Long-awaited consultation on UK furniture fire safety regulations is open

Concerns around the impact of chemical flame retardants on the environment, public health and the circular economy are well documented, with many manufacturers now seeking alternative means of achieving fire safety in products. The long-awaited consultation on the UK’s furniture fire safety regulations, launched August 2nd, brings with it a unique opportunity to promote a shift away from chemical flame-retardant use and towards more innovative, effective and sustainable solutions.

The UK Furniture and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) Regulations

The UK’s current Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations (FFRs) 1988 have resulted in large volumes of chemical flame retardants (CFRs) being used in mattresses and other furniture items found in homes, contributing to the exceptionally high CFR exposure rates recorded amongst the UK public (1; 2). Other countries with less prescriptive furniture fire safety requirements have demonstrated similar declines in fire fatality trends to the UK without relying on CFRs, casting significant doubt over the effectiveness of the UK’s current approach (1; 3; 4). This, combined with increasing evidence of the detrimental health and environmental effects of CFRs, has resulted in a call to amend the UK’s current outdated furniture fire safety regulations and reduce reliance on flame retardant chemicals.

A recently launched government consultation, ‘Smarter Regulation: Fire safety of domestic upholstered furniture’, seeks to review and update the FFRs, whilst maintaining and improving fire safety standards for consumers. Responding to the consultation provides a unique opportunity for stakeholders to introduce meaningful changes to the new regulations and promote innovative, effective and sustainable fire safety approaches without use of harmful chemicals.

Sustainable Fire Safety

Although their use is not mandated, CFRs are seen as one of the most cost-effective ways of passing current furniture fire safety requirements (3), but the harmful impacts of flame-retardant exposure on public and environmental health has led to increased scrutiny. Many CFRs have been connected with significant health concerns, including abnormalities in neurological and reproductive development, cancer, and hormone disruption (2; 5) They have been shown to readily pollute the environment, being found in air, water, soil, and numerous wildlife species across the globe, with documented adverse effects to behaviour, fertility and survival rates (6; 7; 8; 9). Recent restrictions on recycling and reuse of waste domestic seating items due to the presence of harmful legacy flame retardants has also highlighted the direct impact CFRs can have on a circular economy (10; 11).

Over the last 18 months, Fidra have worked closely with stakeholders from across the mattress industry to identify pragmatic solutions. Based on evidence collated in Fidra’s Evidence Review, and discussions with mattress industry experts and policy makers at a recent roundtable event, it is clear that there is a wealth of opportunity to promote innovative furniture products that achieve effective and sustainable fire safety in the UK without relying on CFRs. This aligns with the consultation’s goals to facilitate “manufacturing innovation and a reduction in the use of chemical flame retardants”. To achieve these ambitions, it is imperative stakeholders maximise the opportunity presented by this consultation by submitting strong, evidence-based responses.

To stay updated on Fidra’s consultation response and other project developments, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you would like to know more about Fidra’s work on Sustainable Fire Safety, you can also contact us via: info@fidra.org.uk


1. Fidra. (2023) Managing Chemicals of Concern within a Circular Economy: The Impacts and Solutions for Chemical Flame Retardant Use in UK Mattresses. Fidra.

2. Breast Cancer UK. (2017) BCUK Background Briefing – Flame Retardants. Breast Cancer UK.

3. House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee. (2019) Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life. House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee.

4. Page, J., Whaley, P., Bellingham, M., Birnbaum, L.S., Cavoski, A., Dilke, D.F., Garside, R., Harrad, S., Kelly, F., Kortenkamp, A. and Martin, O. (2023) A new consensus on reconciling fire safety with environmental & health impacts of chemical flame retardants. Environment international, 173, p.107782.

5. Cancer Prevention and Education Society. (2019) Written evidence submitted by the Cancer Prevention and Education Society (TCS0005). Available at: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/environmental-audit-committee/toxic-chemicals/written/97438.html. (Accessed: 3rd August 2023).

6. Walker, L., Moeckel, C., Dos Santos Pereira, G., Potter, E., Chadwick, E. and Shore, R. (2016) Flame retardants in the livers of the Eurasian otter collected from Scotland between 2013 and 2015. NERC Environmental Information Data Centre.

7. Wolschke, H., Meng, X.Z., Xie, Z., Ebinghaus, R. and Cai, M. (2015) Novel flame retardants (N-FRs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (DL-PCBs) in fish, penguin, and skua from King George Island, Antarctica. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

8. Papachlimitzou, A., Barber, J.L., Losada, S., Bersuder, P., Deaville, R., Brownlow, A., Penrose, R., Jepson, P.D. and Law, R.J. (2015) Organophosphorus flame retardants (PFRs) and plasticisers in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) stranded or bycaught in the UK during 2012. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

9. Verreault, J., Gabrielsen, G.W., Chu, S., Muir, D.C., Andersen, M., Hamaed, A. and Letcher, R.J. (2005) Flame retardants and methoxylated and hydroxylated polybrominated diphenyl ethers in two Norwegian Arctic top predators: glaucous gulls and polar bears. Environmental Science & Technology.

10. Waste Research Centre for the Environment Agency. (2021) An assessment of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in waste domestic seating. Waste Research Centre.

11. Environment Agency. (2022) Waste Upholstered Domestic Seating – Information to help you ensure you comply with the existing legal requirements for waste containing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Environment Agency.