California moves closer to removing an important fire-safety test

The California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation is ending its public comment period today, and the agency appears to be dangerously close to removing one of the state’s important fire safety standards.

The proposed changes to Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117) would eliminate the state’s progressive open flame test for upholstered furniture. Currently, California requires upholstered furniture to withstand exposure to an open flame – from items like lighters, candles and matches – for 12 seconds without catching on fire. If the open flame test is removed, the flammability of furniture will only need to be tested against smoldering sources, namely cigarettes.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that open flame sources are a major cause of upholstered furniture fires, and the number of fires caused by smoldering cigarettes is on the decline. Studies show that layers of fire protection can help delay these fires and provide valuable escape time.

Luckily, experts and influential groups have weighed in on this issue and are discouraging the Bureau from finalizing its proposal. In fact, John McCormack, a fire science expert who is retired from the very bureau that is considering the change and Matthew Blais, a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute, explained the importance of the open flame test during a call today with reporters. McCormack and Blais also signed a letter with seven other experts detailing the importance of the open flame test, and McCormack took to the airwaves of California to explain the issue.

Even with the feedback from experts, this important decision ultimately rests with the Bureau. We hope the agency will consider all of the facts and ultimately decide to build on, not eliminate, a progressive fire standard that has helped protect Californians for more than 35 years.

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