On December 21, 2020, Congress passed The Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act (SOFFA), which was presented alongside other legislation in a $1.4 trillion COVID relief omnibus bill. SOFFA requires the adoption of California’s TB 117-2013 as a federal flammability standard for residential upholstered furniture. TB 117-2013 outlines performance standards and methods for testing the smolder resistance of cover fabrics along with the barrier, filling, and decking materials used in upholstered residential furniture.
Historically, there has been disagreement in the industry about whether upholstered furniture should be required to withstand an open flame or just be smolder resistant. Prior to 2014, California required open flame testing on materials, a test difficult to pass without the use of chemical flame retardants. Due to growing concern over health risks associated with exposure to flame retardants, California adopted Technical Bulletin 117-2013 (TB 117-2013), eliminating the open flame test and giving manufacturers the option of smolder resistant fabrics or barriers beneath the fabrics (more information on TB117-2013 and its interim labeling requirements can be found here.)
- Compliance with the TB 117-2013 performance standard, which provides test methods for smolder resistance of cover fabrics, barrier materials and resilient filling materials for use in upholstered furniture.
- A permanent label on upholstered furniture with the statement “Complies with U.S. CPSC requirements for upholstered furniture flammability.”
It is designated as a consumer product safety standard under the federal Flammable Fabrics Act, subject to administration and enforcement by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Fortunately, SOFFA states that compliance is not subject to the testing and certification requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act—meaning that domestic manufacturers and importers do not need to issue certificates of compliance. However, if a company becomes of aware of non-compliance, a Section 15(b) report will likely be required, possibly followed by a recall in cooperation with CPSC.
TB 117-2013 survives
SOFFA contains a provision expressly preempting any state or local laws targeting flammability in upholstered furniture except for California’s existing law and regulations. As a result, non-compliance could mean federal enforcement, California enforcement, or both.
There’s always something
Unfortunately, while the technical requirements of the standard will be identical to TB 117-2013, and thus require no new actions, the labeling provision means manufacturers will need to put together approaches for compliant labeling. The effective date of the standard is June 25, 2021. Manufacturers should start making preparations to provide the federal certification statement on labels along with the California/TB 117-2013 label language to avoid issues with products manufactured after June 25 (note that the Flammable Fabrics Act states that standards promulgated under it do not apply to “products in inventory or with the trade as of the” effective date of the standard). It is possible that CPSC could issue guidance on labeling providing additional transition time (e.g., exercising enforcement discretion and accepting California labeling), but we are not aware of anything at the moment.