How does the government regulate the flammability of fabric?
The 1953 Flammable Fabrics Act was created in an effort to regulate the safety of material used to make clothing sold by American retailers. Much of the clothing sold in the U.S. today is made overseas, which was not the case during the 1950s. Despite changes in how clothing is manufactured and sold in the U.S., standards for clothing flammability have not changed much since the Act’s original implementation.
What safety standards does the flammable fabrics act set?
The Act sets a “Class one normal flammability” standard -- which has proven ineffective. The standard refers to the rate of flame spread. It often focuses on the sheer weight of the fabric, which in real world settings does not always relate to how fast a fabric ignites and burns. One thing is clear: fabrics like very thin cottons, thin cotton/polyester blends, and chenille are dangerous because they ignite easily and burn fast.
Most people might not think of clothing as being a potential catastrophic burn hazard, but consider the following scenario:
A three-year-old child is watching his mom cook on a gas stove while he wears his big brother’s over-sized, thin, cotton shirt. As he tries to give his mom a hug near the stove, his shirt sleeve suddenly ignites in flames. The mother’s bathrobe made from chenille also then ignites. Despite the mom’s desperate efforts to assist her child, the fabric burns fast and hot. Tragically, both suffer severe burns and horrible scarring.
What is the flaw in the Flammable Fabrics Act?
The original goal of the Act was to remove highly flammable garments from the market. However, in practice this has not occurred. Every year approximately 4,300 people in the U.S. are injured from clothing that ignites on or near open flames. On average, 120 die from burns.[i] You may be shocked to learn that there are no flame-retardant chemicals put on children’s clothing. Few flame-resistant fabrics are used; the U.S. standards do not require it.
Holding Manufacturers and Retailers Accountable for Burn Injuries
We believe manufacturers and retailers should incorporate flame-resistant and flame-retardant fabrics into clothing. At the very least, warning labels about flammability should be used. If we were contacted on this case, we would need to prove that the clothing was unreasonably dangerous and this defect caused the burns. The clothing would need to be tested as to its fabric weight and “flame spread” by our experts. Many times we can locate an identical garment at the retail location where it was purchased. Claims of negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability against the retailer and manufacturer would be investigated. Pursuing these types of cases successfully is the only way we can make these products safer and protect our children.
[i] James F. Hoebel, et al., Clothing-Related Burn Casualties: An Overlooked Problem? 46 Fire Technology 629 (2009).