Upholstered furniture remains a significant fire risk. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that there are, on average every year, 4,700 fires, 390 deaths, 660 injuries, and $238 million in property losses attributable to incidents where upholstered furniture was the first item ignited. Furniture is also a major source of secondary fires, contributing to fires and fire losses, even when it is not the first item ignited.
A common starting point in product design is to choose materials that resist ignition from sources of fire, which is why flame retardants are often used by consumer product manufacturers.
Dr. Marcelo Hirschler of GBH International conducted large scale studies comparing two identical sofas, one of which had foam compliant with California’s Technical Bulletin 117 (CA TB 117)1Source: California, Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. Requirements, Test Procedure and Apparatus for Testing the Flame Retardance of Resilient Filling Materials Used in Upholstered Furniture (March 2000). and one of which had non-flame retarded foam (with no flame retarded fabrics). The flame retarded CA TB 117-compliant foam required an ignition source four times as intense to ignite than did the non-retarded foam, and even after ignition, the sofa with the flame retarded foam offered an extra minute of escape time.2Source: Hirschler, M.M. 2004. Residential Upholstered Furniture in the United States and Fire Hazard. Pages 300-319 in M. Lewin (ed.) Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Conference on Recent Advances in Flam Retardancy of Polymeric Materials, June 7-9, 2004, Stamford, CT. Business Communications Company, Norwalk, CT.
Dr. Hirschler performed another study in which two upholstered chair mock-ups were tested, one with flame retarded foam (CA TB 117 compliant) and a flame retarded cotton fabric (NFPA 701 compliant) and the other with non-flame retarded foam and a non-flame retarded cotton fabric. The chair with the flame retarded materials survived the fire while the other chair without flame retardants was destroyed quickly.3 Source: Hirschler, M.M., Blais, M.S., and Janssens, M.L. 2013. Fire Performance of Polyurethane Foam: California Technical Bulletin CA TB 117 and British Standard BS 5852. Pages 319-330 in Proceedings of the Fire and Materials Conference, Jan. 28-30, 2013, San Francisco, CA. Interscience Communications, London, UK
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