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Questions about Flame Retardants in Upholstery? Help is on the way!

June 18, 2020 11:32 AM | Michelle Minner

Written by Carla Pyle, NUA Board Member and  Natural Upholstery educator & consultant

“Now more than ever, we realize that human health and well-being is precious. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products and technologies we interact with every day can have tremendous impact on our health and safety. Chemical Insights, an Institute of Underwriters Laboratories, combines the best minds, rigorous scientific research and a commitment for thorough and accurate results, to find answers to questions that support safe, healthy working, learning and living environments.”

- Chemical Insights Mission Statement

When was the last time a customer engaged you in a lively conversation about the potential health effects of the upholstery materials you use in your work? This is a subject that’s getting more attention, both in upholstery workrooms and in the wider industry.

The Taskforce

Wouldn’t it be nice to have some science-backed facts about safe & healthy furniture, all laid out for you to learn and share with your clients? That is one of the goals of the Furniture Flammability and Human Health Taskforce, recently initiated by Chemical Insights


The Taskforce is part of step five in a five-step process that Chemical Insights (CI) employs for each of its research initiatives:

1. Involve a wide range of stakeholders in their initiatives, convening all parties with a connection to the topic (summit). Based on the outcome of these discussions, CI sets a research agenda, designs a methodology, selects research partners and establishes an action plan. (eg. manufacturers, users, health care professionals, policymakers). When setting a research agenda, CI considers these factors: Emerging issues in the marketplace, New technologies and unintended risks, Health risks posed, and Lack of regulation or guidance (eg. indoor air quality is not regulated)

2. CI then conducts the independent research for the selected initiative -all research is objective, independent, transparent and self-funded. Research often spans multiple years and involves partnerships with academic research institutions.

3. Once the research has been conducted, scientists from CI & partners analyze the data to confirm key findings, evaluate end-user health impact and develop action steps.

4. CI shares findings with key stakeholders to discuss, and at times debate, the results and impacts of their research. They also publish scientific papers and deliver presentations for the scientific community; develop targeted education, such as webinars, for relevant industry professionals; and share general information with the public, through articles, social media and web-based tools.

5. Once CI shares their research findings, they work to support the safe commercialization of evolving technologies through the development of best practices, standards, guidelines, health criteria and assessment tools.


The Taskforce’s three key GOALS are to:

1) Provide a forum for knowledge and suggested actions related to harmonizing efforts on Furniture Flammability and Human Health.

2) Develop guidance documents on achieving fire-safe/chemical-safefurniture.

3) Develop “safe choice” educational materials for consumers.

If I were to distill this down in to a single sentence targeted to upholsterers, it might look something like this:

The Furniture Flammability and Human Health Taskforce is a collaborative effort that brings industry professionals and stakeholders together to utilize scientific documentation on furniture flammability and human health in order to create consumer-targeted educational resources that upholstery professionals can share with their clients.

Timeline and Participants

Taskforce members will participate in a series of online workshops, ending in the development of the guidance and educational materials defined, with an objective of finalizing the materials by the end of 2020.

The National Upholstery Association (NUA) is represented on the Taskforce by board members Jamie Facciola and Carla Pyle. We are joined on the Taskforce by professionals from a wide ranging group of industries, including furniture manufacturers, designers, architects, furniture retailers, firefighter safety research organizations, academic researchers, chemical industry representatives, and lobbyists.

The nitty-gritty

A barrier fabric for upholstery wins the battle of the Burning Chairs! Watch this amazing short video showing one of the flammability tests conducted as part of the data-gathering phase of this project.

If you have time, check out the webinar v=9zXJUQGs3LQ&t=8s presented by the Sustainable Furnishings Council in March of this year, explaining the entire research and testing process in greater detail.

Once the Taskforce’s work is complete, I look forward to giving you an update & sharing useful educational resources you can take to your shops to help you engage intelligently on the subject of furniture flammability & health.

See the June 2021 follow-up post, which includes a Toolkit for specifying upholstered furniture for your clients, taking into account both fire safety and human health.


The National Upholstery Association is proud to present various viewpoints of our members and partners within the upholstery community. Perspectives (or opinions) will vary. This Blog is made available for general information; not to provide specific business, financial, or legal advice.

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