Ellis Developments Limited
Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
A FIRE HAZARD OF POLYESTER COTTON FABRIC COVERS OF MOSES BASKETS
a Paper given at a Textile Institute Special Conference
Textile Flammability: Current and Future Issues
Salford 30 March 1999
by Julian G Ellis M.Phil, C.Text, FTI, MRSC, MAE
The author set fire to a series of Moses Baskets covered with polyester, cotton and blends of the two. The tests demonstrated that the use of polyester/cotton blends for applications such as out Moses basket covers leads to unsafe products, although Moses Baskets with covers made of such fabrics are still widely sold by retailers.
It has long been known that mixtures of polyester and cotton can provide an injury hazard when on fire. Expressed simply, the cotton content burns quickly and easily, but the polyester content melts and forms a scaffold to support the burning carbon residue of the cotton which can then extend the area of hot material, spreading fire or extending injury.
The danger is so clear and well defined that the hazards caused by mixing polyester and cotton are included in the UK’s Nightwear Safety Regulations (1) which forbid, for example, the use of polyester sewing thread for cotton fabrics.
Parliament in the UK is unwilling to legislate to eliminate all consumer hazards. Not only do they not wish to extend "the nanny state" more than necessary but, even more importantly, the demand for parliamentary time has a backlog of several years; quick changes to the law are impracticable.
In the absence of a specific regulatory framework, it falls to manufacturers and their customers to exercise reasonable care to minimise the dangers to which their eventual customers are exposed. The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to a serious, yet easily avoidable hazard.
In 1989 a seven-month-old baby was subjected to severe and very disfiguring burns in an accident which happened while he was asleep in a Moses basket. There resulted from this accident a very protracted and extremely expensive law suit. I was asked to provide independent evidence in this case, and, as part of this, I carried out a number of tests on Moses baskets using a range of fabrics for the textile cover made from fibre blends ranging from 100% cotton to 100% polyester.
It must be appreciated that there is no British or other standard to provide guidance in such a trial, nor was any attempt being made to provide a test standard. The experiments were designed to provide a situation as close as possible to that in which the disaster happened, although having regard for the demands of safe working.
1.1 Fire Tests
Initial demonstrations were made on fabrics purchased from a retailer of 100% polyester and 100% cotton and a blend of polyester and cotton. None had been fire retardant treated. A rectangle was cut from each of the fabrics and hung outdoors from a glass line using a clip. A match was applied to the bottom edge of each of the fabrics. The polyester was difficult to light and despite two attempts to get it to burn, it self-extinguished. It melted, but did not drip debris. The polyester cotton blend caught fire easily and burned with melting of the polyester, and left an almost solid piece of hot burnt debris. The 100% cotton caught easily and burned fairly fast, a light ash being produced. The fabric burned away almost completely, with most of the light ash blowing away in the wind. This was exactly in accordance with expectations.
Tests on baskets were carried out with the co-operation of Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, who provided the use of a fire room in their Ollerton Training Centre, and Nottinghamshire Trading Standards who provided an observer for some of the tests. The room used was lined with refractory tiles. The baskets were the same as those involved in the fire and were purchased from a Nottingham store.
The Moses baskets had a folding hood supported by a wire frame with a textile hood cover and side frill. When sold, the textile was made from a polyester and cotton fabric. Except for the original covering, I had made a series of identically shaped covers of different textile composition, but of approximately the same weight and weave pattern.
For each test, the basket was placed on bricks in order to replicate the situation of the actual fire. The Moses basket at the time of the accident was placed close to, but not on the floor.
The door was shut and there was no forced draught. A video film was made of the fires, and still photographs were also taken. The video shows the flashes of the camera as the photographs were taken. All timings are approximate and taken from the clock that was started after the match was applied.
The first series of tests was carried out with ignition being at the centre of the hood, near the top. Later evidence suggested that the basket might have been ignited at the bottom edge of the frill, so a further series of tests was carried out.
1.2 Tests on 100% Cotton Covers
The first series test was on the basket with a cover of untreated 100% cotton. Ignition took place using a match placed on the hood raised approximated three quarters up. The flames spread slowly, and as it grew in size the flame spread upward on the vertical part of the hood so that the top of the hood began to burn after 40s. By 1m 15s the hood was well alight. By 2m 15s the hood was virtually completely destroyed and the rear of the cover and then the basket itself began to burn at 3m. No debris dropped onto the mattress. At 3m 20s the fire spread to the mattress. The fire was then extinguished and the basket cooled using a carbon dioxide extinguisher. The fire had damaged some of the palm of the basket itself, but it still held together sufficiently to permit fitting of the other two covers.
1.3 Test on 100% Polyester Cover
The cover of 100% standard polyester was then fitted, and a lighted match applied as before. The flames spread slowly, and after 15s spread up the hood. After 22s there was a drip of polyester onto the mattress, melting its cover. It continued to drip, melting holes in the fabric cover near the back of the basket after 1m 22s, but soon after the flame went out by itself.
1.4 Test on Polyester/Cotton Blend
Finally, the original 67% polyester 33% cotton striped cover was refitted. After 10 seconds the fabric was well alight, and after 30s half of the hood was in flame. After 54s debris was dropping onto the mattress. Before 1m most of the hood was burnt away and melting burning debris falling down. By 1m 6s the rear of the basket itself was well alight and the fabric towards the head of the basket was burning, and after 1m 14s the mattress began burning. After 1m 30s the basket was well on fire with much molten burning falling debris. At 3m 20s the basket was almost totally destroyed, whereas with a 100% cotton cover, the fire had just spread to the mattress at this time.
2. COMMENTS and conclusion
There is a commercial requirement to provide an easy-care fabric covering for a Moses basket which does not crumple badly or lose its appearance when the hood is folded back and later extended. This, combined with the cheapness and convenience of using polyester cotton blends, would obviously influence a designer towards the choice of polyester cotton fabric. However, it is clearly dangerous to use such a blend if not FR treated. It is still difficult to obtain an adequate fire retardant treatment for polyester cotton blends. However, polyester fibres with inherent flame retardant properties have been available for a good many years and provide an obvious choice, and 100% cotton fabrics are available with suitable fire retardant properties.
Black AW, Maasdorp APB - Developments in the Flame Retardant Treatment of Cotton/Polyester Blends (1973 to 1983)Sawtri Special Publication (June 1984)
Horrocks AR – Flame Retardant Finishing of Textiles. Review of Progress in Coloration and Related Topics (1986 16 62-101)
Photographs and videos can be seen by contacting the author:- :firstname.lastname@example.org
Julian Ellis will be delighted to hear from you. Telephone on +44 (0) 7976 425899
Julian Ellis OBE, M.Phil, C.Text, FTI, MRSC, MAE
Ellis Developments Ltd
Far Close, Rolleston Road, Fiskerton, Southwell, NG25 0UJ, UK
+44 7976 425899