The Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953 (“FFA”) (15 U.S.C. §§ 1191−1204) was enacted for the purpose of regulating the manufacture of highly flammable clothing, such as brushed rayon sweaters and children’s sleepwear.
History: The FFA is an Act “to prohibit the introduction or movement in interstate commerce of articles of wearing apparel and fabrics, which are so highly flammable as to be dangerous when worn by individuals, and for other purposes.” (LII).
Congress amended the FFA, and passed the Flammable Fabrics Act Amendment on December 14, 1967. The Amendment expanded the FFA “to include interior furnishings as well as paper, plastic, foam and other materials used in wearing apparel and interior furnishings.” (LII).
The flammability standards which regulate clothing and textiles intended for clothing are contained in Volume 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter D, in the following references:
- Part 1610 Standard for the Flammability Testing of Clothing Textiles;
- Part 1611 Standard for the Flammability of Vinyl Plastic Film;
- Part 1615 Standards for the Flammability of Children’s Sleepwear: Sizes 0 through 6X; and
- Part 1616 Standards for the Flammability of Children’s Sleepwear: Sizes 7 through 14.
Enforcement: While the FFA originally placed enforcement authority with the Federal Trade Commission, responsibility for administering the FFA was transferred to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) when the agency was created in 1972. Under the Flammable Fabrics Act, “CPSC can issue mandatory flammability standards. Standards have been established for the flammability of clothing textiles, vinyl plastic film (used in clothing), carpets and rugs, children’s sleepwear and mattresses and mattress pads.” (CPSC).
Applicability to Clothing: The purpose of the FFA is to keep dangerously flammable textiles and garments made of these textiles out of commerce. This includes “apparel,” which the CPSC defines as “any costume or article of clothing that people wear.” (CPSC).
“The standard provides methods of testing the flammability of clothing and textiles intended to be used for clothing by classifying fabrics into 3 classes of flammability based on their speed of burning. This minimum standard specifies that Class 3, textiles, the most dangerously flammable fabrics, are unsuitable for use in clothing because of their rapid and intense burning.”
General Overview: The regulation establishes three classes of flammability, as set forth by the CPSC:
- Class 1 textiles have a flame spread time of 3.5 seconds or more for plain surface fabrics, of more than 7 seconds for raised surface fabrics, or 0-7 seconds for raised surface fabrics with no ignition or melting of the base fabric (generally when the fuzzy surface fibers of raised fiber fabrics exhibit a “surface flash”). Class 1 textiles exhibit normal flammability and are acceptable for use in clothing.
- Class 2 applies only to fabrics with raised fiber surfaces. Class 2 textiles have a flame spread time from 4 to 7 seconds inclusive, and a base fabric that ignites or melts. These fabrics exhibit intermediate flammability, and may be used in clothing. However, you should use caution when you make garments from Class 2 fabrics because the characteristics of those fabrics can cause their flammability test results to vary.
- Class 3 textiles have a flame spread time of less than 3.5 seconds for smooth plain surface fabrics, and less than 4 seconds for raised surface fabrics with a base fabric that melts or burns from other than the igniting flame. Class 3 textiles exhibit rapid and intense burning and are dangerously flammable. You cannot use Class 3 textiles in clothing.
Fabrics likely to be classified as Class 2 or Class 3 textiles include sheer rayon or silk, rayon chenille, reverse fleece or sherpa of cotton or cotton blend, and certain cotton terry cloth.
Which fabrics consistently meet the requirements of this standard?
The CPSC sets forth that “the following fabrics consistently pass as Class 1 textiles and are exempt from the reasonable and representative testing requirements for firms issuing a flammability guaranty on these fabrics”:
- Plain surface fabrics, regardless of fiber content, weighing 2.6 ounces per square yard or more; and
- All fabrics (both plain surface and raised-fiber surface) regardless of weight, made entirely from any of the following fibers or entirely from a combination of these fibers: acrylic, modacrylic, nylon, olefin, polyester, and wool.
How can garment manufacturers, importers, distributors, or retailers be sure that the fabrics or garments they sell are not dangerously flammable?
According to the CPSC, the following mechanisms should be utilized in order for garment manufacturers, importers, distributors, or retailers to be sure that the fabrics or garments they sell are not dangerously flammable:
- Purchase fabrics or garments made from the exempt fabrics listed above.
- Conduct reasonable and representative testing on fabric (before cutting and sewing it into garments) or on finished garments,
- Purchase fabrics or garments from a supplier who issues a guarantee that they comply with these flammability requirements. To issue a guarantee, a supplier must conduct reasonable and representative tests on each item that the guarantee covers, and must maintain records of the tests that support the guarantee (except for exempt fabrics listed above). Please refer to the regulation for more detailed information on guarantees and record keeping requirements. He CPSC recommends that anyone relying on a guarantee take steps confirm that the supplier issuing the guarantee has in fact tested the guaranteed product, and also confirm periodically that appropriate testing continues.
FFA Guaranty: To verify if the fabrics being used in clothing meet the requirements of the FFA, a retailer can request a guaranty from the garment manufacturer and the garment manufacturer can request a guaranty from the fabric supplier. The guaranty, a formal certification that embodies “a good faith declaration that a product, fabric, or related material conforms with applicable flammability standards” must indicate that reasonable and representative tests have been made in accordance with applicable standards and procedures currently in effect under the FFA, and that the fabric tested meets the minimum requirements. (CPSC).
Such guarantees may serve as a defense to liability and criminal prosecution under the FFA. However, “the issuance of a guaranty must be based on reasonable and representative tests conducted in accordance with applicable flammability standards issued under the FFA based upon a guaranty received and relied upon in good faith by the guarantor.” (CPSC).
Violations: The manufacture for sale, sale, or offering for sale of any product, fabric, or related material which fails to comply with an applicable standard or regulation issued under the FFA is prohibited. The FFA provides for civil penalties of up to $6,000 per product involved with any violation, and a maximum penalty of up to $1.5 million for any related series of violations.