The use of highly flammable polyurethane foam in household furniture is coming under government scrutiny, reflecting Fire and Emergency data that shows it is a major contributor to fire growth.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi recently (July 17) issued a product safety policy statement(external link) to address the fire risk of foam-filled furniture.

The announcement was accompanied by a live fire demonstration at the Fire and Emergency test site at Whenuapai Air Base. The demonstration showed attending media the dramatic consequences of what happens when a couch with foam padding catches alight (see 1 News(external link) item).

National Manager Fire Investigation and Arson Reduction Peter Wilding says just about every house in New Zealand has furniture that contains polyurethane foam, mostly in couches and mattresses.

“An average three-seater couch has the combustible equivalent of about 10 litres of petrol,” Peter says.

“The foam catches fire at relatively low temperatures, burns extremely fast, and releases extreme heat and large volumes of suffocating toxic smoke that spreads quickly throughout a home.”

Peter says that officers speaking to media at house fires should highlight whenever sofas or mattresses have played a significant role in the growth of a house fire or fire-related injuries. This will usually be obvious where the sofa has completely disappeared in the fire, releasing all its energy.

The policy statement is an encouragement to manufacturers to make safer furniture products and to retailers to educate the public about the risks of foam.

It is backed by the experience in New Zealand and international research, which identifies foam filled furniture as playing a significant role in the speed and severity of home fires. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment consulted with the furniture industry over the development of the statement and will monitor how it responds over the next two years.

Here’s some more information(external link) on the product safety policy statement about foam filled furniture.

This is an image of a regular Kiwi lounge.

From this (above) ... to this (below) in seconds. This is why we have to slow down the speed at which our furniture burns.

This is the remnants of a foam-filled couch after it has caught on fire.

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