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Even Furniture That Meets Industry Standards Can Tip Over and Kill Kids, Report Says

Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger

Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger

Furniture manufacturers don’t always follow voluntary industry standards designed to prevent tip-overs that can injure and kill children.

That was underscored by IKEA’s recent recall of 29 million chests and dressers after the company admitted that many of its products didn’t meet voluntary industry standards and that six children have been killed since 1989 in tip-over tragedies involving its furniture.

But even when manufacturers abide by the standards, children may still be in danger of being crushed to death, according to a new report released today.

The report, by product safety advocates at two nonprofits, Kids in Danger and Shane’s Foundation, found that supposedly safe chests and dressers sometimes tip over under ordinary conditions. The authors cited tip-overs that occur while all of the drawers are open and extra weight is applied – circumstances resembling a child climbing on a piece of furniture – or even when the products are less stable simply because they are on carpeting.

The report concludes that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission needs to develop mandatory tip-over standards that anticipate real-world situations.

“Parents should have peace of mind that furniture in their home is safe, but today’s voluntary safety standards are insufficient, putting children at risk,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., in a press release. “We need stronger rules and better compliance to prevent tragic accidents from furniture tip-overs. The furniture industry must act to improve safety, and the CPSC and Congress must hold the industry accountable.”

Many of the nation’s consumer product manufacturers are covered by voluntary standards administered by groups such as ASTM International. By law, the CPSC must defer to voluntary standards if they are effective and widely followed by product makers.

Using data from the CPSC, the report calculates that there were at least 819 furniture tip-over incidents in the United States from Jan. 1, 2010 to October 14, 2015. Of those, 101, or 12 percent, led to deaths.

“This is not something people are aware of,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, based in Chicago. Tipovers, she said, are “a latent hazard in the home.”

The current voluntary standards include two performance tests: First, can the chest or dresser remain standing if all of its drawers are open? Second, can the furniture remain standing if a 50-pound weight is applied to a single, open drawer? (The weight is used to test for the impact of a 50-pound child climbing on a chest or dresser.)

According to protocol, both performance tests are supposed to be conducted on hard, level floors with empty drawers.

Kids in Danger and Shane’s Foundation tested 19 chests and dressers, purchased from furniture stores and online retailers, to determine if they abided by the voluntary industry standards. But the nonprofits also ran tests on chests and dressers in which they were placed on carpeting, with their drawers full and with multiple drawers open while the weight was applied.

The tests, performed at the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Furniture Center of Excellence in Holland, Mich., found that 10 of the 19 chests and dressers failed to meet the voluntary standards. The report also found that 17 units failed at least one of the other tests as well.

Shane Siefert, 2, died in March 2011 after being trapped beneath a dresser at his home in Barrington Hills, Ill.

Shane Siefert, 2, died in March 2011 after being trapped beneath a dresser at his home in Barrington Hills, Ill.

Chests and dressers that failed safety tests were from Ameriwood Industries, Signature Design by Ashley, Bassett Furniture, Coaster, Delta Children’s Products, IKEA, Magnussen, MDB Family Product, Pottery Barn Kids, Rockland and South Shore.

Furniture from Sauder also failed, but another unit from the company passed every test. The other unit that passed every test came from The Land of Nod. That proves “safer products can be made,” said Lisa Siefert, founder of Shane’s Foundation, which is based in suburban Chicago.

Siefert’s 2-year-old son, Shane, was killed five years ago when a dresser fell on him. She said the CPSC must set mandatory standards and manufacturers must improve furniture designs to prevent more deaths.

Kids in Danger and Shane’s Foundation also advocate in their report for greater public awareness about the dangers of furniture tip-overs and the importance of anchoring chests and dressers to the wall.

Last year, the CPSC launched the “Anchor It!” campaign to educate consumers about installing furniture and television restraints. CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye said in a written statement that any manufacturer making furniture that does not meet the voluntary standard “should prepare to work with us regarding a recall.”

“We’re examining the results of this important and timely study closely and will incorporate its findings as appropriate into our enforcement and standards work around this ongoing and unacceptable hazard,” Kaye said. “I continue to believe furniture tip-overs are a solvable problem.”

Meanwhile, Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a trade group representing furniture makers, said in a written statement that the organization looks forward to working with the CPSC and the nonprofits to strengthening the voluntary industry standard “as needed.”

“AHFA has long supported increasing consumer awareness of the danger of furniture tip-overs and improving consumer knowledge of the actions needed to keep children safe,” Counts said. He added that the alliance and its members also “have emphasized the importance of industry-wide compliance with the voluntary furniture stability standard and consistently have supported Consumer Product Safety Commission action to address non-compliant products.”