Our firm represents a family that lost its mother when the Blair robe she was wearing caught fire. Tragically, the woman burned to death. This event illustrates one of the overlooked problems with consumer safety – clothing-related burns and deaths.
On average, 120 people die and over 4,300 are seriously injured each year from clothing-related burns. Remarkably, the textile and clothing industry has done very little over the past half century to decrease the flammability of the clothes and minimize this safety issue. Instead, the industry chooses to manufacture its clothes to conform to an outdated and minimum standard. The majority of the clothing or textile products sold in this country are regulated by the Flammable Fabrics Act. The Act was passed by Congress in 1953. The vast majority of all clothing-related injuries and deaths occurred with fires involving apparel that complied with this standard.
Since 1953, the Flammable Fabric Act has essentially been unchanged. It was enacted to remove from the market only those garments that were the most highly flammable. The vast majority of textile products subjected to the standard’s test readily pass and are designated as “Class one normal flammability.” This result unfortunately implies that the textiles are safe to use in clothing. The concept of “normal flammability” in the context of this test is misleading as a measure of safety. “Normal flammability” is merely a term defined by the general wearing apparel standard. Ordinary news print paper passes this test. Consumers need to be aware that a “does not ignite” result under these test conditions does not mean that a fabric will not ignite under real world conditions. In addition, just because the fabric passes the standard does not mean that it will prevent a fairly rapid spread of flames up the fabric. Furthermore, the standard only measures the rate of flame spread up the fabric test specimen, but permits a rapid flame spread.
There can be no doubt that the industry can design and test its clothes to decrease the injuries and deaths caused by flammable clothing. The textile industry could utilize the more stringent Flammability Standards for children’s sleepwear. In the 1970s, Congress enacted the Children’s Sleepwear Standard Act which had as its goal to protect young children up to twelve years of age from the unreasonably risk of thermal burns caused by burning sleepwear. The Children Sleepwear Standards Act brought about certain changes to the materials and construction of children’s sleepwear in order to reduce the risk of cloth-related burns. The standards required the fabric, once ignited, to extinguish before burning seven inches. Those changes resulted in safer sleepwear and contributed to a reduction in burn injuries and deaths for the public at large.
Everyday in this country, people are subjected to burns and die in clothing-related fires. Many of these losses are preventable, yet, the Federal standard regulating the flammability of these products remains unchanged. Regulators could build on the proven approach of the Children’s Sleepwear Standard Act, and develop a modernized clothing flammability standard that equally protects the public. The textile and apparel industry could move towards the production of safer garments by re-designing its products. In addition, greater use of effective, visible, clothing fire warning labels would help. Historically, it’s been proven that most consumers don’t recognize or appreciate that much of the clothing they purchase can be so easily ignited.
Clothing-related causalities will undoubtedly continue unless changes are made to the way clothing is manufactured and labeled. The effects of the Children’s Sleepwear Standards demonstrate that the frequencies of deaths and injuries will decline if changes are made to the fabric and apparel. It is time that the textile, apparel, and retailing industries respond by producing safer clothing. If you need more information on this subject contact Rick Morrison in our firm at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rick.Morrison@beasleyallen.com.
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