Industry sector: Manufacturing

Furniture maker: Legal matters

The following is an overview of important pieces of legislation that may apply to your furniture business. The list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Consumer protection

Consumer protection legislation covers the safety of products sold in the UK and EU. Manufacturers must make sure that the goods they produce are not defective. Any components you buy in from other suppliers should be identifiable so that if a finished item is defective, leading to a claim, any faulty component can be traced. Your local Trading Standards Department should be able to answer queries about how consumer protection legislation affects your business.

If you decide to sell your furniture direct to members of the public you should be aware that there is a wide range of legislation that applies to retailers to protect the consumer. For example, goods and services must not be misleadingly described and the retail price of goods must be clearly displayed. Special 'distance selling' legislation covers the sale of products online or by mail order.

There's detailed guidance on your legal obligations to consumers, and on the requirements when selling online, on the Trading Standards Business Companion website. More information about consumer protection and fair trading legislation is also available on the website.

Furniture safety

Many items of furniture are covered by specific regulations to make sure that they meet fire safety requirements. Manufacturers must carry out tests on fabrics and fillings to make sure they comply with the legal standards. Records must be kept of the results of the tests. You must also make sure that new, upholstered furniture carries an appropriate display label regarding fire safety.

Guides on fire safety regulations for furniture in domestic and non-domestic settings are available to download from the British Furniture Manufacturers Association (BFM) website.

Copyright matters

The period of copyright protection for artistic works that have been industrially exploited (for example replica furniture) has been extended. To allow time to adjust to the extended period, the furniture industry, including retail outlets, has until 28 January 2017 to get rid of manufactured or imported replica furniture stock that doesn't comply with copyright law. After that date any replica furniture that comes under the new copyright protection must have a licence from the relevant rights holder.

Environmental matters

Larger furniture manufacturers in particular need to be aware of legislation that controls pollution to air, land or water that occurs as a result of the activities carried out. Activities that fall within the scope of the pollution control legislation are known as 'prescribed processes'. 'Timber processes' are subject to the legislation and, depending on the scale of your business, you may need to obtain a permit from the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland - or from your local authority. You can find out more about environmental management on the website.

Packaging waste regulations

Businesses which handle 50 tonnes or more of qualifying packaging materials annually and turn over more than a certain amount (currently £2 million) have obligations under packaging waste regulations. They must either register with one of the following and carry out the necessary recovery and recycling of packaging waste:

  • Natural Resources Wales
  • the Environment Agency in England
  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency
  • the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland

Alternatively, they can join one of the compliance schemes (for example Valpak or Biffpack).

Health and safety

You must make sure that you comply with workplace health and safety legislation covering all aspects of workplace health and safety. Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety at work of all of their employees and those with five or more employees must prepare a written health and safety policy statement. Regulations of particular importance to furniture manufacturers include:

  • the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH). These regulations require employers to carry out risk assessments in the workplace to identify hazardous activities and to put in place measures to reduce the risks. You will need to control wood dust levels and noise and make sure that potentially dangerous substances such as solvents, paints, adhesives and so on are stored and used safely
  • the Manual Handling Operations Regulations, which aim to reduce the risk of injury where heavy objects have to be lifted
  • the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), which cover the safe use and maintenance of hand and power tools
  • the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations, which cover the provision of protective items such as overalls or goggles where employees are engaged in potentially harmful activities

Further information and guidance leaflets on all aspects of health and safety, including specialist information for the manufacturing sector, are available on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) websites. You can also get help and advice from your local authority environmental health department.

The British Furniture Manufacturers Association offers advice and guidance to members on certain legal issues that may affect them, including health and safety and environmental matters. Visit their website for details of this and other membership benefits.

Premises fire safety

Fire safety is particularly important in a furniture manufacturing workshop or factory, where there are likely to be flammable materials like wood, lacquers, waxes, solvents and shavings.

All employers must comply with fire safety regulations - this means carrying out a fire risk assessment at your premises and putting in place fire precaution measures. These could include fire alarm systems and extinguishers as well as clearly signed escape routes. If you have five or more employees your fire risk assessment must be written down. You're responsible not only for the safety of your staff but also of anyone who might be on your premises, like customers or suppliers. The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced several helpful guides for businesses. You can download these from the website. Information about fire regulations in Northern Ireland is available on the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service website.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important pieces of legislation that you must be aware of include:

  • The Employment Rights Act
  • The National Minimum Wage Act
  • The Working Time Regulations

The employing people section of the website includes information and guidance on all aspects of employment legislation. Information for businesses in Northern Ireland is available on the NI Business Info website.

Equality and discrimination law

You must not discriminate against anyone because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. This applies to every aspect of your business operations, from taking people on to dismissing them. You may need to make reasonable adjustments to your premises and working arrangements so that you don't unfairly discriminate against disabled people.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission for Northern Ireland websites contain further information on your legal duties.