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Since 2006 there has been much controversy in the UK about the new regulations introduced in fire safety law. Many in the industry see the changes as over-the-top and part of the ‘nanny state’. In this article we’ll briefly look at both what the law requires and consider the benefits of taking precautions, even when the law doesn’t explicitly demand it.
Over many years the UK government has increasingly targeted all forms of fire risks, with the aim of reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by fire. In the postwar years there was a steady rise in these numbers and the government took notice. The number of deaths from smoke inhalation was of particular concern, as this rose sharply from the 1950s onward.
The reasons for this trend are disputed, but the fact that modern fabrics and fillers caused heavily toxic smoke when burning eventually prompted the government to regulate the supply of fabric and furnishings, because the more toxic the smoke from a fire the faster a person is incapacitated.
It is perhaps obvious that manufacturers and suppliers must comply with government regulations on fire retardant fabrics, but in 2006 the new regulations changed requirements for all business premises. Fire safety law was implemented by the ‘Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005’. Now, businesses are no longer required to have fire certificates but instead must conduct a risk assessment to prevent fires by reducing risk. The law makes it the responsibility of the business owner to ensure the safety of everyone who uses their premises.
There are specific guidelines for ‘sleeping accommodation’ which directly apply to curtain material. Hotels must meet the requirements of BS5867 Part 2 Type B when furnishing a room with curtains. This is a test where a flame is applied to the fabric for 15 seconds. In summary, this requires that if the fabric were to come into direct contact with a flame it would have a fire retardant quality for a short time by not burning to the edges or falling apart whilst burning.
There are basically two types of flame retardant (FR) fabrics:
1) those which have been treated after manufacture; and
2) those in which the FR quality is ‘built-in’. These are called ‘inherent FR fabrics ‘.
Where a fabric has been treated it must also be able to hold its FR quality after repeated washing.
Purchasing flame retardant fabrics from a reputable company with products that more than meet the requirements ensure fire safety and conform to the law. Look for products labelled ‘FR’ and ask whether they meet the safety standards for hotel use.
Unlike the requirements for curtains, for bed linen the new regulations only state that certain safety standards should be considered for ‘sleeping accommodation’ as a matter of fire prevention. The law does apply, though, to all the components of the actual bed (including head-boards, mattresses, sofa-beds, futons and other convertibles). Perhaps less obvious is that it also applies to pillows and even throw cushions.
Yet fire retardant bed linen is still worth considering as a matter of fire prevention, because even when prohibited people still might smoke in a hotel room – particularly if they are leaving the next morning. When you cannot control how a guest behaves prevention is the only sure cure.
Protecting your investment is one important factor, yet safety is even more vital and protecting the lives of guests and staff should matter. If as the owner you sleep in your B&B then your own safety is also at risk. FR fabrics are widely available for bed linens and cost just a little more than a standard cotton-product. They could end up saving more than pounds and pence.