FINAL-FINAL.jpgQQQQ copy.gif

    Home |  Testing Services  |  Technical Information  |  Consulting  |  Customer Services  |  Careers  |  Contact Us   



Table 7.jpg












   Ask online_red copy_revised.jpg




Upholstered Furniture - Flammability


Ignition of upholstered furniture by small open flames from matches, cigarette lighters, and candles is one of the leading causes of residential-fire deaths in the United States. These fires accounted for about 16% of civilian fire deaths in 1996. On average, each year since 1990, about 90 deaths (primarily of children), 440 injuries, and property losses amounting to 50 million dollars have resulted from fires caused by the ignition of upholstered furniture by small open flames. Certain commercial seating products (such as aircraft and bus seats) are subject to flammability standards and sometimes incorporate FR-treated upholstery cover materials, but there is no federal-government requirement for residential upholstered furniture, and it is generally not treated with FR chemicals. It is estimated that less than 0.2% of all U.S. residential upholstery fabric is treated with flame-retardant (FR) chemicals.

The Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 created the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as an independent federal regulatory agency whose mission is to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury and death associated with consumer products. CPSC also administers the Flammable Fabrics Act, under which it regulates flammability hazards and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), which regulates hazardous substances including chemicals. In 1993, the National Association of State Fire Marshals petitioned CPSC to issue a performance-based flammability standard for upholstered furniture to reduce the risk of residential fires. The Commission granted that portion of the petition relating to small open flame ignition risks. The


California – Technical Bulletin 117 (TB-117)


California is the only state with mandatory flammability regulations for residential upholstered furniture. A flammability performance standard was developed and is administered by the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. The principal standard, applicable since 1975 to all upholstered furniture sold in the state, is known as Technical Bulletin 117 (TB-117).

Technical Bulletin 117 contains a series of flammability performance tests and minimum requirements for both cigarette ignition and small open flame resistance of furniture component materials. Manufacturers generally rely on FR-treated polyurethane foam or other foam filling materials to meet the flame-prevention requirement for fillings. Cover fabrics do not require FR treatment to comply with TB-117.


Details of the sections of Technical Bulletin 117 (TB-117)

Resilient Cellular Materials – Section A of Part I of TB-117

Non-man-made Filling Materials – Section B of Part I of TB-117

Man-made Fiber Filling Materials – Section C of TB-117

Resilient Filling Materials – Section D of Part I of TB-117

Resilient Cellular Materials – Section D of Part II of TB-117

Upholstery Fabrics – Section E of Part I of TB-117


The United Kingdom


As a consequence of UK furniture-fire regulations, which were introduced in 1988, flame retardants are widely used both in upholstery fabrics and in foams and other fillings for furniture to meet performance requirements. Appendix B provides an overview of the types of application methods and level of FRs presently being used, and available information on durability, degradation, and fate of FRs after treatments of furniture upholstery. Flame retardants are incorporated at the fabric-finishing stage before furniture manufacture, so furniture upholsterers have been occupationally exposed to fabrics containing flame retardants and UK consumers who have purchased new furniture or have lived in rented furnished accommodations have been exposed for over a decade to FR-treated fabrics and foams.

Some workers were reported to have experienced dermal sensitization to FR-treated upholstery, but the sensitization was in fact due to fabric finish and fiber factors, not to FRs, and no other adverse effects have been reported. No adverse effects have been reported in the general population exposed to FR-treated furniture or other FR-treated consumer products.

Almost all FR chemicals used in Europe were used commercially at the time the European existing-substances regulations were introduced. These chemicals continue to be used without the requirement of formal risk assessments unless they were identified as high-priority substances that specifically needed such an assessment. The latter is the case for a small number of flame retardants that are undergoing formal risk assessment in Europe, including the polybrominated diphenyl ethers and hexabromocyclododecane.




Upholstered Furniture Action Council (UFAC) of United States




The foam/furniture flammability issue is so complex and important that attempting to cover the issues and problems thoroughly in a guidelines publication is ill advised. Therefore, only a sketch of the flammability issues and regulations will be presented in this publication. Through UFAC, PFA, and SPI, the joint industries have much information, details, and sourcing regarding the flammability issues; so if more complete and detailed information is required, it is suggested that one of these associations should be contacted. The major issues and regulations will be covered in the following sections.


About UFAC


The voluntary UFAC (Upholstered Furniture Action Council) program involves all residential upholstered furniture sold in the United States with the exception of furniture sold in the state of California and some other areas where there are other specific regulations. The state of California has its own residential furniture flammability specifications which, contrary to the UFAC program, are not voluntary.


UFAC program


The UFAC program is a voluntary program which became completely instituted in 1978. The UFAC program involves everyone in the upholstered furniture loop, i.e., the raw material suppliers to the furniture industry, the furniture manufacturers, and furniture retailers. To date, the UFAC program is shown to be successful by virtue of significant decreases in fire incidence and fire deaths since the inception of the UFAC program.


In the UFAC program, UFAC has developed an extensive series of test methods, furniture construction criteria, and procedures which assist manufacturers in complying with the UFAC program. The UFAC tests are cigarette smoldering protocols (as opposed to open flame protocols) since from the very beginning, cigarettes were shown to be the major cause of upholstery fires.


In the UFAC protocol, applicable raw materials are tested using lighted cigarettes. Outer fabrics are classified by the use of lighted cigarettes, and then UFAC furniture construction criteria are used to assemble upholstered furniture which is resistant to ignition by lighted cigarettes. 14.2.4 UFAC has also developed cross-checks, i.e., compliance procedures that include an annual sampling of all of the participant's raw materials for a compliance cross-check in the compliance laboratory selected by UFAC. UFAC also has a technical committee and laboratory alliance which meets routinely to investigate new technology and/or new flammability requirements.


NFPA 260


NFPA 260 is the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) version the UFAC test protocol and criteria. NFPA 260 differs only in language and publication form from the UFAC test methodology.


California Technical Bulletin 116


California Technical Bulletin 116 is basically a cigarette test for full scale pieces of upholstered furniture which are manufactured for residential use in the state of California. California Technical Bulletin 116 is used adjunct with California Technical Bulletin 117.


California Technical Bulletin 117


California Technical Bulletin 117, a mandatory standard, is both an open flame test and a smoldering cigarette test for the component materials used to make residential upholstered furniture which is to be sold in the state of California. In this test, each upholstery component except the covering fabric is time exposed to either an open flame or a smoldering cigarette in a defined test chamber, and the propagation of the open flame or the cigarette char length is measured to a specific specification criteria contained in Technical Bulletin 117. All upholstered furniture components except frames must comply with this test procedure and criteria.


California Technical Bulletin 133


California Technical Bulletin 133 is a very severe open flame test, mandatory for furniture sold in what is called "public occupancies" in the state of California. It should be noted that several other states have adopted California Technical Bulletin 133 for the same occupancies in their states. In the California Technical Bulletin 133 (TB-133) test protocol, a full scale piece of furniture or a mock up is placed in a specially designed room where the furniture or mock up is exposed to an approximate 16 kw open flame for eighty seconds. The temperature at the 4 foot level and at the ceiling are monitored constantly. The mass loss of the test furniture is monitored continuously, and the carbon monoxide concentration in the test room is monitored continuously. Smoke opacity in the room is also monitored continuously. TB-133 lists criteria for each function measured. Another way to test for passing TB- 133 is the use of oxygen consumption (depletion) calorimetry. In oxygen consumption calorimetry, the oxygen consumed by the burning furniture is monitored continuously, and the peak heat release and total heat release are calculated from the amount of oxygen consumed by the burning furniture. There are specific criteria for peak heat release and total heat release. It should be said here that the TB-133 test for upholstered furniture was designed specifically for upholstered furniture used in public occupancies, and this test is definitely not applicable to upholstered furniture used in residential occupancies. It should also be noted that TB-133 is the most severe fire test in the world for upholstered furniture.


The Boston Fire Department Test and Requirements


The Boston Fire Department Tests and Requirements (The Boston Fire Code) was developed solely for public occupancy furniture sold in the city of Boston. While the Boston Fire Code is an open flame test and officially requires test methodology that differs from the TB-133 tests and criteria, Boston officials have stated in public forum that they will accept the results of TB-133 if the TB-133 data is submitted to the Boston Fire Department.


NFPA 264, The Cone Calorimeter


The Cone Calorimeter is a bench scale apparatus used to measure peak heat release and total heat release of small size furniture components and composites. The Cone Calorimeter measures these heat values based on oxygen depletion during burning, so it is an oxygen consumption calorimeter. In the Cone Calorimeter, other apparatus are available to measure mass loss, smoke opacity, carbon monoxide, and other gases when required. Thus far, the Cone Calorimeter has been a useful research tool for the measurement of the heat properties of materials and composites. Some of the data from the Cone Calorimeter can be used in computer modeling of fires.


ASTM E-1537


ASTM has published equivalents to the UFAC cigarette test methods. Like the NFPA 260, the ASTM method is exactly the same as the UFAC methodology--only differing in publishing style and language form. ASTM has published a form of California TB-133 as ASTM E-1537. This test method also contains some other approaches to full-scale oxygen consumption calorimetry which could eventually lead to some economies of scale in testing.




UL has published a full scale test method for upholstered furniture. In many respects, the UL method is similar to TB-133 as it utilizes oxygen consumption calorimetry. To date, the significant difference between the UL method and TB-133 is the ignition source. UL continues to use a wooden crib as the ignition source for their testing.


The United Kingdom – BS 5852


The most significant happening in Europe related to the furniture/flammability issues has been the banning of the use of conventional, flexible polyurethane foams in the manufacture of upholstered furniture for sale in The United Kingdom. In the process of banning the conventional foams in favor of combustion modified foams, the U.K. adopted the British Standards Institute 5852 standard in phases, and at this writing all phases are in full effect. This entire issue in the U.K. has caused much confusion and turmoil, and the true value of the banning and imposed standards are both in question.


The European Common Market Countries (EC)


During the process of defining criteria for cross border trading within the EC, a group of technical personnel from each country involved was appointed to study the flammability issues and make recommendations to the ruling body of the EC. This technical group studied the issues carefully and decided that the open flame issues were too complex to include in an immediate EC standard. At this writing, their estimate of the time necessary to develop an open flame standard was three or more years. As a result, the EC technical community decided on a cigarette smoldering test only, and at this time, two tests are under consideration by the EC technical group: the BS 5852 test and the UFAC tests and construction criteria. In the European community, the UFAC program will be called EUFAC.





© 2005, 2010   Professional Testing & Consulting Ltd.  All rights reserved.