WORDS ON FIRE
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by Timothy Jacobs

 

Flammability Updates & News

Mattress and Upholstered News on the Federal and State Levels; Foam Fire Safety Act; AB 603 Becomes TB 603; Bedclothes Standard Advances in California

The American Home Fire Safety Act: Designed to Push the US CPSC to Rush New Standards

 

FAI Working Hard With CPSC Awareness Program

The Futon Association International is working overtime to help its members stay in front of the curve.

“Our Flammability Awareness Committee, consisting of FAI Board Secretary Karen Day of Otis Bed, and Board Member Mike Schwieger of Verlo will be attending ISPA’s SHOPTalk California TB603 - Implementation and Beyond meetings next month where they will be participating on behalf of their own companies as well as FAI,” said FAI President, Pattie MacMillen.

Several FAI member manufacturers were recently visited in a broad data gathering sweep by the CPSC. “The agency has also been searching the internet, specifically the Association’s site (www.futon.org) to gather information too,” MacMillen said.

The new CPSC Awareness Program will include contact of all member companies with a focus on futon mattress manufacturers. It will include the latest updates on the ISPA meetings, progress reports on the regulations themselves, test method updates, and implementation deadlines.

“We have the greatest respect for the goals of consumer safety and product quality as proposed and formulated by the Cal Bureau for the state of California, and by the CPSC nationally. Our relationship with these regulating bodies has always been a pro-active and collaborative one, and we are working very hard to keep it that way,” she said.
 

 

On October 30, 2003, Democrat Senator “Fritz” Hollings of South Carolina drafted and sponsored the American Home Fire Safety Act (S 1798), to “require the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to establish a variety of well-researched fire safety standards for the items, from fire resistant synthetic fibers to specifications that minimize heat output once ignited.”

It must here be said that the CPSC has worked diligently with industry, and has acted with great care to arrive at a national open-flame futon mattress flammability standard that will actually do what it is supposed to do, and will be realistically compliable by manufacturers.

However, the Honorable Senator Hollings expands on his reasoning behind this issue, by stating, in the text of the Act, “despite overwhelming evidence that new standards would save lives, the Commission has been slow to address this issue...there are some who ask for more time for the Commission to work on this issue. More than twenty years have passed since the Commission has addressed product fire safety. There is no more time to waste.”

That this can carry some weight, though not yet sanctioned by Congress, is indicated by the fact that Senator Hollings is “a ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees the CPSC,” as is also stated in the text of the Act.
It is well known that, even before Senator Hollings introduced his bill, the CPSC has desired to bring forth the new flammability standard in good time. In several venues (ISPA’s BedTimes magazine and Furniture Today magazine), Chairman of the US Consumer Products Safety Commission Hal Stratton has been quoted as indicating his desire to complete the standard swiftly—and had even discussed, at the ISPA conference in Nashville last September, adopting the California AB/TB 603 standard as a common-sense strategy to fulfill the need for a new national standard (as much of the same research has gone into both standards).

However, a contemporaneous article in Furniture Today magazine quotes Don Bliss, President of the National Assn. of State Fire Marshals, as stating that the NASFM has had doubts about the efficacy of the California AB 603 standard, as they felt that the standard has been “softened” from its original rigor.

(The focus of contention on this issue has to do with the California standard’s burn test time being dropped from one hour to 30 minutes, and a slight rise in acceptable heat release allowed. In a conversation with Information Officer Miles Bristow at the California Bureau of Home Furnishings, I was assured that these changes have been predicated on years of intensive study and research, and will not realistically affect the standard’s effectiveness.)

An item of some note in this same vein is that NASFM has, from time to time, pressured the CPSC to speedily adopt a national ignition standard for bedclothes as well (especially in their commentary on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the developmental national standard)—and the Foam Fire Safety Act (see below), currently being reviewed in Congress, also feeds into this vein of thinking. Again, the CPSC has been thinking along these lines for some time.

In a recent conversation with Ken Giles, Media Relations Officer for the CPSC, I was told that the “goal” of current CPSC rulemaking is to have parallel national standards to protect consumers from both open-flame and smolder ignition.

The text of the American Home Fire Safety Act can be found at http://hollings.senate.gov/.

National Upholstered Furniture ANPR Reworked to Include Smolder Commentary
Giles also informed me that the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the developmental national upholstered furniture standard has been re-released to include cigarette smolder ignition comments by industry. The date of release was December, 2003. Currently the CPSC Commissioners are deciding whether to proceed with step two of the rulemaking process, which is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This in turn will be followed by industry and constituent commentary, followed by the establishment of a final rule and its effective date.

There are no current plans on the part of the CPSC to meld the futon mattress standard and the upholstered furniture standard together—so, it is quite possible that as an industry, we will face multiple standards for futons for the foreseeable future.

The Foam Fire Safety Act (HR 3437)

This is another bill aimed at exerting pressure on the US CPSC to rush legislation. The gist of this Congressional bill is contained in its conclusion: “Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission shall, pursuant to section 4 of the Flammable Fabrics Act (15 U.S.C. 1193(a)), promulgate safety standards that address open flame ignition of futon mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, and soundproofing materials, and other materials containing polyurethane.”

Sponsored primarily by Democrat Representative Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, this bill was strongly inspired by the tragic nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, on February 20, 2003, in which 100 people died and 200 were injured. It also takes impetus from the existing California and United Kingdom legislation that require the use of fire retardant foam in futon mattress and furniture products containing foam. HR 3437 was introduced to the House of Representatives on November 4, 2003.

The kinds of products under the purview of this proposed legislation would be “futon mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpet padding, soundproofing materials, and countless other objects commonly found in homes and office buildings.”

The full text of the Foam Fire Safety Act (HR 3437) can be found at http://www.theorator.com/senate.html.

California Technical Bulletin 603 Becomes Law

A statement this office received on January 27, 2004, from the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation reads as follows:

“California has approved the nation’s first standard requiring that mattresses, box springs and futons sold to consumers provide protection against an open flame causing the product to burn intensely. The regulations go into effect January 1, 2005, after which all mattresses, box springs and futons manufactured for sale to California consumers must be open-flame resistant...the new mattress flammability standard is called ‘Technical Bulletin 603’…

‘The state's approval of the Technical Bulletin 603 standard means Californians will have greater protection from the danger of bedroom fires that start with small open flames," said Lynn Morris, BHFTI chief....’ ”

That much having been said, the California Secretary of State expects to formally issue the standard on February 22, 2004, and again, California will begin enforcement on January 1, 2005.

The enforcement will focus on manufacturers, of course. But, lest retailers become too lax in making sure your manufacturers are up to snuff, just ask one of your colleagues what a headache it is to have to take your inventory off-sale, to tell your customers about the situation; and to, yes, risk a fine. Stay alert and be prepared by making sure the inventory you buy is compliant.

Miles Bristow, the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Information Officer, told me in a conversation in early February 2004, that the TB 603 standard was the model envisioned in Democratic Senator “Fritz” Hollings American Home Fire Safety Act, and aspects of TB 603 have been incorporated in the rulemaking for the upcoming national standard.

The California standard includes a preemption clause that says, essentially, that if the finalized national open-flame mattress standard is equal to or exceeds TB 603, then the applicable law will be the national standard.

For more information on TB 603, please go to the California Bureau of Home Furnishings’ web site at http://www.bhfti.ca.gov. Or, call the BHFTI offices at 916-574-2041.

California Bedclothes Standard May Include Bench-Scale Testing

The California bedclothes standard, with the working title “TB 604,” will include mattress pads, comforters, pillows and other filled bedding products. A draft standard is available via e-mail. Make your request to contactbhfti@dca.ca.gov. For more information, log onto the BHFTI web address given above. Or call the BHFTI offices at the number given above.

When asked as to the status of this standard, Bristow said that it is still in the early stages of development. He indicated that a task force with representatives from industry, trade associations and the product-testing field had met four times in 2003, in developing the proposed regulation thus far.

He indicated that one of the hoped-for achievements of this preliminary assessment is to include bench–scale testing that will reflect real-world, full-scale situations. The task force on this standard is expected to meet several times in 2004.

FL

 

 
 
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