Within the mattress industry there has been something of a ruckus recently. The well-established trade magazine Cabinet Maker carried out an undercover investigation in collaboration with FIRA (Furniture Industry Research Association) which was looking at, as the title of this blog suggests, whether mattresses sold in the Uk are what they say they are.
Mattresses are difficult for a consumer to judge. They all look the same and at first glance a £500 mattress can look pretty like a £5,000 mattress. This means we need the people making the mattress, and the people selling the mattress to give us clear, concise information and for us to have confidence in what they are telling us.
In the investigation, The Cabinet Maker concentrated on two issues. Are the raw materials in the mattress what they say they are, is the core of the mattress the same as the one the customer thinks they have bought? For example, if it is a sprung mattress does it have the right amount of springs? Secondly and most importantly they looked at if the mattresses met the fire and flame retardation regulations, which comes down to safety and whether the products in our home are safe.
When the results came out the main problem in terms of component description was with Pocket Sprung mattresses, where 4 out of 7 tested did not accurately describe the amount of springs in the mattress. This should make consumers question whether the mattresses they buy are what they say they are as spring count, plus filling quantity and quality are the main indicators as to whether the mattress provides good value.
Customers not getting what they expect is bad but I was horrified that 10 out of 42 products (nearly 25%) failed the fire safety tests, which is a travesty. I am incredibly surprised this has not been picked up by the national press. Bear in mind the mattresses tested were single mattresses. The size of mattress that are usually bought for children. They failed the tests, that, in theory are there to protect us, to ensure our children are safe as they sleep. Some of the UK’s biggest retailers and manufacturers failed the tests and there has been no coverage in any of the national press.
I congratulate Cabinet Maker (full disclosure, after the report, I started writing a monthly column about how we improve the mattress industry) on their stance; to change an industry we need to do things that make us uncomfortable and are difficult. Some of the companies caught out in the report are advertisers with the magazine. Cabinet Maker did not know this as when they carried out the tests, they did not know the manufacturers and retailers involved, but when they did find out they didn’t pull back from releasing the data.
However, the industry’s response has been incredibly disappointing. They have claimed the tests were not fair, despite them been based on the code of practise their industry body, the National Bed Federation (NBF) has developed. In fact, the NBF used, as far as I can tell, the same criteria when investigating, alongside the BBC’s Rogue Britain programme, similar issues. If I was one of the companies involved I would be taking an open, honest look at how I manufacture and describe my products, and be honest about the mistakes I have made. Excuses and anger that they have been caught out is not going to give consumers confidence when buying mattresses. Roughly half of the products that failed were made by members of the NBF. The NBF has a code of practise that claims to ensure that its members products are safer and better quality than non-members. The NBF needs to take a hard line with any member that failed the tests.
The problem is the manufacturers make the mattress, or in most cases a part of the mattress for the tests. This means the mattress that passes the test can be constructed differently to pass the test than the mattress sold to the end consumer. This is the most worrying part of it and I would like the NBF, trading standards or both to start doing spot checks (I discussed this with the NBF and they have said they will be introducing spot checks) on retailers and manufacturers, in the way this Cabinet Maker investigation has done.
I feel sorry for the retailers on this one, as it is so difficult to check what is in the core of the mattress and whether the mattress meets the fire regulations. Unfortunately for a retailer to be able to check this they would need to open a mattress to check the spring count or set fire to a mattress to see if it meets the fire regulations. Good retailers should consider doing this, so the people supplying them are on their toes and are forced into providing a product which does what it is supposed to do.
My solution to this problem is a list of ingredients. This would entail each mattress having a label which outlines exactly what goes into the mattress, what fillings are used and how much, what springs are used and how many and what the chemicals used to meet the fire regulations are. This coupled with a system of spot checks should help the industry make products that are what they are supposed to be and ensure the consumer gets what they have paid for, and that it is safe.
If I am a consumer I would be asking how many springs are in the mattress I want to buy (most manufacturers base their spring count on the king size mattress, but you want to know the spring count in your mattress if it is a different size,) what the fillings are, how much of each one is in the mattress. Also ask the retailer if the mattress has passed the fire safety tests, and that the mattress they are buying is made in exactly the same way as the mattress that passed the test.
Within the mattress industry we have a problem with credibility and customer confidence. The actions of the manufacturers caught out in this report only add to the consumer’s mistrust of the mattress industry. Rather than reacting with an attitude of denial the industry needs to be proactive and honest going forward and show the mattress buying public they take customer comfort and safety seriously.
The issue of fire safety is extremely complicated. We currently have a regulatory regime that was designed in 1987 and our fire safety regulations are some of the most stringent in the world. However, if the mattresses don’t pass the safety tests then are the regulations relevant? There is also increasing evidence that the chemicals used to meet the regulations can be harmful to our health. The regulations have been under review since 2013 and I think there needs to be a real focus on developing a set of standards that protect consumers from both the risk of fire and the risk to our health from the chemicals used. It also needs to be achievable so mattresses consistently pass the test. The industry needs to be less concerned with the cost to them, either in monetary terms or reputation and focus on the above, consumer safety.
I’d be interested to know people’s thoughts on this blog, drop me a line with an opinion!