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Breaking News – New Federal Law Expands Furniture Flammability Testing Standard

posted by Jennifer Diaz March 23, 2021 0 comments

Do you manufacture or sell upholstered furniture? Beginning June 25, 2021, a new law requires all upholstered furniture nationwide to comply with California Technical Bulletin 117-2013?

WHAT WAS THE STANDARD AND WHY IS IT CHANGING?

1979 NATIONWIDE STANDARD – OPEN FLAMESTANDARD

 In April 1979, the Upholstered Furniture Action Council (“UFAC”), an industry association, established a voluntary furniture flammability testing standard known as the open flame standard. Under the open flame standard, technicians test the flammability of furniture using a candle or lighted match and measure how quickly the open flames spread and grow. The open flame standard required upholstered furniture fabric to have a flame-retardant back coating. As a result, flame retardants were added to furniture. Furniture manufacturers nationwide have been adding brominated or chlorinated chemicals to the foam to slow the flames’ spread. The 1979 “open flame” standard has now been replaced by the “smolder test” standard set in TB 117-2013.

CRITICISM OF THE OPEN FLAME STANDARD

 For decades, the regulatory standard for testing furniture flammability has been the subject of significant contention. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) has been conducting tests and studies on whether furniture should be required to withstand an “open-flame” standard.

 In recent years, concern has grown over the use of flame retardants in upholstered furniture (required by the open flame standard) and its effects on the human body. According to Scientific American, over the past several years, concerns about chemicals have mounted as evidence points to an array of potential health effects, including reduced IQs, attention problems, and other neurological effects in children exposed in the womb or during infancy. The chemicals have been building up in human bodies, including breast milk, around the world.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (“NFPA”), smoldering objects such as cigarettes were the leading cause of household fires rather than open flames. Therefore, there were mounting calls for a testing standard that focused on smoldering rather than open flames.

2013 TB 117-2013 CALIFORNIA STANDARD – SMOLDER TEST

In 2013, in response to concerns that flame retardants negatively affected public health, California issued TB 117-2013. This was an important development because TB-117-2013 no longer required the “open-flame test,” As a result, manufacturers no longer need to use flame retardant chemicals in their products.  Instead, TB 117-2013 required the “smolder test.” The “smolder test” tests the fire resistance of upholstered furniture when exposed to smoldering objects such as a lit cigarette.

The smolder test standard is comprised of three sub-tests that apply to upholstered furniture components:

  1. A cover fabric test which applies to outer cover fabrics
  2. A barrier materials test which applies to materials intended to serve as a barrier between cover fabric the resilient filling material
  3. A resilient filling material test applies to resilient filling materials used in upholstered seating furniture.

Laboratories can test for furniture flammability and fire resistance in accordance with  California Technical Bulletin 117-2013.

CALIFORNIA STANDARD ADOPTED NATIONWIDE

 On December 21, 2020, Congress passed The Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act (“SOFFA”). Section 2101 of SOFFA (Title XXI – COVID-19 Regulatory Relief and Work from Home Safety Act) makes it mandatory for all upholstered furniture to meet the standards of California Technical Bulletin 117-2013 (“Cal TB 117-2013”). on December 27, 2020. This new law mandates that California’s flammability standard for upholstered furniture under TB 117-2013 is the new nationwide standard utilized by the CPSC under section 4 of the Flammable Fabrics Act (15 U.S.C. 1193).

 Key Provisions

Key provisions of the new national standard include: 

  • A compliance date of June 25, 2021
  • All upholstered furniture, whether it be for home or office use, must have a permanent label that states, “Complies with the S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) requirements for upholstered furniture flammability.” This includes pillows and accessories of furniture.
  • The permanent label will serve as certification that the furniture is compliant with TB117-2013 and will be considered to be the certification that the product complies with the standard.

Scope of the New Standard:

 The following furniture is included within the scope of the new standard:

  • Upholstered furniture is seating furniture intended for indoor use, movable or stationary, that is built with an upholstered seat, back, or arm. It is also made or sold with a cushion or pillow (regardless if that pillow is attached or detached from the furniture). Examples are single sofas, double seater sofas or triple seater sofas, living room chairs, couches, and dining room chairs.

Meanwhile, the act does not apply to:

  • Outdoor patio furniture, mattresses, foundations, bedding products, furniture used exclusively for physical fitness and exercise, or non-furniture juvenile products such as walkers, strollers, highchairs, and pillows.

What You Should Do

 Companies that manufacture or sell upholstered furniture should begin planning for compliance with TB-117-2013. For example, companies should:

  1. Review the required test procedures and engage a laboratory to perform the required testing.
  2. Review current inventory of furniture. If it does not sell before June 25th, 2021, the furniture should be tested and labeled accordingly.
  3. Communicate with suppliers and manufacturers to confirm they are aware of the new law and requirements.

Contact Us!

 Diaz Trade Law has significant experience in product safety matters and has successfully represented clients in complying with CPSC laws and regulations. Diaz Trade Law is here to ensure you understand what this change may mean to your business and the requirements needed to meet compliance. If you have questions regarding importing upholstered furniture, want to understand how this new statute affects your business, contact Diaz Trade Law today.

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