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   Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday October 25, 2004


Sofa on fire
Untested furniture can be highly flammable

When you go out and buy a new piece of furniture you automatically assume it will fulfil current safety criteria. But it seems that's not always the case for buyers in West Yorkshire, where Inside Out discovers furniture that is being sold with fake safety labels.

To find out just how prevalent this illegal furniture is in the north, Inside Out heads undercover.

Safety first

In our safety conscious world, most of us are aware of the dangers of illegal furniture.

Since 1988 all furniture sold in the UK has had to conform to strict fire safety guidelines.

Roger Marles from Trading Standards says, "Before the introduction of safety regulation, upholstered furniture was a major cause of death in fires."

Some of the materials used in the past would ignite within seconds of a flame touching them, and build into a serious fire within minutes.

Under the new laws, all domestic furniture with upholstery must pass specific tests before they can be sold.

The tests include a match resistance test and a cigarette resistance test, both of which are designed to ensure the furniture is fire retardant.

Dodgy dealings

Worryingly, it seems there are plenty of dodgy dealers who are disregarding the guidelines, and the lives of many families could be at risk.

An undercover Inside Out team secretly go to buy a three-piece suite made from illegal, flammable plastics, from suppliers who advertise in local newspapers in Leeds and Bradford.

Every new sofa should be fire resistant

Our group is assured the furniture complied with safety regulations.

So, West Yorkshire Trading Standards Officers put the product to the test to see just how true those claims are.

The test begins and the furniture promptly bursts into flames, producing enough toxic smoke to kill a family within minutes.

Coming from somewhere

So if this dangerous furniture is on our streets, where is it coming from?

It seems a large quantity of poor quality, illegal furniture is entering the region via the ports of Hull and Immingham.

Most of the furniture is being sent from factories in Poland.

Reporter Morland Sanders traced one of the consignments heading for West Yorkshire.

From a large container lorry, the furniture was unloaded into vans, all heading to different dodgy dealers.

The suites are cheap, but look OK and they all carry a tag saying they are safe - yet many are not.

Morland Sanders
Morland - surprised how easy it is to buy dodgy furniture

Morland finds it a worrying issue and says, "The average buyer would have no way of knowing whether this stuff was safe or not.

"Certainly, the safety labels look genuine."

But when tested, one of the chairs went up in flames in just seconds, and the foam gave off deadly fumes containing carbon monoxide and arsenic.

Not a one-off

Inside Out's discoveries don't seem to be a one-off either.

A consignment had recently been imported into the UK through Immingham and was seized by customs.

Humberside Fire Brigade ran a test on the goods, with even more shocking results.

A fire officer dropped a match onto one of the pieces of furniture and within seconds, toxic smoke was filling the house and three minutes later the house itself was ablaze.

Nick Granger from the fire service knows only too well what the result of fires like this can be.

"If there had been people in that house, asleep upstairs, they wouldn't have got out alive," he says.

"The people who are selling this stuff just don't care, they are peddling in death."

Who's selling it?

Most dodgy imported furniture is sold through small local advertisements, or door to door.

Sellers may come across as legitimate, but often know full well the products are dangerous.

Morland Sanders decides to go in search of the man who sold the undercover team the dodgy three-piece suite.

When challenged, the man says he believed the furniture was safe, and blames the importers.

Fireman putting a house fire out
Flammable furniture can cause whole houses to be destroyed

Paul Smith from the West Yorkshire Trading Standards has heard this many times before.

"This is a big problem, and no-one accepts responsibility.

"The stuff comes in, is split in a lorry park, sold on and then it's in circulation.

"It's a deadly business," he says.

Protect yourself

So what can you do to ensure you don't end up with a fire hazard in your own home?

The main thing to remember is that all approved furniture will carry safety labels.

All new furniture, (except mattresses and bed-bases, pillows and loose and stretch covers for furniture), must carry a permanent label.

Second-hand furniture sold in the course of business must also fulfil the guidelines (apart from furniture made before January 1, 1950).

The DTI regulations show full colour images of correct labels, but how do you know if it's real or not?

Suppliers are able to choose between two different types of label; a label giving full information about the product, or a shorter version just showing the basic details.

If a shorter label is used, the supplier must be able to supply full information to the enforcement agency on request.

Generally if you buy from a larger, reputable retailer you are taking a much safer option than buying through a casual arrangement.

Remember, if you are ever unsure about a product - don't buy it.

It's never worth risking your family's lives.


See also ...

BBC News - Potentially Lethal Sofas Sold
BBC News - Baby Chair Blaze

On the rest of the web
DTI - Fire Safety Regulations Factsheet
Fire Kills - Safety Essentials

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

aka seasidespirit
Think this is diabolical that they can get away with selling sub-standard goods. When needing a new one I partook in buying one from a well known store in Scarborough and after a few days my boysrous children broke it and I found it was only made of cardboard! I have second hand furniture and am wary now! Thankyou for the warning it's a jolt in the right direction.

Rosie Smith
My parents in West Yorkshire alerted us to this article. We were sold our identical sofa by a man in a white van in Wiltshire about June time for £450 (stupid we know). He advertised in our local "One Stop" shop (with a mobile phone number) but also drove around the local area daily for a couple of weeks. The advert has now disappeared from the shop.

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