§ Sir David Price
asked the Secretary of State for Trade (1) what is the present assessment of the fire risks involved in the use of polyurethane foam as a stuffing for furniture; and if he will make a statement;
(2) what is his estimate of the percentage of upholstered furniture currently being made which makes use of polyurethane either as a covering or as stuffing;
(3) what research he has instituted or supported to find an economic alternative to the use of polyurethane foam as a stuffing for upholstered furniture.
§ Mrs. Sally Oppenheim
Standard polyurethane foam used in domestic furniture in combination with certain covering materials is readily ignitable, burns fiercely and rapidly, emitting intense heat and, during burning, rapidly produces large quantities of dense and acrid smoke containing common products of combustion.
The fire risks from polyurethane foam commonly used in upholstery material for domestic furniture depend on a number of factors. The type and quantity of foam is significant but so also are the burning characteristics of the outer fabric, the presence or absence of fire barrier materials, the design of the furniture itself and the sources of ignition to which the furniture is likely to be exposed.
While the proportion used varies from piece to piece, I understand that over 90 per cent. of domestic upholstered furniture in current production contains polyurethane, predominantly in the foam.
The Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations 1980 are intended to avoid the risks of the fabric and filling combined catching fire and are far in advance of anything else in the world. I believe also that the regulations have stimulated further research into safer economic alternatives to the polyurethane foam used for filling at present. Industry is engaged in research and development into such alternatives and several are being assessed technically by the Government's Property Services Agency. However, the prospects for their effective commercial use in domestic furniture cannot be forecast.