Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Additional Steps Needed to Assess Fire Hazards of Upholstered Furniture

HEHS-00-3: Published: Nov 17, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 1999.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Kathryn G. Allen
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO provided information on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) study on whether to set a flammability standard for sofas, chairs, and other upholstered furniture, focusing on the: (1) methodology CPSC used to estimate the magnitude of the fire hazard that the standard would address; and (2) reliability of this methodology for producing sound estimates of the hazard that the standard would address.

GAO noted that: (1) because no single national data source exists on the magnitude of hazards and losses caused by upholstered furniture fires, CPSC blends information from two different sources; (2) one source provides national estimates on the total number of fires in four general categories and the extent of losses, but it provides no information about specific types of fires, such as upholstered furniture fires; (3) the second source provides detailed information for specific types of fires, but for only a portion of all fires in the United States; (4) CPSC uses the details from the second source of data and the national estimates from the first source to calculate national estimates of fire losses from the kinds of upholstered furniture fires the standard would address; (5) CPSC cannot ensure that its methodology provides a complete picture of the national fire losses that the potential standard would address; (6) CPSC does not develop a statement of precision for the estimated losses from upholstered furniture fires; (7) without this, CPSC's estimates of fire losses do not adequately disclose the range of benefits that may be associated with its potential standard; (8) CPSC's methodology for calculating fire losses has the effect of including losses that are not likely to be addressed by the standard; (9) fire losses involving upholstered furniture are counted even though other factors not addressed by the standard may have been responsible, such as fires that are intentionally set; (10) also, for those fires for which the cause or origin is unknown, CPSC assumes that upholstered furniture fires will occur in the same proportion they occur in fires with a known cause; (11) GAO's testing shows that these methods are likely to substantially overstate fire losses that the standard would address, and as a result, they could have a material effect on the associated benefits expected from the potential standard; and (12) various analyses can be used to assess the validity of underlying assumptions and ultimately strengthen CPSC estimates, but so far CPSC has not used them.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2000, CPSC staff informed GAO that they were funding a special study to develop more precise fire loss estimates.

    Recommendation: To resolve issues surrounding the data and assumptions used in preparing the cost-benefit analysis for a potential standard to protect against fire hazards associated with upholstered furniture, the Chairman, CPSC, should direct CPSC staff to conduct additional and more detailed analyses of key assumptions including, but not limited to, assessing the precision surrounding National Fire Protection Association national fire loss estimates and their impact on estimated benefits attributable to the standard.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2000, the Chairman, CPSC, informed Congress that the commission's technical staff were implementing GAO's recommendations to more accurately estimate fires and fire losses, and would incorporate the results of the analysis in their evaluation of the proposed flammability standard's costs and benefits.

    Recommendation: To resolve issues surrounding the data and assumptions used in preparing the cost-benefit analysis for a potential standard to protect against fire hazards associated with upholstered furniture, the Chairman, CPSC, should direct CPSC staff to conduct additional and more detailed analyses of key assumptions including, but not limited to, identifying a more accurate method to calculate fire losses that could be addressed by the standard.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CPSC implemented GAO's recommendation to improve its estimation methods for fire losses.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, CPSC, should incorporate any necessary revisions identified by these analyses into the cost-benefit analysis of the potential standard.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 7, 2016

Aug 10, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

May 26, 2016

Apr 14, 2016

Apr 11, 2016

Mar 21, 2016

Feb 8, 2016

Jan 27, 2016

Nov 16, 2015

Looking for more? Browse all our products here