Foam-filled furniture product safety policy statement

Petrochemical foams used in domestic furniture pose significant risks in a fire. The foam contributes to the speed, spread, severity and survivability of domestic fires.

Background

The majority of domestic furniture in New Zealand is foam-filled. The foams used can catch fire at relatively low temperatures, burn quickly and intensely, and emit suffocating poisonous smoke that can spread fire quickly through a home.

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An average 3-piece foam-filled furniture (FFF) suite has the combustible potential of 10 litres of fuel and in a fire poses a high risk for harm or death through burns and/or inhalation of toxic gases.

Even though most homes have smoke alarms they aren’t always active. Even if alarms are active, the speed that foam burns and the quantity of suffocating toxic smoke produced can outpace a person’s ability to respond to an alarm.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) foam-filled furniture fire demonstration

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) demonstrate how intensely foam-filled furniture burns. The petrochemical foams used in most furniture contributes to the speed, spread, severity and survivability of a domestic fire. In less than 2 minutes the fire could be survivable. This is why the New Zealand government is asking the furniture industry to manufacture, source and supply more fire safe furniture.

fenz foam filled furniture fire demo

View transcript

Transcript

Duration: 3:49

Peter Wilding, Fire and Emergency New Zealand and Hon Kris Faafoi, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs

Hon Kris Faafoi:
So, Pete’s just, he's just lighting it now.

Peter Wilding:
Yeah. So we've got a compartment that's been furnished like a standard room. We've just ignited in the far corner as if a child's been playing with a sofa playing on a cycle with a cigarette lighter similar to several examples that I'll show you later on.

Hon Kris Faafoi:
Look how much smoke coming out already!

Peter Wilding:
The foam produces an enormous amount of smoke very very quickly but that foam is also highly toxic it contains hydrogen cyanide; hydrogen fluoride; hydrogen chloride gas and so if you stand up in that it's obviously is very toxic and you can be overcome, even if you're not overcome it can affect your reasoning ability, and people do all sorts of unusual things, they might go and hide in a cupboard or do other things rather than make a safe escape.

You can now see that flame with just a few seconds into it, we've now got actual flame extension across the ceiling that's now heating up other items in that room - they will start to combust. It will be penetrating beyond the room of origin now and start to go out into other, ah, down the hallway into other rooms of the house. The smokes penetrating down there.

The smoke alarm is activated after 30 seconds, so if you're upstairs it's 30 seconds from the time the fire started you've now woken up to being aware something's going on in your house.

Hon Kris Faafoi:
So how much of that ferocity is down to the foam?

Peter Wilding:
It's almost entirely down to the foam at the moment.

We're going to go in and extinguish that within about three and a half minutes and you'll notice once we've done that there'll be a lot of timber in there that's almost unburned, it won't even be charred, almost all of what you were seeing at the moment is - comes down to the foam just combusting.

Hon Kris Faafoi:
It’s a lot of smoke and flames for a minute and a half two minutes in.

Peter Wilding:
Yeah and you can see now we've actually got for extension outside of the compartment, its’s the smoke that is traveling several meters away from a fire is now igniting and so that is now heating up other aspects of the compartment.

Hon Kris Faafoi:
So that doesn't just mean you talk about the heat release and short amount of time this is what you're talking about right.

Peter Wilding:
Exactly, there's virtually nothing else in your house that will release this much heat in such a short period of time. Carpets and furnishings and drapes it sure they will burn eventually but nothing will give you this amount of heat production.

Hon Kris Faafoi:
So it’s coming out now, well and truly now.

Peter Wilding:
That room is totally un-survivable no one even with protective gear and they will survive in that room but also down there in nearby rooms and hallways and other bedrooms now they will now be un-survivable in a house situation. If this was downstairs you might be upstairs in a room where you have not been overcome by the fire but you can now no longer get downstairs and that's what we saw on Flatbush with those three people that died.

Hon Kris Faafoi:
Now your guys are about to go in now, but this is pretty early in the big scheme of things right.

Peter Wilding:
Yep so they're going in at about three and a half minutes now our average attendance in New Zealand cities is around eight minutes, so our fire engine is still four or five minutes away down the road. We're just going to put it out now so that you can see once the fire is out we'll go and have a look in the compartment and you'll see what has been burning and what hasn't, what has really contributed to the this incredible amount of fire development.

What is a product safety policy statement?

A product safety policy statement (PSPS) is a regulatory tool that gives industry the opportunity and flexibility to respond to the identified issues and deliver on the outcomes sought, ie furniture that is more fire safe. A PSPS aims to achieve the desired outcomes without the need for legislative intervention which can be more restrictive.

If the industry or parts of the industry do not move to address the issues then regulatory interventions will be considered to ensure that the risks are mitigated across the market.

What can you do as a furniture supplier

The PSPS for foam-filled furniture aims to advise the New Zealand furniture industry of the risks associated with these products in a fire and outlines the government’s expectation that suppliers (importers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers) respond by making sure that the foam-filled furniture products they supply are more fire safe.

Unsure where to start? Some of the options available include:

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Evidence is emerging that older flame retardant chemical technologies, such as organohalogens, present hazards to consumers, and combustion products from some flame retardants pose hazards to fire-fighting personnel.

We also encourage the industry to look to develop novel solutions to achieve the desired outcomes. Designing these around schemes established overseas, such as that in Californian model, will mean that the solution could have international market appeal.

What you can tell consumers while you make safer furniture available

While you are working toward supplying more fire safe foam-filled furniture, you should encourage your consumers/customers to follow the advice from Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) – ensure that they have:

  • working smoke alarms, and
  • an escape plan.

Check out the 'At home' fire safety advice section on the FENZ website(external link).

What is Trading Standards' role?

We are committed to working with the industry to achieve the outcomes set out in the PSPS – that is to improve the fire safety of domestic foam-filled furniture products.

We want to work with individuals and businesses to identify and develop ways to deliver safer furniture. As our understanding builds we will share the knowledge and tools developed to support the industry as a whole.

We are looking at the potential for a labelling scheme that suppliers can use to show customers that their furniture is safer in a fire. If you are interested in the labelling approach email us your details and we will keep you in the loop.

The product safety policy statement (PSPS)

This is the official version of the PSPS for foam-filled furniture.

Product Safety Policy Statement Foam-filled furniture [PDF, 406 KB]

The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Hon Kris Faafoi, announced the Foam-Filled Furniture policy statement in July 2019.

Beehive website media release - Commerce and Consumer Affairs - Fire risk of foam-filled furniture(external link)