Why is Fire Safety so important? The example of furniture regulations
Despite overwhelming efforts and technological developments in protecting human lives, fires remain an important cause of deaths worldwide. In the European Union, around 8,000 deaths related to fires are recorded each year, of which approximately 80% occur in households .
While these numbers should already raise an alarm bell for citizens, governments and authorities, today fire safety is usually taken for granted. In reality, the widespread use of new materials in our homes and offices has constantly increased the number of fire risks. Our homes contain a wide range of flammable materials, including furniture, such as sofas and beds, that might pose a risk to our lives. The growing number of electronic devices in our homes further increases the risk of a fire to start, unless appropriate fire safety features are used.
Developments in our modern society and better living conditions have also driven our demand for high levels of comfort and new materials and fibres fit for design. When it comes to selecting our sofas or mattresses, nowadays there is a wide selection to choose from. However, fire safety is not always taken into account.
Bearing this in mind, fire safety regulations and standards are fundamental to make sure that the furniture we buy and use in our homes is safe. Their key purpose is to protect people, especially the most vulnerable, from fires happening, or to offer enough time for firefighters to deal with them.
Nowadays, different technologies exist to make sure that our furniture is safe and meet fire safety standards across Europe. The use of flame retardants, which are added to manufactured materials, is one of the choices furniture manufacturers have to produce fire-safe furniture, such as a sofa. Flame retardants guarantee that people and possessions are safe. They do so not only by reducing the risk of a fire starting in our homes. They also make sure that our sofas can withstand a specific ignition source for a longer period of time, crucially allowing us to have enough margin to escape in the event of a fire. This can be a life-saving factor, not only for vulnerable groups such as elderly people, but also since more and more people are living in high-rise buildings with rather long escape routes.
Nevertheless, nowadays the concept of a ‘fire-safe furniture’ remains one with no common understanding or definition. In addition, the lack of harmonised regulations across Europe results in different levels of protection for Europeans, as requirements differ.
The impact of different fire regulations was recently discussed by Matthew Blaise (Southwest Research Institute SWRI) at FLAME 30, the 30th Annual Conference on Recent Advances in Flame Retardancy of Polymeric Materials. You can find more information at this link. In his work, Mr Blaise analysed the performance of furniture in the UK, France and the United States, where different fire safety standards and tests are mandated when furniture is put on the market. The UK is well recognised for having the most stringent regulations among the three countries. The results are striking: the time to ignition and spread of flames to the rest of the room was delayed by more than 16 minutes in the tests carried out on UK sofas when compared to France and the United States. Ultimately, this would give people enough time to become aware of the presence of a fire, put themselves and their family out of danger and allow the fire brigade to make a rapid intervention.
The evidence from the analysis clearly points out that fire safety is of great significance for society. In no way should technological developments, comfort and design be traded off against fire safety for our furniture. That is why stringent regulations on fire safety are needed to reflect societal changes and guarantee that the products we buy pose no danger to our lives and possessions.
We will discuss this and many other topics around fire safety at the first EU Fire Safety Week (18-22 November) in Brussels, where we will make recommendations to policymakers, ensuring that they devote special attention to fire safety across the EU. We hope you will be able to join in the conversation!
 European Fire Safety Alliance, https://www.europeanfiresafetyalliance.org/our-focus/fires-in-the-home/