WORDS ON FIRE
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by Timothy Jacobs

Flammability Updates & News

Cal Chief Compares the Proposed Federal Flame Standard With Cal TB 603; Current Status of Federal Standards; Status of Smolder Standard; California Bedclothes Standard; and Compliance Enforcement for Manufacturers and Retailers

Harmony in Compliance: Similarities and One Discrepancy in Comparing the Proposed Federal Flame Standard With California's TB 603

California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation Chief Brian Stiger released a report on April 1 approving of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a federal open-flame mattress standard. In this report, Chief Stiger wrote, "The adoption of a national standard will level the playing field for the futon mattress market in the United States. All domestic and overseas mattress manufacturers would be required to comply with the same federal standard. Enforcing a national standard would allow for closer cooperation between the states and increase consumer protection."

By way of reminding us of the necessity for an enhanced fire-safety standard, Stiger continued, "The combination of the burning bedclothes, a burning mattress and other combustibles in the room often leads to a life-threatening condition within three minutes. Mattresses designed to meet TB 603 or a similar standard will be less likely to lead to a bedroom flashover fire than a futon mattress which is only cigarette resistant."

The test proposed in the US CPSC's NPR is identical to California's TB 603 with one exception: the stipulation in the federal ruling has a more stringent heat-release parameter than TB 603-15 megajoules in the first 10 minutes rather than 25 mega joules for TB 603. In his report, Chief Stiger agreed that the change to a 15-megajoule total heat release in the first 10 minutes "will provide added safety for smaller mattress products, which alone may not produce a peak heat release of 200 kilowatts but may contribute to the ignition of other combustibles in the bedroom if a 25 mega joule heat output is allowed."

Industry companies and other interested parties should be aware that the exact nature of the proposed rule may change after the CPSC staff completes their recommendations on the rule, which will then be passed on to the CPSC Commissioners for their decision to confirm it or request further study. (For more on this, please see below.)

Current Status of Federal Open-Flame, Bedclothes and Cigarette Smolder Standards

The US CPSC normally enacts a rulemaking with its full complement of three commissioners, (but can carry on day-to-day business for a limit of six months with just two commissioners). In the several months prior to this past May, the CPSC had been operating for several months with only two commissioners, awaiting the confirmation of the necessary third commissioner. In an interview conducted in May with CPSC Department of Public Affairs spokesperson Patty Davis, I was told that Nancy Nord became that third commissioner with her confirmation on May 5. So it is that, with the confirmation of Commissioner Nord, the CPSC is able once again to commence rulemaking. If information received by the Commissioners from the CPSC staff is approved by the Commissioners, we will have a new national standard. The “if” here is important: the rulemaking process could be completed somewhat swiftly from this point, or it could be further delayed.

Currently, the staff of the CPSC is “getting closer” to finalizing their analysis on commentary from industry and interested parties pertaining to the national open flame standard. Spokesperson Davis said that the CPSC staff is “working diligently, putting together a recommendation package for the Commissioners to study, who will base their decision (on whether or not to make a ruling on the national open-flame standard) on that package.

The CPSC received more than 500 comments and expects to present the commissioners with its recommendations (including possible changes to the proposed standard) in the fall, possibly in October.

If that occurs as expected, and the commissioners accept the staff’s recommendations relatively quickly, it is possible that the CPSC will issue its final futon mattress standard at the end of 2005. It is possible that the new standard could be announced at the end of 2005, and that it could be implemented in early 2007, given a standard one-year period for industry preparation, which would occur during 2006. However, this is speculation—we will have to await the US CPSC Commissioners’ decision.

Spokesperson Davis informed me that the national bedclothes standard is at the stage of Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which includes assessment of initial commentary received from the futon industry and other interested parties, risk evaluation and other factors. This is a preliminary stage in the rulemaking process, so interested parties should take an active role. As the next stage of the rulemaking process occurs, you will have another opportunity to make comments. For further information on the bedclothes standard, contact Margaret Neily, Directorate for Engineering Sciences, US Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, D.C. 20207, telephone (301) 504-7530.

Finally, the cigarette smolder standard—16 CFR 1632—for futons and mattresses is still in effect, and will be in effect until such time as it is either rolled into a new national standard as a last-minute change in that standard or is repealed. Unless the US CPSC decides to change the status of the existing smolder standard, 16 CFR 1632 will be in force. It should be noted that the CPSC and the State of California take continued compliance with the smolder standard very seriously. According to a May 2005 interview by Matt Bolch with US CPSC Compliance Officer Jason Hartman, in ISPA’s BedTimes magazine, the CPSC is definitely stepping up its inspections of mattress and futon industry companies in regard to compliance with the 16 CFR 1632 cigarette smolder standard. Among companies that have been found non-compliant thus far, faulty recordkeeping has been a major cause of failure.

For more information on any of these CPSC issues, call the US CPSC Department of Public Affairs at (301) 504-7908.

A Report on the Development of the California Bedclothes Standard (TB 604); and Compliance to TB 603 for Retailers and Manufacturers

I recently spoke with California BHFTI Manager of Research and Development
John MacCormack in regard to the developmental state bedclothes flammability standard, Technical Bulletin 604, which is a legislative outgrowth of the extant open-flame standard, TB 603.

Manager MacCormack said that the Bureau is about to begin the “precision and bias study” stage of development for the proposed standard, which will be completed before any rulemaking commences. To engage in this data-gathering enterprise, MacCormack said that BHFTI wants “at least eight labs participating,” to engage the test method outlined in BHFTI’s preliminary draft standard of October 2004. He indicated that more information on this development would be forthcoming over the summer months.

For a hard copy of the draft TB 604, e-mail your request to contactbhfti@dca.ca.gov, or contact The California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, at 3485 Orange Grove Ave., North Highlands, CA 95660-5595, or log onto the BHFTI website at www.bhfti.ca.gov or phone (916) 574-2041.

MacCormack said that compliance with TB 603 was going well in the futon industry thus far in the inspection process. To date, state inspectors have approached manufacturers and importers and are now turning toward retailers. MacCormack said that “traditionally constructed futons are doing well [provided they have proper fire-retardant treatment],” and that “more technical details will be given as a benchmark near the end of this year. He continued on to say that a preliminary compliance report would possibly be given at the ISPA SHOPtalk seminar in Las Vegas, September 14-15. (For more information on this seminar, log onto the ISPA website at www.sleepproducts.org.)

The mattress industry overall is doing reasonably well in compliance to TB 603. BHFTI Chief Brian Stiger’s report (see above) states, “The Bureau is not aware of massive disruptions in the sale of futon mattresses in California as a result of material and construction changes necessitated by this standard. Since the beginning of the year, the Bureau has tested mattress products from approximately 68 different manufacturers and reports an 80.8 percent pass rate. The failures either did not contain fire-resistant barrier protection, or the barrier itself suffered design, material, or construction defects that could reasonably be corrected with improved quality controls.”

Thoughts on the Future of Compliance; California Enforcement

The previously cited April 1 report by Chief Brian Stiger shows that the California BHFTI has an optimistic projection for the future of manufacturers meeting the TB 603 standard. Going by evidence that there is no shortage of mattress and futon models in the marketplace, Stiger states that there is a clear indication that “mattresses may be routinely made to comply with this standard if the manufacturer is intentional about compliance and due diligence is undertaken.”

In my interview with Research and Development Manager John MacCormack (see above), MacCormack expressed similar views, saying that, as compliance with the new standard continues, those fire-resistant materials that were initially thought of (and priced as) exotic, have and will become more commonplace and come down in price—resulting in lower costs to manufacturers, retailers and consumers in the long run.

Any optimism on the part of BHFTI regarding compliance does not, however, indicate a lessening of state compliance enforcement. If a product fails BHFTI testing, a backup test is performed—if the second test produces a pass, then a third test is performed. If the three tests result in two failures, this is then a “confirmed failure,” which results in a “withhold from sale” for that mattress or futon model.

Futon wholesalers and retailers are then informed that the model must be withheld; the manufacturer must then collect all of the units of that model and dispose of them properly. In the first quarter-year of inspections for California TB 603, products from six mattress and futon manufacturers were withheld from sale.

Stiger also underscored the importance of “written guaranties from manufacturers to retailers for mattress products in compliance with the new open flame standard. Similarly, this guarantee form could be reworded to include compliance with both the flame and smolder standards, assuming both would remain in effect.

Commenting on the proposed national open-flame standard (which is currently nebulous regarding mandatory prototype testing), Stiger wrote that, “[BHFTI] encourages manufacturers to establish thorough quality control, employee training and product testing programs. Manufacturers should recognize that the standard being proposed is a finished product standard, and the test outcome is affected by many factors. Material, design and construction changes can have a significant impact on the test outcome.

It should be reemphasized that failure can occur even in constructions where a fire barrier is used—if the mattress construction or the barrier material is faulty and allows openings where fire can get through to the mattress core materials.

Hence, Stiger stresses this point: “In the absence of mandatory prototype testing, proactive, periodic testing of finished sleep products should be performed routinely by futon manufacturers to ensure that no changes occur in material components or construction processes that would cause failure of the standard.” For more information on these issues, please contact BHFTI at the numbers and contact references given above.

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