire hazard to be able to protect against it.
Common sense and ethical practice also dictate that retailers take the time to learn the differences among the products they sell, and help their customers make informed choices about which products provide adequate levels of safety.
What your local fire official or state fire marshal can do
If you have a question, a concern or an idea about preventing fires in children’s rooms, contact the fire educators at your local fire department or your state’s office of the State Fire Marshal.
If you cannot afford a smoke alarm, ask for help from your local fire department or State Fire Marshal. Fire officials may not be able to satisfy every request immediately, but they will try their best in every case.
Let local fire officials or your State Fire Marshal’s office know immediately if you are worried about a child’s interest in fire. They can direct you to programs and professionals who can help address your concerns.
Fire Safety Test Comparisons
An Industry Viewpoint
Assessment Fire Hazards Present in Children’s Rooms
USFA Releases New Research on Residential Candle Fires
NASFM’s Revised Proposal 60950-1
If You Make, Import, Distribute or Sell Clothing:
An Important Fire Safety Message
About the Flammability Hazard of Your Products
According to fire injury data from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 4,000 consumers a year suffer severe burn injuries and an estimated 150 or more die when their clothing ignites from even minimal exposure to ordinary household ignition sources. In most cases, these clothing and apparel items had met the requirements of the federal standard for the flammability of clothing textiles. A long record of burn injury lawsuits has shown that complying with the federal standard does not protect manufacturers, distributors or retailers from severe penalties in court cases involving clothing ignitions.
As early as 1967 and several times thereafter, US government scientists, government reports and others have documented weaknesses and inadequacies of the existing Federal Standard for the Flammability of Clothing Textiles (see references at the end of this document). The CPSC is currently examining certain procedural issues and changes relating to this standard, namely 16 CFR Part 1610.
The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), whose members include the most senior fire officials in the states, has encouraged the CPSC to consider modernizing and strengthening the antiquated standard. This result would mean safer and better clothing for consumers in the future. But, in the meantime, there are things you can do to offer greater protection to consumers and to demonstrate that you have taken steps to reduce the flammability and liability risks associated with your products.
NASFM, with guidance from its Science Advisory Committee (SAC), is committed to providing information and education on public fire safety and fire risk reduction. NASFM’s SAC is a voluntary panel of scientists and engineers from government, academia and industry with extensive experience in the fire performance of materials and products. The SAC, in consort with NASFM’s Board of Directors, offers the following recommendations to manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of textiles and wearing apparel to consumers.
Actions You Can Take
The Standard for the Flammability of Clothing Textiles, 16 CFR Part 1610, enforced by the CPSC under the Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA), is an absolute minimum standard that is more than 50 years old (it was part of the original FFA passed by Congress in 1953). It was designed primarily to remove only the most dangerous and intensely flammable textiles from the clothing market. The vast majority of textile products subject to the test specified in this standard (also known as the CS-191-53, 45-degree test) pass and are rated “Class 1 normal flammability.” This result erroneously implies that they are “safe” to use in clothing.
The concept of “normal flammability” in the context of this test is very misleading as a measure of safety. Indeed, “normal flammability” is merely a term defined by this specific test method and regulation; it does not, however, equate to what NASFM considers acceptable flammability for clothing and wearing apparel. Newspaper and tissue paper pass this test. The test relies on a one-second exposure to a tiny, needle-like flame in a test setup that makes the fabric very difficult to ignite. Therefore, one should not be misled into thinking that a “does not ignite” result under these artificial conditions implies that a fabric will not ignite in real-world conditions. Many times, it will – with tragic results.
Action Item: Be advised that the existing federal general wearing apparel standard does not protect consumers from clothing fires.
Manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers who want to determine if their products pose an unreasonable risk of fire should assess them according to the test method specified in 16 CFR Parts 1615-1616, known as the “vertical strip test” used in the Children’s Sleepwear Flammability Standard. This is a more rigorous test for fabrics used in clothing, with a larger ignition source than general wearing apparel flammability standard 16 CFR Part 1610. If the products you manufacture or sell pass this test, you will have reasonable assurance that they are safer from fire than the typical fabric that is considered “Class 1 normal flammability.” Keep complete records of all test results, since CPSC accepts test results from more stringent tests to demonstrate conformance with 16 CFR Part 1610.
Action Item: Test your products to a higher standard of fire safety.
Fabrics that fail the Children’s Sleepwear Flammability test method and standard specified in 16 CFR Parts 1615-1616 can be dangerous in many garment and clothing designs. These fabrics should not be sold as clothing or for use in clothing without providing complete consumer information and a legally adequate warning label to inform the ultimate consumer and wearer. Certain garments are known to be high-hazard designs, such as loose-fitting, full-cover and over-the-head designs. This is especially true for adult sleepwear such as nightgowns, robes and housecoats; girl’s dresses and children’s playwear; t-shirts; or other looser-fitting apparel.
You should consider using safer choices of fabrics and offering the consumer an informed choice. There are high-quality flame retardant (FR) cotton fabrics, and other textiles such as nylon or polyester, that can be designed and manufactured with no loss of comfort or design choices to consumers.
Action Item: If your product fails the children’s sleepwear “vertical strip test,” consider safer alternatives.
If you choose to accept the risks and potential liability by utilizing flammable fabrics, especially in producing, marketing or selling unsafe garments, you have a legal duty to warn purchasers and consumers of the potential flammability of high-fire-hazard garments. Consumers are not generally aware of the fact that almost all everyday clothing is extremely easy to ignite, and, once ignited, burns with such intensity that the wearer will likely sustain serious burn injury.
We recommend that all high-fire-hazard clothing, and fabrics that may be sold to be made into garments, carry a prominent warning label. One example of note is that used by L. L. Bean, Inc., on its cotton flannel sleepwear. It states, “NOTICE. Certain products can burn if exposed to heat or flame. Fabrics with a fuzzy surface or open weave are more easily ignited. Use caution near open flames, candles, cigarettes, kitchen ranges, fireplaces, or other sources of intense heat, particularly if fabric softeners are used on this product.” Other garment manufacturers voluntarily labeling their clothing and apparel include Pendleton Mills, Lanz of Salzburg, Eileen West and others.
For work wear garments and clothing, Carhartt coats and jackets being sold by Sears & Co. and others, plus Big Smith sold at Home Depot, also carry flammability warning labels.
An alternate and more demonstrative warning label may better alert consumers. For example: ” Warning: This garment, similar to many that are made of cotton and other fabrics used in ordinary clothing, may ignite and burn rapidly if exposed for as little as a few seconds to a flame as small as a birthday candle. The result can be serious burn injury or even death. Please be careful around sources of fire, heat or flame to avoid the possibility of clothing ignition.”
Action Item: Use flammability hang tags, warning labels and point-of-sale information to inform consumers of relative fire risk and allow them to make a more informed choice in wearing apparel fabric and clothing.
1. “Wearing Apparel: Notice of Finding that Flammability Standard or Other Regulation May Be Needed and Institution of Proceedings,” Department of Commerce, Office of the Secretary [15 CFR Part 7]. Federal Register, Vol. 33, No. 207, October 23, 1968, p. 15662.
2. “Investigation of Fabrics Involved in Wearing Apparel Fires,” American Academy of Pediatrics, Comm. on Accident Prevention, Samuel E. Southard, Chair, in Pediatrics, Vol. 34, November 1964, pp. 728-733.
3. “Flammable Fabrics,” Third and Fourth Annual Reports by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare,” FY 1971, published in 1972, and FY 1972, published in 1973 respectively.
4. “Hearings Before the Consumer Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, U.S. Senate, First Session on S.1003 to Amend the Flammable Fabrics Act: To Increase The Protection Afforded Consumers Against Injurious Flammable Fabrics,” May 3, 4, and 5, 1967. U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1967, pp. 83-93, 158-161, et al.
5. “LBJ Signs Flammability Act: [both he and] Surgeon Assails It as
Weak,” News report in Women’s Wear Daily, December 15, 1967, p. 32. This 1967 amendment to the Flammable Fabrics Act changed some administrative responsibilities but did not change the minimum requirements of the 1953 standard.
6. “Flammable Fabrics Act Protection: Fire Resistants v. Industry Resistance,” Huali Chai Mullins and Alexis Panagakos, The George Washington Law Review, March 1971, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 608-632.
7. “Clothing ANPR – Comments on 16 CFR Part 1610, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission,” by Steven M. Spivak, PhD, Chartered Textile Technologist, Fellow of the Textile Institute and Professor Emeritus, Department of Fire Protection Engineering, University of Maryland, November 12, 2002, submission to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission on ANPR to Amend the Standard for the Flammability of Clothing Textiles, 16 CFR Part 1610. http://www.cpsc.gov/library/foia/foia03/pubcom/clothing.PDF.
8. “Comments on Standard for Flammability of Clothing Textiles; Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Federal Register, September 12, 2002,” Donald Bliss, President, National Association of State Fire Marshals (November 18, 2002), submission to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission on ANPR to Amend the Standard for the Flammability of Clothing Textiles, 16 CFR Part 1610. http://www.cpsc.gov/library/foia/foia03/pubcom/clothing.PDF.
9. “Clothing ANPR,” letter from retired CPSC Chief Engineer for Fire Safety James F. Hoebel (November 12, 2002), submission to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission on ANPR to Amend the Standard for the Flammability of Clothing Textiles, 16 CFR Part 1610. http://www.cpsc.gov/library/foia/foia03/pubcom/clothing.PDF.
Approved by the NASFM Board of Directors, December 2004.