California modifies proposed upholstery flammability standard

Heath E. Combs, August 21, 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation this week released a modified version of the state's proposed new flammability standard.

The proposed standard shifts the emphasis from testing foam with open flame to testing seat coverings with smoldering materials. The modifications to of the test, TB-117 2013, are available for public comment until Sept. 3. The new text of the regulations can be found here:

Among the biggest modifications is that furniture suppliers will have more time to comply.

The BHFTI found that an implementation date of July 1, 2014, was too soon for suppliers deplete inventories and implement the standard. The manufacturers' mandatory compliance date is now on or after Jan. 1, 2015.

In addition, the BHFTI earlier this year said furniture retailers can sell through their inventory of products without restriction.

The modified draft is patterned after ASTM E-1353-08a, which is based on the Upholstered Furniture Action Council method.

The proposed TB-117 smolder test would be performed on mockups of cushions. It would test cover fabrics, barrier materials and resilient filling materials such as foam. Upholstery utilizing a failing cover fabric or filling material will need a barrier material.

By the compliance date, most flexible polyurethane foam - a resilient filling material - used in furniture must meet the requirements. The rule does not apply to flexible polyurethane foam manufactured prior to that date.

The modified rule adds a decking materials test that mirrors that of the ASTM standard. The BHFTI said it added the test to help screen out smolder-prone decking materials. Decking is the upholstered support under the seat cushion in a loose seat construction.

The modifications include adjustments to pass/fail criteria in testing procedures and clarifications and changes to measurement in testing materials, among others. It also includes modifications to law labeling.

All filling materials and cover fabrics and all filling materials added to reupholstered furniture must meet the smolder resistance requirements. The BHFTI allows an exemption for upholstered furniture manufactured for consumers with a written prescription from certain health care professionals.

The proposed revision to the California rule, known as TB-117-2013, has been proceeding quickly through the bureau after a directive from Gov. Jerry Brown last year calling for a revision.

Officials cited concerns that chemicals used to make furniture foams flame-resistant could be harmful. The draft proposal would change the rule to require a smolder-only test to determine whether upholstery fabrics are safe enough. Many anticipate that without the current open flame test requirement, the use of chemical flame retardants in furniture foam will cease.

The new rule applies only to California, but may become a de facto national standard for manufacturers who don't want to create separate inventories for California and the rest of the nation. However, that could also depend on what happens with national rulemaking.


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