An investigation by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) into testing procedures at FIRA International has revealed that there were 'issues which needed to be addressed'.
The investigation followed an official complaint by the NBF regarding blind tests carried out by FIRA in August 2016. The NBF told UKAS: "In our opinion many of these tests were of poor quality and not what you would expect from a UKAS accredited lab."
The complaint came after publication of the trade title's flammability report in which it had commissioned FIRA to test 42 mattresses, bought by the magazine, to see if the products complied with British Standards, and the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. It resulted in 10 products, including some from NBF member companies, failing a single blind test.
The association was particularly concerned about sample mattress preparation whereby products were cut prior to being tested and, because of the resulting change in fabric tensions, no longer representative of the finished product.
While unable to be specific about the issues identified by its investigation because of confidentiality agreements, UKAS has confirmed that it did throw up 'areas for action' which had been discussed at length with FIRA.
In its letter to the NBF, UKAS explained: "There were issues which needed to be addressed under the requirements of accreditation. However, we are satisfied that FIRA understood these issues and are taking the necessary actions to address them. UKAS has steps in place to monitor these for effectiveness as part of its on-going assessment programme for this organisation."
Welcoming acknowledgement of its concerns by UKAS, the NBF's executive director Jessica Alexander says: "The NBF is currently working together with test laboratories and UKAS, their accreditation body - as well as trading standards - to develop best practice guidelines for test procedures which would help to address the inconsistencies and conflicting results that can occur.
"Our chief concern was the inconsistencies in testing which the Cabinet Maker investigation highlighted and going forward we are looking closely at the whole area of sample size specifications for mattress testing.
"Our immediate priority following publication of the magazine report last November was to conduct independent audits of all the NBF companies affected to check if their procedures and processes comply with our Code of Practice. Four of the five cited in the article passed while the fifth was subject to further investigation – and has shown marked improvement in subsequent audits.
"We will also continue to review the operation and effectiveness of the NBF Code of Practice, working closely with our Primary Authority, West Yorkshire Trading Standards, which has awarded it with Approved Advice status."
The NBF has almost completed re-auditing all members against its updated, Version 2 of its Code. This expands its scope to ensure members understand and comply with other regulations which also directly affect them - such as textile composition labelling - and also tightens up requirements for compliance. “We are also this year introducing random checks as part of our own due diligence processes, " added Ms Alexander.