17 Jul 2019

Government puts onus on industry to improve furniture fire safety

12:55 pm on 17 July 2019

The government has asked the furniture industry to work together to try and find ways to make furniture safer in a fire.

(file photo)

The government wants the furniture industry to find ways to make furniture more fire-resistant. Photo: 123RF

Most modern furniture, such as couches and mattresses, are made using polyurethane foam, which ignites quickly and burns off toxic fumes.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi has announced a Product Safety Policy Statement (PSPS) has been enacted.

The statement will set out a list of guidelines for manufacturers and retailers and set a benchmark for fire-resistance which the furniture should meet.

A PSPS puts the onus on the industry to self-correct and has no formal compliance requirements or enforcement mechanisms.

The ministry will monitor the industry for two years and if improvements are not enough, regulation may be enforced.

Consultation on the PSPS began last year.

Fifteen submissions were received and broadly supported the need to manage the fire risks of foam-filled furniture despite all expecting that any change in procedure would cost them.

The exact cost varied from 1 to 20 percent, which in practice could mean a $1000 couch may cost consumers closer to $1200.

In a December 2018 briefing, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said it would monitor for price increases in products that reflected compliance costs.

Submitters were also concerned that a lack of testing facilities to check if their product met any new flammability standard would be a hurdle to compliance and said that would need to taken into account.

They also raised concerns about how importers and furniture overseas would be managed, given that a PSPS was not mandatory and some were hesitant about the prospect of adding more flame-retardant chemicals to their products.

Mr Faafoi said the PSPS was a good first step.

"Fire and Emergency NZ ran a demonstration for me and I saw first-hand how this foam-filled furniture can play a significant role in domestic fire risk.

"My hope is that manufacturers start adopting safer foam materials, retailers use better labelling and sell safer furniture products and importers bring in safer products," he said.

Coroner's reports show that more people die of smoke inhalation than of burns from the flames.

From 2006-2016, the total number of deaths during residential structure fires was 177 and from 2012-2017, there were 1227 fire related injuries.

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