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Study on Effectiveness of Flame Retardant Use in Upholstered Furniture

A study commissioned by the U.K. government that evaluates whether properly flame retarded materials can provide a meaningful difference in fire safety. A 2009 report commissioned in the U.K. by the Consumer and Competition Policy Directorate of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills examined the effectiveness of that nation’s flammability standards for Furniture and Furnishings (F&F). F&F products sold in the U.K. must meet three specific tests (cigarette ignition, match ignition and ignitability of flaming sources). The study found that the regulations “matched the main causes and lethality of F&F fires in the mid-1980s...and still matched the main causes and consequences of F&F fires in the period 1997-2006.” The study included a detailed analysis of recent fire data and offered an endorsement of the regulations (See pg. 30), which furniture manufactures selling into the U.K. market meet often through the use of flame retardants. 

The following italicized section is directly quoted from the report:     

  • Both the number and lethality of F&F fires rose before the introduction of the regulations and fell afterwards

  • When the trend in F&F fires was compared to the trend in Other Fires, using Other Fires as a "control" group of fires that were unlikely to be impacted by the FFRs, it was found that:

    • The number of F&F fires fell at a faster rate than Other Fires, declining by 37% compared to 10% between 1981-85 and 2003-07
    • The number of fire deaths fell by 64% for F&F fires and 44% for Other Fires between 1981-85 and 2003-07
    • The number of F&F fire casualties fell by 26% over the study period compared to a rise of 75% in Other Fire casualties
    • There was a marked difference in the trend for the lethality of F&F fires relative to Other Fires, i.e. there was a far greater decline in the lethality of F&F fires than Other Fires
  • Whilst both F&F and Other Fires may have declined due to fewer adult smokers, the decline in F&F fires associated with smokers' materials was greater than the decline for Other Fires

  • A very small part of the decline in the lethality of F&F fires can be attributed to the increased use of smoke alarms, whilst a larger part of the reduction in the lethality of Other Fires can be attributed to the increased use of smoke alarms

  • Thus, whilst there were some common factors underlying the trends in F&F and Other Fires, F&F fires, deaths and casualties were found to have declined more so.

The reduction in the rate and lethality of F&F fires was estimated to equate to 54 lives saved per year, 780 fewer casualties per year and 1065 fewer fires per year in the period 2003-2007.

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Next: Experiment Showing the Effectiveness of Flame Retardant Use in Building Materials

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