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National Fire Chiefs Council calls for improvements to product safety laws

05 November 2023

THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has published its responses to two new Government consultations, both of which seek to modernise product safety legislation. The consultations have been undertaken by the Department for Business and Trade and focus on the regulatory framework for product safety and fire safety in domestic upholstered furniture.

Charlie Pugsley, the NFCC’s lead for electrical safety and fire investigation, explained: “The consultations are an important step in improving product safety laws. The NFCC and the Fire and Rescue Services have seen the impact of outdated laws on fire safety in the modern environment. It’s time for change to protect consumers no matter where or how they buy products in the UK.”

The Smarter Regulation: UK Product Safety Review consultation looks at the UK’s product safety framework to protect consumers and help businesses bring new and innovative products to market.

The NFCC’s response draws from learning from the Grenfell Tower fire as well as the expertise of Fire and Rescue Services in construction product safety. In its response, the NFCC highlights recommendations made in two independent reviews, specifically Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and the 2023 Independent Review of the Construction Products Testing Regime, which included comments on the perceived need for increased activity from regulatory bodies, improved traceability and the application of centralised systems to products more generally.

Current system

The current system for Building Regulations has already been described and accepted by the Government as ‘not fit for purpose’. The NFCC has, therefore, recommended that caution be exercised in respect of “reducing business burdens” with the potential to introduce even more unknown and untested products into places where people live, work and play.

Product development and innovation can outpace safety standards, while the full risk posed by new and innovative products may not be understood until much later. The NFCC backs the drive to encourage innovation and support decarbonisation ambitions, but this must not come at an increased safety risk.

This is a real area of concern for Fire and Rescue Services. The London Fire Brigade, for example, reports that, in 2023, it has been called out to an e-bike fire approximately every two days. They are the fastest-growing fire trend in London, in fact.

Another key area of concern for the NFCC is online marketplaces. Clarity is needed regarding their responsibility in the realm of product safety. The NFCC and Fire and Rescue Services would welcome legislation to prevent the sale of unsafe and unregulated products that do not meet UK safety standards.

Revised regulations and an appropriate system should ensure that there’s accountability for all products sold in the UK. The NFCC is reassured to see such risk incorporated into the consultation proposals. However, further detail is needed to demonstrate how this would be managed, resourced and enforced.

Protecting the public

The Smarter Regulation: Consultation on the Fire Safety of Domestic Upholstered Furniture looks to update regulations to protect the public from injury and death arising from flammable furniture, taking into account modern-day hazards and risks.

The NFCC agrees that a new approach is needed to ensure that domestic upholstered furniture continues to be fire-safe, and also to ensure high levels of consumer protection in the modern home.

The NFCC supports the regulations, which enable a reduction in the use of chemical flame retardants, and new regulations around labelling which will benefit the consumer and enable better enforcement by improving traceability coupled with the increased time available to take legal action in the event of non-compliance.

Further, the NFCC welcomes the Office for Product Safety and Standards’ proposal to play a central co-ordinating role in the regulatory regime, which the organisation hopes will mitigate some of the resourcing pressures faced by Trading Standards.

However, the NFCC believes that the modern approach must be kept under review to ensure that fire safety is not compromised. An 18-month transitionary time period should have the ability to be extended in case of delays in this process.

The NFCC also suggests that a three-year review clause would be more appropriate than the five years suggested in the proposals in order to ensure that safety standards are maintained and any emerging fire risks are duly considered.

The NFCC’s responses were developed in consultation with members from across the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services.

The NFCC’s submissions to the consultations can be viewed online:

Smarter Regulation: UK Product Safety Review

Smarter Regulation: Consultation on the New Approach to the Fire Safety of Domestic Upholstered Furniture in the UK