Fire Safety Regulations & Standards

To protect our lives, health, property and the environment, fire protection regulations and standards in the various fields have the objective to​:

Prevent fires

And, if a fire starts, to hinder or delay fire spread

And eventually prevent flashover, giving more time to escape

Fire safety is generally regarded as a public safety issue by governments and jurisdictions vary in their approaches to it. More developed economies and global regions have quite sophisticated and normative approaches to addressing fire safety often taking a layered approach based on prevention first and foremost.

The reality though, is that globally there are many contrasting standards across the world for just about every situation.  In the building and construction area for instance, the multiplicity of approaches and codes has created uncertainty and confusion in the testing and approval of construction methods, products and operation of buildings. The same is also true with respect to upholstered furnishings. The International Fire Safety standards (IFSS) coalition launched in 2018, is attempting to bring some order to fire safety standards in the building and construction sector. Furniture fire safety standards on the other hand and under pressure for the need to use chemical flame retardants to enable some materials and coatings used to meet strict standards. This has led to the weakening of such standards in some countries for instance in the US, California revised its stringent standard – the CA TB 117 requirements[1] for testing PU foams in upholstered furniture in response to concerns about flame retardants.

Things are moderately better when it comes to transportation (depending on mode) and with respect to electrical and electronic equipment where the International Electronics Commission and the Underwriters Laboratory have been effective in setting global standards for electrical and electronic equipment.

[1] Technical Bulletin 117 (March 2000) Requirements, Test Procedure and Apparatus for Testing the Flame Retardance of Resilient Filling Materials Used in Upholstered Furniture and Technical Bulletin 117-2013 Requirements, Test Procedure and Apparatus for Testing the Smolder Resistance of Materials Used in Upholstered Furniture. January 2013

Download here our factsheet dedicated to Fire Safety Standards

Fire Safety Standards and Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are substances that change the nature of combustible plastic materials making them more ignition resistant. In most products they primarily stop fires from starting or slow the rate of ignition. These properties significantly delay flame and fire development which in turn save lives in homes and buildings by increasing the time for occupants to escape and fire fighters to respond. It is important to understand the term ‘flame retardant’ refers to a functional role and not a particular chemistry. There are many types of flame retardants  and the choice in any product or material design combines performance and safety from all dimensions. They offer a critical first layer of prevention in societal fire minimisation strategies and their value should not be easily dismissed.

No fire safety standard specifically mandates the use of chemical flame retardants. Their use is related to enabling a material or polymer to meet performance tests set in relevant fire safety standards for products and materials.

While there have been concerns with respect to a few specific flame retardants in the past twenty years, this is not indicative of a movement away from using chemical flame retardants internationally. It is true that a handful of states in the USA have adopted restrictions on the application of chemical flame retardants in children’s toys and furniture. However, the majority of states continue to enforce robust fire safety standards and allow the use of chemical flame retardants as a means of meeting best-in-class fire safety standards. California instituted a change in furniture flammability requirements in 2015, in order to reduce the use of flame retardants in furniture. However, the impact of this change on fire deaths and injuries in the intervening period requires careful analysis. Recent work by Blais et. al[2] suggests that the impact may be retrograde.

[2] Blais, Matthew S., Karen Carpenter, and Kyle Fernandez. “Comparative Room Burn Study of Furnished Rooms from the United Kingdom, France and the United States.” Fire Technology (2019): 1-26.