The OPSS (Office for Product Safety and Standards) was an organisation set up a couple of years ago by the Department of Business (BEIS) to look after product safety and could also claim, by some, to unload its responsibilities of the troublesome UK Furniture Fire Regulations. It is part of these Fire Regulations that cover the use of chemical flame retardants used on children’s and baby products.
These Regulations have been a "hot potato" to Dept BEIS since 2014 when they published concerns regarding the toxicity of chemical Flame Retardants used in mattresses and furniture to comply with the 1988 regulations. This is despite the BEIS stating in their own 2014 report that the Furniture Fire Regulations were "not fit for purpose".
On February 6th February 2020, I was one of a group of stakeholders to be invited to the OPSS offices in Birmingham to discuss the Government’s concern over these toxic FR chemicals. It is however worrying that despite their concerns about these chemicals, nothing has been done to reduce them over the past six years.
It was under the cloud of these concerns that the meeting took place. Representatives included members of trade organisations for the mattress industry, the Baby Products Association, the Chemical Industry, retailers, manufactures, members of the Fire Brigade union and myself from Cottonsafe®.
Two London Fire Brigade members, (concerned about the health problems affecting Fire Fighters caused by the toxic fire smoke created by burning flame retardants), had asked that their adviser Mr Terry Edge, Furniture Fire Regulations expert attend. (Mr Edge had worked for the Department of BEIS and had been involved in writing the 2014 report. Mr Edge is now an official whistle-blower due to his concerns about FR chemicals). However, despite the official description of the meeting as "an open and free discussion", Mr Edge was refused entry to the meeting by the OPSS.
Just before the meeting finished, two hours later, a vote was taken on whether children's and baby products should be removed from the Furniture Fire Regulations - in other words, they would no longer have to be treated with toxic flame retardants. To my surprise, there was a 100% agreement by ALL stakeholders to remove them from the Furniture Fire Regulations.
We all believed this was a very positive move forward. We had hoped that finally we had made a difference.
Unfortunately, this was not going to be. Within weeks, a source at the OPSS admitted that it will be 9-12 years before anything changed. Four months later, it came to our notice that the OPSS / BEIS had organised a meeting behind closed doors with civil servants from other Departments, where they revealed they were setting up an "Experts Group" to reappraise the situation. This time they would ONLY invite organisations which would financially gain from the current Furniture Fire Regulations staying exactly as they current are, i.e. no reduction of chemicals. None of the more liberal or anti-chemical representatives would be invited. No Baby Products Association, no Firemen, no Cottonsafe®.
It seems to me that the Dept BEIS should be there to advise big business, not be controlled by them. Their approach should definitely not be, if you cannot get the result you want, then change the stakeholders and hold another private meeting without the public knowing.
I suppose it was to be expected. Removing children's and baby products from the Furniture Fire Regulations would have been seen by some as the first step down the road to removing toxic chemicals from mattresses and sofas. It may have been a big financial loss to some, but it would have been a massive gain for the environment and the health of families and children in the UK.