Posted January 15, 2024

Concerns Over Government Plans To Ease Furniture Safety Regulations

Fire safety experts are expressing dismay at the government’s proposal to eliminate essential safety regulations, putting lives at risk. The potential rollback comes in the aftermath of historical tragedies, notably the Woolworths fire in 1979, which led to the establishment of legislation in 1988.

In a troubling turn of events, the UK government is facing criticism from the fire safety community for its intentions to dismantle vital regulations implemented following the Woolworths tragedy in 1979. The Manchester Woolworths fire resulted in the loss of ten lives, prompting a transformative safety initiative spearheaded by Assistant County Fire Officer Bob Graham. This incident shed light on the dangers of polyurethane foam-filled furniture, leading to the enactment of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations in 1988.

The existing regulations require independent testing for flammability, estimated to save between 50 and 70 lives annually, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). However, recent government proposals suggest a shift towards a voluntary approach, raising concerns among fire professionals about potential risks associated with deregulation.

Matt Wrack, the FBU general secretary, expressed serious concerns, stating, “The Westminster government wants to scrap mandatory flammability tests for furniture, opening the door for manufacturers to sell furniture that may be hazardous.” Wrack emphasised research indicating that the current regulations have played a crucial role in preventing a significant number of fatalities each year.

The proposed changes have been met with criticism, with fire professionals arguing that the government’s emphasis on deregulation is misguided, particularly in the context of emerging hazards like lithium batteries. The Fire Brigades Union, which has advocated for the existing regulations for decades, contends that the move prioritises profit over public safety.

The campaign for furniture safety regulations originated from the Woolworths incident, but subsequent tragedies, such as the Christmas Day blaze in Bury in 1984, underscored the urgent need for legislation. The Massey Street fire claimed nine lives, highlighting the lethal combination of flammable furniture and inadequate fire safety measures.

The government’s efforts to reform the regulations were evident in a 2016 consultation, citing the need to align with evolving furniture-making practices. However, concerns persist regarding the proposed new approach, focusing on reduced ignition risk and fire spread. The recent consultation on draft regulations, held from August 2, 2023, to October 24, 2023, has left the fire safety community anxiously awaiting the government’s decision.

As fire professionals express their apprehension, the future of furniture safety regulations hangs in the balance. The ongoing debate emphasizes the critical importance of balancing consumer preferences with stringent safety measures to prevent future tragedies and safeguard lives. Fire safety factors should also include furniture and fittings, not just the physical building. Commercial premises and locations which visitor footfall require fire risk assessments and consideration to fire safety regulations. Contact an SS systems advisor to discuss and review your business and location across fire safety related matters.

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