This month sees the launch of the Furniture Industry Research Association’s (FIRA) new Compliance Scheme for the Fire Performance of Upholstered Furniture, in partnership with Hertfordshire Trading Standards. Furniture & Joinery Production asked Suzie Radcliffe-Hart, technical manager at FIRA International, to outline the scheme, and to explain why there’s a need for it across the furniture industry.
The seeds of FIRA’s Compliance Scheme for the Fire Performance of Upholstered Furniture were sown as far back as 2014, in response to a series of high profile media and enforcement investigations, which culminated in the BBC’s Fake Britain programme.
In order to support the furniture supply chain, the research association began to look at how a fire performance compliance scheme would look – and, more importantly, what wider support the scheme could offer through a partnership with an enforcement body such as Trading Standards.
The result is the FIRA Compliance Scheme, which is aimed primarily at manufacturers of upholstered furniture. This upholstery focus ensures the scheme complements existing industry schemes available for garden and outdoor furniture (via the Leisure and Outdoor Furniture Association) and beds and mattresses (via the National Bed Federation).
Checks and prosecutions do happen
The Furniture & Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended) (FFFSR) continue to be enforced by Trading Standards. Despite the regulations being in force for 30 years, prosecutions do still happen.
Recent investigations and prosecutions include:
- Birmingham Trading Standards inspections of upholstered furniture retailers in 2013 found significant problems with safety and product traceability
- Northamptonshire Trading Standards found a 70% non-compliance rate with the FFFSR over a three-year period
- In 2011-2012 Operation Chair, undertaken by Enfield Trading Standards and Brent & Harrow Trading Standards, found an 84% flammability failure rate from 19 samples. Operation Chair 2, carried out across London, inspected 60 business units, with 57% recorded non-compliances and 62% recorded flammability failures. Both operations resulted in successful prosecutions and product recalls
- In 2013 West Yorkshire Trading Standards, in conjunction with North Yorkshire Trading Standards , prosecuted a furniture franchise for flammability failures on sofas and mattresses. The fine was £17,000
- In 2011 Rhondda Cynon Taf Trading Standards purchased four items of upholstered furniture for flammability testing. All failed the Schedule 5 match test and a further 16 items were suspended from sale. Formal action was taken against three traders due to issues with traceability.
Supporting the industry
The fact that some manufacturers and retailers continue to fall foul of the FFFSR led FIRA to create their Compliance Scheme for the Fire Performance of Upholstered Furniture.
The main objectives of the compliance scheme are to reassure customers – including retailers, consumers and specifiers – that the manufacturer, upholsterer or similar organisation has been subject to an independent audit and can demonstrate suitable due diligence systems that would comply with the intent of the FFFSR.
This encourages good practice across the industry, offering companies credibility by being part of an industry and Trading Standards-recognised scheme. Companies also benefit from Assured Advice, ensuring consistency of interpretation on how compliance with the FFFSR can be achieved.
Furthermore, the scheme aims to support the industry through a recognised fire performance due diligence system covering the following:
- Control of raw materials used in production
- Evidence of traceability of materials throughout the whole production process
- Demonstration of how the final batch number relates to materials used in production
- Evidence of a sampling and testing programme intended to monitor and measure ongoing compliance of those products placed on the UK market
- Evidence of testing carried out (test reports) to show the materials comply with the requirements of the FFFSR
- Evidence of an effective product crisis procedure
- Evidence of a corrective action procedure.
The above requirements have been chosen specifically to enable companies within the compliance scheme to show they have the due diligence systems in place to support ongoing compliance with the FFFSR.
All this supports companies in the event of an issue which may result in an investigation or product recall.
How does the scheme work?
Although developed by the Furniture Industry Research Association, the management and execution of the scheme is undertaken by FIRA International, the commercial partner of the research association.
Following an initial application to join the scheme, FIRA International will request details of manufacturing site(s), location(s) and any additional sub-contractor information. This will then determine the proposed structure of the initial audit, and whether this needs to be extended to include any third parties if they have an impact or influence on traceability of manufacture or compliance.
During the audit, if any non-conformities are identified, these will be classified as either major or minor. The applicant will then have four weeks in which to resolve any non-conformities raised.
After successful completion of the audit, or following rectification of non-conformities, the applicant will be confirmed as a Certified Company under the requirements of the Compliance Scheme. The organisation will be listed on www.fira.co.uk/compliance and eligible companies will be able to benefit from Assured Advice from Hertfordshire Trading Standards.
The certificate will be valid for a period of two years, during which time a further audit will be carried out – usually after 12 months – to ensure ongoing compliance.
Trading Standards Assured Advice
To further support the industry through the compliance scheme, the research association has entered into a Primary Authority Co-ordinated Partnership with Hertfordshire Trading Standards, which includes the provision of Assured Advice.
Assured Advice aims to combat any discrepancies between different local authorities’ interpretations of laws and policies. This means that Assured Advice given as part of the scheme may then be relied upon in the event of a difference in interpretation of the FFFSR specifically, and will be respected by other regulatory enforcement bodies throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This prevents inconsistent interpretation of the FFFSR – although it should be noted that the Assured Advice element is not available to companies based outside of the UK.
Eligible certified companies will be able to ask for advice across any section of the FFFSR in relation to their business. To help best practice, FIRA will (anonymously) publish all assured advice, which may flag issues for other certified companies, or reassure them that they are compliant.
Are the FFFSR still effective?
We can’t talk about a fire performance compliance scheme without touching on the debate on whether the FFFSR are still effective, given that they’ve been in force for 30 years and much has changed within the industry during that period.
In 2009 the Greenstreet Berman report into the effectiveness of the FFFSR looked at data from the Department of Communities and Local Government. It concluded that dwelling fires and deaths in the UK rose throughout the 1960s and 1970s, peaking at 865 deaths in 1979. Whilst fires peaked at 64,500 in 1988, a large proportion of these involved foam-filled furniture.
It is estimated that from 2002-2007 alone the FFFSR have saved 54 lives per year, alongside preventing 780 injuries and 1065 fires.
Do the FFFSR have a future?
Over the past few years there have been calls to modernise, amend or even revoke the FFFSR. Following the findings of the Greenstreet Berman report, a revision to the FFFSR is considered by many across the industry to be the most appropriate course of action, and proposals on change have already been put forward.
In July 2017 the British Furniture Confederation announced its intention to kickstart the stalled review of the FFFSR, going so far as putting forward a document proposing updates based on industry-wide consultation. The BFC has called for updated regulations reflecting modern materials and manufacturing processes, ironing out unclear elements within current legislation, which protects consumers from fire, health and environmental issues.
In developing this new compliance scheme, FIRA aims to ensure it is adaptable to the changing needs of the industry, so should any of the proposed amendments come into force, certified companies would be supported in adoption of, and compliance with, any new requirements.