The Process of Setting Standards and Some Current Issues in Standards

L. J. Sharman, Consumer Product Safety Commission
ABSTRACT - Each year an estimated 21 million Americans are injured in accidents in and around the home. The Consumer Product Safety Commission was formed by Public Law 92-573 with the objective of providing safer consumer products. Using the Flammable Fabrics Act as a basis, textile flammability standards now in effect are outlined and factors relating to their development discussed. Current Commission activities are reviewed.
[ to cite ]:
L. J. Sharman (1978) ,"The Process of Setting Standards and Some Current Issues in Standards", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 392-395.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 392-395


L. J. Sharman, Consumer Product Safety Commission


Each year an estimated 21 million Americans are injured in accidents in and around the home. The Consumer Product Safety Commission was formed by Public Law 92-573 with the objective of providing safer consumer products. Using the Flammable Fabrics Act as a basis, textile flammability standards now in effect are outlined and factors relating to their development discussed. Current Commission activities are reviewed.

Each year an estimated 21 million Americans are injured in accidents, including flammability accidents, in and around the home; 100,000 are permanently disabled; and 26,000 are killed. Many of these are product related. The economic and social cost to the Nation has been projected at $5.5 billion. The urgent need for Federal Regulations to insure safe Consumer products was clearly recognized by Congress when it passed the Consumer Product Safety Act. That act, public law 92-573 was signed into Law by the President, October 1972.

The purposes of the Consumer Product Safety Act stated in the law, are:

---To protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products;

---To assist consumers to evaluate the comparative safety of consumer products;

---To develop uniform safety standards for consumer products and to minimize conflicting state and local regulations; and

---To promote research and investigation into the causes and prevention of product-related deaths, illnesses and injuries.

To fulfill these purposes, the Consumer Product Safety Act created a new independent federal regulatory agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This Commission headed by five Commissioners came into being in May 1973.

The Consumer Product Safety Act is a new and broader approach to product safety. The act also provided that many consumer product safety regulatory functions originally assigned to other federal agencies were transferred to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The acts transferred were the Flammable Fabrics Act, the Federal Hazardous Substance Act, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act and the Refrigerator Safety Act.

Using these Acts, the Commission's primary goal is to reduce or eliminate unreasonable risks of injuries associated with consumer products. The Commission was granted broad authority to issue and enforce safety standards for more than 10,000 consumer products. Firearms, Food, Drugs, Cosmetics, Medical Devices, Pesticides, motor vehicles, airplanes and boats are exempted from the Commission's authority under the Consumer Product Safety Act.

When the Commission decides that a safety action is necessary, this action can take a variety of forms from educational programs, or voluntary standards at one end to the setting of mandatory safety standards or banning the product on the other. Imported products are covered by the act. The Commission also has the authority to order public notice, repair, as well as refund and replacement of defective products. The choice of repair, refund, or replacement is left to the manufacturer, distributor or retailer.

Where a mandatory consumer product safety rule is required, it may be a standard covering the performance, composition, contents, design, construction, finish or packaging of a product; the labeling of the product to warn or instruct the consumer as to the products' use; or it may be a rule totally banning the sale of the product. Additionally, rules and regulations may be prescribed for record keeping and other matters related to compliance with a standard or other regulation, and for the general administration of the act.

Of the various acts administrated by the Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Flammable Fabrics Act and the Federal Hazardous Substances Act recognize flammability explicitly as a possible hazard associated with the products covered by the Acts and therefore, as a basis for regulations under the acts. Today, I plan to deal only with the Act which most clearly affects textiles, the Flammable Fabrics Act.

Mandatory Activities on Flammable Fabrics started with the passage by Congress, in 1953, of the Flammable Fabrics Act. The act referenced two voluntary standards, CS 191-53 and CS 192-53 making them mandatory flammability standards. In the case of CS 192-53, only the flammability parts were mandated.

The primary purpose of CS 191-53 was to remove the notorious "torch sweaters" and the highly flammable "Cowboy" play suits from the market. In this regard the standard was successful. As years went by, however, it was clearly evident that this standard was not preventing a significant number of serious flammability accidents. In 1976 the act was amended. The amendments broadened the coverage of the Act to wearing apparel and interior furnishings and gave the Secretary of Commerce the right and responsibility to set new fabric flammability standards where needed. This responsibility was transferred to CPSC by the Consumer Product Safety Act.

Since 1967, five new flammability standards have been promulgated. Two of these cover the flammability of Carpets and Rugs, FF 1-70 (16 CFR 1630) Standard for the Surface Flammability of Carpets and Rugs and FF 2-70 (16 CFR 1631) Standard for the Surface Flammability of small carpets and rugs. Two standards cover Children's Sleep-wear, FF 3-71 (16 CFR 1615) Standard for the Flammability of Children's Sleepwear; sizes 0 through 6X and FF 5-74 (16 CFR 1616) Standard for the Flammability of Children's Sleepwear; sizes 7 through 14. The fifth, FF 4-72 (16 CFR 1632) covers the flammability of mattresses.

For all of the above standards the formal development procedure involved three steps:

(1) Simultaneous publication in the FEDERAL REGISTER of advance notice of finding that a flammability standard may be needed and a notice instituting proceedings for the development of an appropriate flammability standard.

(2) Publication in the FEDERAL REGISTER of the proposed flammability standard for public comment.

(3) Publication in the FEDERAL REGISTER of the adopted flammability standard or notice terminating or suspending the proceeding to establish the standard.

This procedure was simplified by the Commission in 1976 by combining steps (1) and (2) above.

While the formal procedure may involve only 3 or 2 stages, the technical development of a standard involves many stages. Any standard is the result of composite effort by interested and involved people from industry, government and consumer groups. Almost every stage of a standard is a best compromise between the ideal situation and what is most practical and reasonable.

Using the Flammable Fabrics Act as a basis I will attempt to illustrate some of these points.

A standard starts with the determination that some kind of rule or regulation is needed. In the case of flammable fabrics standards these may be based on accident data or laboratory research. The five flammable fabrics standards promulgated to date were based on a combination of injury data and research. Once the potential need for a standard on a product has been determined, then, in-depth accident reports are reviewed to determine the causative factors. In the case of children's sleep-wear, for example, the primary ignition source was an open flame while with mattresses the primary ignition source was a cigarette accidentally dropped on the mattress and left to burn. Using the major causative factors a rough test method is set up. Then the detailed work begins of checking possible ramifications and refining the test method.

The problem in the case of carpets and rugs was that of a small ignition source, such as a burning ember from a fireplace, igniting the carpet. This small fire wends its way across the carpet until it encounters other combustible products and ignites the room. For the performance test in the standard, a timed burning tablet is burned on each of eight, oven-dried, horizontal carpet specimens, in a draft protected chamber. A carpet fails the standard if more than one specimen chars 3 inches from its center (specifically to within 1 inch of the edge of an 8 inch hole in the specimen flattening frame).

One of the problems in developing this test method was to find a suitable ignition source which would burn repeatably and reproducibly. An extensive search located a tablet used by doctors in carrying out urine sugar tests. This methenamine tablet burns consistently 110 to 120 seconds. This tablet commonly referred to as the "pill" was incorporated into the test method.

When the carpet and rug work was first undertaken a test method was developed applicable to all types of carpets. A review of accident data and information supplied by the trade indicated that small carpets and rugs, such as bathroom mats, were not as great a hazard as large carpets and rugs. Two standards were, therefore, promulgated. One covers large carpets and rugs (a large carpet or rug is defined as having one dimension greater than 6 feet and a surface area greater than 24 square feet); and the other, small carpets and rugs (a small carpet or rug is defined as having no dimension greater than 6 feet and a surface area not greater than 24 square feet). The test method and acceptance criteria are the same for both standards. The difference is that small carpets and rugs which fail the standard may be sold provided they are suitably labeled.

The first of the children's sleepwear standards was developed to protect children up to six years of age. Since this is a group of people who, to a large extent, do not have the capability of helping themselves the guiding criterion in developing the standard was -the standard must provide maximum protection for the children involved.

In depth accident reports indicated the primary problem with childrens sleepwear to be open flame ignition. A vertical open flame ignition test method was, therefore, selected. In the performance test, oven dried 3.5 X 10 inch specimens are suspended vertically in a holder in a prescribed cabinet and subjected to a small flame for 3 seconds, along the specimens bottom edge. Acceptance criteria are based on char length and residual flame time (burning time of material which falls away from the specimen and continues to burn on the floor of the test cabinet). Tests are required on fabric, seams and trim. The standard includes a sampling plan specifying the required frequency of testing.

During the development of this standard a wide range of factors related to the test method were investigated. One of the most interesting involved the ignition time of the fabric. Prior to the development of the first children's sleepwear standard, most vertical flammability tests involved subjecting the test specimen to a small flame for 12 seconds. During the development of the standard the effect of varying the time the specimen was subjected to the flame was investigated. It was found that with some fabrics the specimen did not ignite with 12 seconds exposure but did ignite with 2 or 3 seconds exposure. Further it was found that a burning specimen could be extinguished by again subjecting the specimen to the igniting flame. There are a number of theories as to why this phenomena occurs. One of the commonly held ones is that of oxygen depletion. Holding the flame under the specimen for a long period of time creates air currents which remove oxygen from the fabric and prevent its ignition or puts the fire out if the specimen is already burning. Based on this work, 3 seconds was selected as the time of flame exposure for the test specimens.

FF 3-71 was the first flammability standard to include sampling plans. Without a sampling plan, a standard does not state how frequently the product must be tested or if a failure occurs what quantity of the product is involved in the failure. Here, as in the test method, a sampling plan is a series of compromises between the ideal and what is practical. One compromise that still bothers some of the purists is that of fabric sample selection. Working with representatives of the textile industry, 5000 linear yards of treated fabric were selected as a fabric production unit for testing purposes. The next question was how to select a representative sample from this unit. The ideal, of course would be to randomly select the test specimens throughout the 5000 yards. This however is not very practical for many reasons. With most textile operations the worst part of the fabric occurs at the beginning or end of the fabric roll. On this basis it was decided that the specimens should be selected from the ends of the 5000 yard production unit.

The second children's sleepwear standard FF 5-74 covers children in the 6 to 12 age range. The test method in this standard is the same as that of FF 3-71. The primary difference is in acceptance criteria. FF 3-71 acceptance criteria involve char length and residual flame time. FF 5-74 involves only char length. Residual flame time was not included in this standard on the basis that the standard covered sleepwear used by older children who would be capable of helping themselves in the case of a fabric fire.

The last flammable fabrics standard in force today is that for mattresses. Here the primary problem is ignition of the mattress by a lit cigarette accidentally dropped on the mattress. This results in a smoldering fire and the rapid generation of a lethal atmosphere.

In the Standard's performance test, lighted cigarettes are placed on temperature and humidity conditioned mattresses, both on the bare mattress surface and between two layers of sheeting. The cigarettes are placed on smooth surfaces, along the taped edges and in depressions formed by quilting or tufting. A mattress must not ignite from any of 18 cigarettes.

One of the questions raised in developing this test method was what cigarette to use in the test. A wide range of commercial cigarettes was evaluated. For the most part, the burning temperatures of the cigarettes were similar. It was found, however, that unfiltered cigarettes burned much hotter at the butt end than did filter cigarettes. For this reason unfiltered cigarettes were selected for the test method.

Another question area investigated was that of the permanency of any treatment used to make the mattresses resistant to ignition by cigarettes. To check this, the initial test method included a procedure for wetting down the test mattress, drying it and then testing. This procedure was very cumbersome, time consuming and costly. Working with a consultant, who had been employed by industry to develop mattress constructions resistant to cigarette ignition, it was established that there was very little likelihood of a permanency problem. The wetting down requirement was, therefore, dropped from the final test method.

The Commission is also actively working on a number of other areas related to fabric flammability. One of these is the flammability of upholstered furniture. The problem here is similar to that with mattresses - a lit cigarette accidentally dropped on a piece of upholstered furniture, ignition of the furniture item and the relatively rapid generation of a lethal atmosphere. The National Bureau of Standards under contract to the Consumer Product Safety Commission have developed a test method for upholstered furniture. This test is similar to that for mattresses in that it involves determining the resistance of the furniture construction to ignition by cigarettes. The NBS test procedure involves testing of and classifying fabrics for use on upholstered furniture and testing of mock-ups constructed in the same way and of the same materials as would be used in the actual furniture.

The fabric test involves determining the char length of the fabric when exposed to cigarettes over standard substrates. Depending on the results obtained, fabrics are classified as A, B, C or D with A being the most ignition resistant and D the least. None of the fabric classifications represent "failure" under the proposed test method. However, to make upholstered furniture items which will meet the acceptance criteria, fabrics in one classification will in general, have to be used over different upholstery materials and/or methods of construction than will fabrics in other classifications.

To determine the resistance to cigarette ignition of the furniture construction on which the fabric may be used, a mock-up of specific surface locations utilizing the same filling materials and method of construction as would be used for the actual furniture is prepared. Fabrics specified in the test method are used to cover the mock-up. After conditioning, the mock-ups are tested by burning cigarettes in horizontal crevices where seat cushions and vertical panels meet; on seat cushion surface locations including smooth surface, quilt, tuft, and welt edge; on top surfaces of armrests, on top surfaces of backs and on top surfaces of loose support systems, the number and types of locations to be tested will depend upon the construction and design of the production furniture to be qualified. Three cigarettes are burned at each of the specified locations. If two or more ignitions occur the construction is not acceptable. If one ignition occurs then three additional cigarettes are burned on replicate mock-ups at the ignited location. If none of these results in an ignition, the construction is accepted. This repeat test allows for the detection of fluke ignitions without significantly affecting the safety being provided the consumer. When all mock-up surface locations have been shown to meet the acceptance criteria for a specific fabric class, then furniture may be manufactured using the construction, and any fabric in the specified class or any higher class. This does not apply to class D fabrics where each fabric must be tested with its proposed construction.

In June, the CPSC Commissioners formally considered the upholstered furniture flammability problem. The Commissioners agreed in principal that there is a flammability problem with upholstered furniture and that the Commissions objective should be the production by industry of furniture that would not ignite when a cigarette is allowed to burn on it. Further, they agreed in principal that the NBS test method for cigarette ignition resistance of upholstered furniture was reasonable and repeatable. They expressed concern, however, that the proposed application of the test method (such as frequency of testing) may be too burdensome and restrictive to the industry. CPSC staff were directed to propose alternative test applications for Commission consideration as well as alternative methods of implementing the standard. This work is in progress.

A second area under investigation is that of wearing apparel. Standards have been promulgated for children's sleepwear. Are other standards for specific apparel items needed? CS 191-53 has not prevented many apparel flammability accidents. Is a new general wearing apparel standard needed? Towards this latter end, NBS at the Commission's request has developed a potential test method. This test involves measuring the ignition time and the heat transfer rate of a fabric. Depending on the results obtained, the fabric is classified 1 through 4. The wearing apparel items in which fabric may be used depends on its fabric classification. This test method has become known as the "Mushroom Apparel Flammability Test (MAFT)".

An alternative approach would be to concentrate on only those areas of wearing apparel where injury data indicates the hazard to be high and to develop standards for these. Available data indicate the primary hazard areas to be nightgowns, (those not now covered), Robes and Housecoats (Females only), Pajamas (Male and Female), Dresses, Shirts (Male) and Pants (Male). One potential approach for specified wearing apparel would be a modified form of the childrens' sleepwear standard FF 5-74. At this time, the Commission has not made a decision on what further action to take. A concept briefing package covering the overall apparel flammability question is being prepared for the Commissioners with a request for guidance to the staff on the approach to be taken.

Lastly, I am sure you are all aware of the tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate (TBPP) controversy earlier this year. TBPP was used as a flame retardant on a significant portion of the children's sleepwear produced. Industry have requested that the sleepwear standard be amended to permit the use of more untreated fabrics. A discussion paper has been prepared and is now under consideration by the Commissioners covering the aspects of the standard which industry has requested consideration for amendment. These include the need for the residual flame time criteria, the need to test seams and trim, procedure for conditioning specimens, exclusion of the 0-1 age group, exclusion of tight fitting garments and modification of the sampling plan.

Early in this talk I stated that any standard is the composite effort of all interested and involved people. Through the rest of the talk, I have tried to exemplify these statements. A further exemplification is that such people are on today's session. Rachel Dardis who spoke to you earlier is a member of the National Advisory Committee for the Flammable Fabrics Act. The American Textile Manufacturers Institute along with other textile organizations such as the American Apparel Manufacturers Association and the Man-Made Fiber Producers Association have been a great deal of help in the past and will be in the future. We need such help from all of you.