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Furniture association adds conformance standard

BIFMA Compliant seal and registry will indicate to buyers which products meet mechanical safety and performance criteria.

June 28, 2019
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Herman Miller's Mirra 2 chair is LEVEL-certified through the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) and could be a potential candidate for the BIFMA Compliant safety and performance program rolling out in 2020. Courtesy Herman Miller

To help ensure worker safety and protect manufacturers from liability, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) is rolling out a program that provides more structure to the process of safety compliance.

The BIFMA Compliant program, which will launch in October 2020, is a voluntary program that will create a documented rule set for conformance and provide an online registry buyers can use to identify products that comply with specific BIFMA standards.

“As we spoke to members of the design community and others who participate in the specification of commercial furniture, we heard loud and clear the need for greater ease in identifying products they can trust,” said Tom Reardon, executive director of BIFMA.

Don Van Winkle, president and COO of Kimball International and BIFMA board president, added technology and market changes have necessitated the move.

“Products are entering the market from more sources than ever before, and decision-makers need better access to information,” he said. “This program is an important step toward providing that information and delivering needed differentiation.”

Since 1973, BIFMA has represented the interests of commercial furniture brands by developing safety and performance standards intended to protect the public, in addition to the LEVEL sustainability certification launched in 2009.

While BIFMA Compliant is not as “toothy” as a full-blown certification, Reardon said it was designed in response to an industry need for a clear definition of conformance for commercial furniture products entering the market.

The program is the next step following a document BIFMA issued last year called “BIFMA Product Conformance Requirements,” which is a voluntary guide meant to provide minimum requirements for claiming product conformance.

“The BIFMA Compliant program … is an attempt to put some structure around these voluntary documents,” Reardon said.

The seal BIFMA Compliant products will be labeled with will indicate to buyers that the products have been tested by a third-party lab that is ISO/IEC 17025-accredited and have met mechanical safety and performance criteria, and the test reports have then been audited by BIFMA.

The online registry will serve to ensure the BIFMA Compliant seal on a given furniture product is being used legitimately and has not been pirated.

“That will be the ultimate check and balance,” Reardon said. “If a product is listed on our registry, then it is legitimately using the conformance mark.”

The website will be similar to a searchable database BIFMA already has for its LEVEL-certified products, except it will be tied to bifma.org.

LEVEL is an independent, third-party certification for “environmentally preferable and socially responsible” office furniture. Currently, customers can do a search at level.ecomedes.com across several product categories such as seating, tables, casegoods, systems, accessories and architectural products.

The BIFMA Compliant conformance program will be open to BIFMA members and nonmembers. Furniture manufacturers that elect to participate will upload product information into the online database, which will be accessible freely to anyone interested in finding products that meet industry safety and performance standards.

The program will cover nine mechanical standards — office seating, large occupant office seating, educational seating, lounge and public seating, occasional-use seating, desk/table products, small office/home office, panel systems and storage units.

The standards will focus on safety and durability by measuring the product against different test protocols — for example, in the office seating category, chair bases, castors, back strength, seat loading, arm strength, leg strength and other configurations will be tested.

“For the manufacturers that are already testing in accredited labs properly, it shouldn’t be any more onerous than what they’re already doing,” Reardon said.

“For the marketplace, there are going to be a lot more assurances in place than today that the product truly is compliant.”

Additional details regarding the program, including pricing and contractual requirements, will be announced later in 2019.

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