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The burning behaviour of bedding items

EN ISO 12952:2010 can be used to demonstrate the fire resistance of textile bedding.

Under the European General Product Safety Directive, suppliers and producers have an obligation to make sure that all items supplied to European consumers are safe. Specifiers and buyers of textile bedding items intended for use in the home or non-domestic environments such as hotels should ensure their product is sufficiently fire resistant.

EN ISO 12952:2010 – 'Textiles – Assessment of the ignitability of bedding items' is a two-part standard which describes test methods for assessing the flammability or ignitability of bedding items. ‘Bedding items’ here includes materials and products that are normally used on top of a mattress, such as mattress covers, sheets, blankets, quilts and pillow cases. Generally, such items are described as ‘bedding’ or ‘bedclothes’.

In the UK, there are mandatory regulations which specify fire resistance tests for upholstered furniture, and the scope of the regulations includes mattresses and pillows. These regulations are the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended in 1989, 1993 and 2010), however they specifically exclude bedding (other than mattresses and pillows). There are no other specific mandatory fire safety regulations in the UK for bedclothes. (Note that ‘bedclothes’ in this context is a term that does not include nightwear which is worn).

A test report showing that an item of bedding has passed the EN ISO 12952:2010 tests provides a way of demonstrating fire resistance safety and would be useful in any legal proceedings involving fire safety. It should also be of value throughout the world as standards having the ‘EN’ prefix are recognised throughout Europe, and those with ‘ISO’ internationally. Reports bearing the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) logo indicate that the test laboratory has been accredited for the test in question by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. SATRA has UKAS accreditation for this test.

Fires are sometimes caused by the ignition of bedding items by either a smouldering cigarette or a smoker’s match or lighter. It cannot be assumed that protection against a smouldering ignition source will give protection against flaming ignition, so tests involving both types of ignition source are needed. EN ISO 12952:2010 is in two parts and is published as two separate documents. Part 1 covers testing using a smouldering cigarette as an ignition source, and part 2 covers testing using a small open flame which simulates a smoker’s match.

Smouldering cigarettes laid on a test sample

The principle of the testing is straightforward. The ignition source is applied to the bedding item in a standardised way and then any smouldering or flaming behaviour is noted.

For the cigarette testing, part 1 sets out the failure criteria, the test rig (a wire mesh platform), the general test procedure itself and the specific ways in which the test procedure is applied to the various types of bedding items. For example, bedding items which are normally folded in use (such as sheets and blankets) are treated differently from items which are used unfolded (for instance, mattress covers). The test procedure for quilts is different again. In all cases, the items are tested on top of a testing substrate in the form of a standard mineral wool fibre pad. This mineral wool fibre pad is the sort of fibrous matting that is used to provide thermal insulation in buildings. The testing substrate is intended to simulate the typical thermal properties of a mattress with which the bedding items would normally be used. As well as describing how to test individual bedding items, part 1 also describes how a composite (a combination of bedding items) can be tested.

For the small open flame testing, part 2 sets out the criteria of ignition, the test rig (the same as part 1), and the general test procedure itself. Part 2 goes on to cover the specific ways in which the test procedure is applied to the various types of bedding items.

The effect of cleaning on fire resistance

In the preparation of samples for EN ISO 12952:2010 testing, consideration has to be given to the need for cleaning or laundering. Cleaning operations carried out on bedding items in normal use can have a considerable influence on their fire resistance. This is because any chemical treatment used to make the items fire-resistant may be washed out during cleaning. The standard specifies that items should be cleaned. Single-use items should be tested as received. In practice, the person submitting the item for testing may specify that no cleaning is to be carried out before the testing. In any case the test report should indicate what (if any) cleaning treatment was used before the tests.

There are several criteria used to decide whether an item has passed or failed the smouldering cigarette test. The test cigarette on its own would probably burn for about 20 minutes. If the test specimen smoulders for more than an hour, this is a failure. If there is any flaming, this is also a failure. The standard also details a number of other failure criteria.

For the small open flame test, any flaming in the test specimen that continues for more than two minutes after the removal of the test flame means that the product has failed. Also, if the test specimen smoulders for more than 15 minutes, this is a failure. Again, there are other failure criteria listed in the standard.

EN ISO 12952:2010 may be used to test mattress ticking – the permanent cover fabric used in a mattress to contain the fillings. In the UK, there is the requirement to test whole mattresses to BS 7177:2008+A1:2011 – 'Specification for resistance to ignition of mattresses, mattress pads, divans and bed bases', and also the requirement to test mattress fillings separately to the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended), however, there is no specific requirement to test mattress tickings on their own. Mattress manufacturers sometimes use EN ISO 12952:2010 as a way of testing a mattress ticking as a separate component before incorporating it in a mattress and subjecting the whole item to BS 7177:2008+A1:2011 testing.

It is worth mentioning the relationship between EN ISO 12952:2010 and BS 7175:1989 – 'Methods of test for the ignitability of bedcovers and pillows by smouldering and flaming ignition sources'. The title of BS 7175:1989 is ‘Methods of test for the ignitability of bedcovers and pillows by smouldering and flaming ignition sources’, and it is a UK national standard. Both BS 7175:1989 and EN ISO 12952:2010 describe similar tests. However, BS 7175:1989, as well as cigarette and small open flame tests, also describes more severe tests using larger flaming sources, including ignition source 5 (‘crib 5’). Where resistance to sources more severe than the cigarette and small open flame is not required, SATRA recommends that EN ISO 12952:2010 is used to test mattress ticking.

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