10 Oct 2017

Furniture rules could halve death rate - firefighters

9:30 am on 10 October 2017

House fire deaths could be halved by limiting the use of flammable material in furniture such as sofas, Fire and Emergency says.

(file photo)

Padded furniture contain polyurethane releases 500 times more heat and energy than a mattress. (file photo) Photo: 123RF

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is investigating regulating furniture because of concerns about flammability.

Fire and Emergency said a two-seater sofa releases 500 times more heat and energy than a mattress does because most couches, sofas and padded furniture contain polyurethane.

Spokesperson Peter Gallagher said the plastic material essentially acted as an accelerant, and was a factor in many fatal house fires.

"It's very very rare that we find a house without foam plastic or polyurethane furniture in it, and often we're finding victims of fires in and around rooms where polyurethane is present."

Mr Gallagher said limiting the amount of polyurethane used slow would slow the spread of fire which could reduce the number of people killed in house fires by up to half.

"The heat that's generated when these foamed plastics burn is so great that the ... conditions in there become unsurvivable very very quickly.

"So what were looking at is trying to extend that time so that there's a better chance for people to escape."

Mr Gallagher said similar rules have been introduced in Britain, and the number of deaths have since dropped.

Consumer NZ's Jessica Wilson said this country should follow suit.

"Manufacturers have a general obligation under consumer law to make sure their products are safe but there are no specific rules around furniture.

"We think that given the risks that are being seen in the market that it is time to regulate and consumers would welcome that."

Alister Murray from the Furniture and Cabinetmaking Association agreed, even though he said it could push prices up.

He said if it was made mandatory it would need to be policed and be an even playing field that did not favour possibly untested products from importers.

Ms Wilson said that should not be a problem as long as there were good regulations in place that set clear testing standards and labelling requirements.

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