Fretwork | Upholstery – What’s special about it?
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Upholstery – What’s special about it?

Upholstery – What’s special about it?

Upholstery – What’s special about it?

To answer this question it is necessary to consider the risk based approach taken by both the testing and performance requirements together with the usage circumstances.

The more there is the higher the chances that something might happen. Upholstery is found in most homes in the UK. .

Upholstery plays a large role in the interior style and design of our living circumstances. It is part of the colour scheme and tends to be what we use when we are actually living in our homes – often called ‘watching tv’.

Upholstery normally comprises large objects that have soft and resilient fillings to provide the comfort factor. They use modern polymer based materials to also produce light-weight articles and contain, in effect, a lot of air. The cover fabrics can use a variety of techniques to provide colour, texture and feel resulting in textiles that can be challenging to fire retard. This helps define the ignition risk.

Research from the 1970 and 1980 period showed one very worrying aspect of the burning behaviour of upholstered furniture: small ignition sources (such as smoker’s materials) can ignite this large object and turn it into a very large secondary ignition source. This produced a large amount of smoke and toxic fumes in a restricted air supply burn scenario. More concerning was the delayed action effect demonstrated very conclusively by the data. The initial ignition source may have been accidentally left/dropped/applied in the late evening hours but the critical stage of the fire occurred some hours later when house occupants were not only asleep but in a different room. The smoke and toxic fumes went before the advance of the fire.

To combat this risk it was necessary to design test procedures that assess the principal components of the upholstery but more importantly in a combination that imitated the construction of upholstery. Two Ignition test have proved an effective assessment of the identified risk based on smoulder and open flame ignition sources.

This is the basis of the test procedures adopted by the implementation of the UK Upholstered Furniture (Fire) (Safety) Regulations  commonly referred to as the FFR. The tests are described fully in BS 5852 although the Regulations apply modifications to those tests and specify combinations of foam and filling for specific tests.

The risk of ignition in every household is why upholstery is a special case for consideration. The ignition sources used are determined for each part of the upholstery as part of the risk assessment approach.

It is important that these evaluated risks are kept very clearly in mind when considering the FFR and its application.

1    Modern widely affordable, lightweight and comfortable upholstered furniture comprising outer cover textile for style and colour and foam filling for comfort.

2    Pre-FFR articles were found to carry the risk that they could be easily ignited by small ignition sources that were not confined to but often involved smokers materials.

3    Ignition does not occur quickly or immediately but most often when the articles were unattended.

4    Ignition involved the production of large amounts of smoke and fumes which spread easily throughout the location.

5    Death and injury typically would occur away from the seat of the fire.

The potential for a fire to develop when the article is left unattended e.g. the charging of small electronic goods is demonstrated in FRETWORK Newsletter No. 34.

Peter Wragg
pjw@fretwork.org.uk
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