The fire at Wellington's Loafers Lodge on 16 May 2023 claimed five lives, injured 20 and left dozens homeless, but since then little has changed to stop it happening again.

Having mandatory requirements for sprinklers could have saved lives in this tragedy, Firefighters and fire engineers have both claimed that sprinklers could have saved lives in the Loafers Lodge fire, but there have been no rule changes to make them mandatory since.
New Zealand regulations require sprinklers only in accommodation buildings taller than nine storeys, compared with three storeys in Australia and Canada.
As a result of the Loafers Lodge fire a review of fire engineering legislation is urgently needed.  If a review was carried out and sprinklers were made compulsory for accommodation buildings, that would be a great outcome.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said it will not consider building regulation changes until Fire and Emergency (FENZ) has concluded its Loafers Lodge investigation.
The completion date for that investigation is still unknown as FENZ have said that it may end up as part of a police enquiry.
Further Risk from fire in foam filled furniture.
The New Zealand Safety Council has, since 2020, been campaigning for regulatory change in respect of the known risks from fire in foam filled furniture.
In July 2019 the then Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Hon Kris Faafoi issued a press release in regard to the dangers from toxic gases when foam filled furniture burned.
The Government had taken steps to improve New Zealanders safety by making furniture safer and reducing the high levels of toxic smoke it could emit in fires.
Manufacturers and retailers must now find ways to make products safer and a Product Safety Policy Statement (PSPS) has been enacted.
“Simply, we need to make this furniture safer because it is in every home in New Zealand,” Kris Faafoi says.
“About 80% of new and existing household furniture in New Zealand is foam-filled, including lounge suites, some mattresses, and seats. These are highly flammable when ignited and the foam can catch fire at relatively low temperatures, burn quickly and intensely, and emit suffocating poisonous smoke that can spread quickly through a home.
“Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) ran a demonstration for me and I saw first-hand how this foam-filled furniture can play a significant role in domestic fire risk,” Kris Faafoi said.
“The product safety statement we have now enacted is the first step to improving this situation, as currently there is no requirement to inform consumers about the potential fire danger of FFF products or impetus for manufacturers to move to safer foam products. This gives a chance for industry to lead and deliver on this initiative without the need for regulation.
“My hope is that manufacturers start adopting safer foam materials, retailers use better labelling and sell safer furniture products and importers bring in safer products."
The PSPS is backed by FENZ experience and international research, which identifies FFF products as playing a significant role in the speed and severity of domestic fires.
An average 3-piece FFF suite has the combustible potential of 10 litres of fuel and is a high risk for harm or death through burns and/or inhalation of toxic gases.
Coroner’s reports show that more people die of smoke inhalation than of burns from the flames. From 2006–2016, the total number of deaths during residential structure fires was 177 and from 2012-2017, there were 1227 fire related injuries.
“We have already received a strong response from FENZ in support of the improvement to fire safety standards and we will continue to work with them to ensure better safety outcomes for consumers,” Kris Faafoi says.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has consulted with the furniture industry and will be monitoring its uptake of the PSPS over the next two years.
“Retailers and manufacturers have an opportunity to make the lives of consumers safer. If they don’t act, we will consider enacting a regulatory regime at that stage.”
As a result of the recent Government strategy to promote public knowledge about the risks of fire in private homes and the need to have an escape plan in place and practiced & the recent press release from the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs relating to fire risk of foam filled furniture, the NZSC has decided that much stronger action could have and should have been taken.
Research that we have undertaken has shown that back in 2010 Coroner T Scott made the following recommendations in Neill [2010] NZCorC 130 (5 August 2010).
To: The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, or other appropriate organisation,
  • That the possibilities of requiring by legislative process or otherwise, the use of combustion-modified materials in respect of soft furnishing material be investigated and considered.
NZSC believes that the recent release of a Product Safety Policy Statement from Minister Faafoi does not add anything to the safety of the NZ population in relation to a known risk that the Minister has acknowledged in his release, and does not take into account the recommendations from the Coroner’s office as above.
The fire risks from foam filled furniture are very well known worldwide and have been from at least the early 2000’s as evidenced by the 2004 US law that has required all mattresses to be fireproof to a specific temperature point & Statistics and coroners’ reports derived from both New Zealand and the UK, indicate that a greater percentage of deaths from house fires, are due to a direct implications of smoke inhalation, opposed to burns. One source goes on to state that up to approximately 80% of deaths by house fire, are due to smoke inhalation injuries.
From 2006–2016, the total number of deaths during residential structure fires was 177 and from 2012-2017, there were 1227 fire related injuries.
Given that industry and government have known of these risks from at the very least the date of Coroner Scott’s recommendations (2010) they have had at least ten years to effect some type of change and with the knowledge that the US has since 2004 required a mandatory standard for flammability of this type of material the NZSC has demanded a stronger regulatory response from government than just the issuing of this PSPS.
Under the Consumer Guarantees Act one of the guarantees given is that suppliers & manufacturers guarantee that goods will be of acceptable quality.
What is “acceptable quality”?
Acceptable quality means goods:
  • Do what they are made to do.
  • Are acceptable in appearance and finish.
  • Are free from minor defects.
  • Are safe and durable.
So acceptable quality includes being safe and durable yet it is well known that memory foam materials can create toxic fumes when ignited/burnt. How can this be seen as being safe, especially in light of the number of deaths that occur each year in house fires in New Zealand.
The Minister in his press release of the 17th July 2019 acknowledged that foam filled furniture had the potential to be extremely dangerous and a significant risk in a house fire (see copy of his release below):
“About 80% of new and existing household furniture in New Zealand is foam-filled, including lounge suites, some mattresses, and seats. These are highly flammable when ignited and the foam can catch fire at relatively low temperatures, burn quickly and intensely, and emit suffocating poisonous smoke that can spread quickly through a home.
“Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) ran a demonstration for me and I saw first-hand how this foam-filled furniture can play a significant role in domestic fire risk,” Kris Faafoi said.
Given the state of knowledge about the risks and danger of toxic smoke from this type of furniture and the fact that approximately 80% of new and existing household furniture is of this type, the fact that this danger and risk has been known since at least 2004 and the requirement for safety under the Consumer Guarantees Act, why does the government not regulate instead of relying on manufacturers to self-regulate.
It is obvious that self-regulation has not worked since at least 2004 (this being adequately demonstrated by the knowledge of the risks and the need for the government to issue the Product Safety Policy Statement) so why has the government not acted to regulate instead of again relying on self-regulation?
Health & Safety is about the people
Health and safety shouldn’t really be about laws and regulations; first and foremost it’s about looking after people, safer homes mean safer families and communities.
Too many people die in house fires and thousands more suffer serious injuries. These are more than just statistics – they represent real people with friends and family.
House fire deaths and injuries take a terrible toll on our community.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Some of these incidents are preventable with a bit of planning (working smoke alarms; less use of toxic materials; better personal practices, etc.). Why shouldn’t the government act to keep our communities and families safe?
Ultimately, what fails to be considered in this discussion about the effects of fires in foam filled furniture, is the safety of people, prior knowledge of the effects and that this type of furniture is also widely used in commercial situations.
Have our decision makers broken a cardinal expectation of Health and Safety legislation – that is, to have workable and iron-clad safety and risk management plans for safety, accidents and disasters?
There seems to be two different standards applied when it comes to Health and Safety between industrial requirements and private/public requirements.
When industry is found wanting on safety measures, it rightfully has the book thrown at it. There seems to be no such penalty for governments that overlook safety or long-term planning in the public domain.
Safety is and rightly should be, paramount in everything we do. As parents, we constantly teach our children about safety – for themselves and their peers.
Whether you’re a worker, a supervisor, a manager, a director or company owner/PCBU you have an obligation to report things that could be hazardous in the workplace and you expect your reports to be taken seriously by all concerned with all identified risks being managed/controlled.
Why then do we have politicians who admit the prior knowledge of the lethal and/or toxic effects from the use of foam filled furniture deferring making regulatory decisions on the basis that industry can and will safely self-regulate?
To ensure the safety of our communities and their people, then governments and regulators must show mature leadership.
Given that it has been known since at least 2004 that the burning of foam filled furniture causes the release of toxic fumes that can be lethal in very small doses, and given that self-regulation has demonstrably failed up till now, perhaps that should be our resolution –to ensure that all stakeholders don’t lose sight of the importance of safety, especially in relation to the risks from foam filled furniture.
For this resolution to happen though, it requires the unity and good will of governments, regulators and industries – now and long term. Failures and mistakes should be acknowledged but we can – and should – always strive to be better in everything we do, especially in the planning and practising of health and safety. Yes, it’s a lofty ideal but it’s one that never goes away – and should never be ignored.
So what can we do about the issue of risk from foam filled furniture in both the private sector and workplaces?
We can use Safety in Design
What is Safety in Design?
Safety in design means the integration of control measures early in the design process to eliminate or, if this is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks to health and safety throughout the life of the product/process being designed.
There are three main principles behind Safety in Design and they are as follows:
Principle 1: Persons with Control – persons who make decisions affecting the design of products are able to promote health and safety at the source.
Principle 2: Product Lifecycle – safe design applies to every stage in the lifecycle from conception through to disposal. It involves eliminating hazards or minimising risks as early in the lifecycle as possible.
Principle 3: Systematic Risk Management – the application of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control processes to achieve safe design.
When analysing the need for a designed product, a practical approach will address the main elements:
  • The user – their characteristics, including the physical, psychological and behavioural capacities, skills knowledge and abilities.
  • The environment – the area in which the product is to be used, space, lighting, noise and comfort etc.
  • Product design and the interface with the user.
Legal Obligations
If the supply of foam filled furniture was regulated under the Health & Safety at Work Act then there would be a large number of compliance duties in relation to the safe design of the furniture as set out below (and in fact I believe that the supply of foam filled furniture into workplaces would be strictly regulated if not actually prohibited).
The Health and Safety at Work Act and associated regulations impose duties on a range of parties to ensure health and safety in relation to particular products, such as:
PCBU’s (Person Controlling a Business or Undertaking) Primary duty of care
Duty of PCBU who manages or controls workplace
Duty of PCBU who manages or controls fixtures, fittings, or plant at workplaces
Duty of PCBU who designs plant, substances, or structures
Duty of PCBU who manufactures plant, substances, or structures
Duty of PCBU who imports plant, substances, or structures
Duty of PCBU who supplies plant, substances, or structures
Duty of PCBU who installs, constructs, or commissions plant or structures
Primary duty of care
Overall responsibility for achieving safe design rests with the PCBU but parties or individuals who control or manage design functions also have responsibilities as listed above. This includes people who are directly involved in the design activity, as well as those who make decisions that influence the design outcome (such as clients, manufacturers, directors and managers).
Responsibilities will be consistent with the degree of control that a person has i.e. whether they are a PCBU, Officer or Worker as set out in the Act.
Often, the design process will occur over various stages and involve different people who make specialist or technical decisions for incorporating into the design, which may positively or negatively affect the safety of the product. In these situations there will be a shared responsibility between the parties, depending on the level of control they have over the design function.
Some design tasks, although related, may be controlled by different designers due to contractual arrangements. Designing a product for end-use and designing the process by which it is constructed or manufactured is often undertaken by different people.
PCBU’s and Officers play a major role in safe design. As decision makers, they can substantially influence the design outcomes, for example by specifying the budget, a particular layout or the use of certain materials for a product.
Others who have a capacity to achieve safe design include: architects, industrial designers or draftspersons who undertake the design on behalf of the client, individuals who make design decisions during any of the lifecycle phases, such as engineers, manufacturers, suppliers, installers, builders, developers, project managers and OHS professionals.
Safe design can be achieved more effectively when all the parties who control and influence the design outcome collaborate with each other on incorporating safety measures into the design.
The Benefits of Safe Design
The opportunities to create safer products are most cost effective when captured in the earliest phases of the lifecycle of designed products. The most effective risk control measure – eliminating the hazard – is often cheaper and more practical to achieve at the design or planning stage, rather than making changes later in the lifecycle when the hazards become real risks to users.
A safe design approach results in many benefits, including: prevention of injury and disease, improved usability of products, compliance with legislation, and innovation, in that safe design demands new thinking.
Why should there be such a difference in requirements between the private consumer and workplaces?
Why do we require PCBU’s that control, design, manufacture, import, supply, or install products in the commercial world to comply with many regulatory duties, yet we don’t require the same duty of care from PCBU’s that supply products to the private consumer through retail sales?
Surely the guarantee of safety under the Consumer Guarantees Act requires the same level of safety or is the private consumer more expendable?