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Safety standard changes draw opposition

Proposed revisions to ASTM furniture safety standards drew substantial support in April balloting but also many objections that must be addressed before changes can be made.

Voluntary stability standards were adopted in 2000 in response to accidental tip-overs of bedroom dressers and other furniture. In many cases, children were injured and even killed by falling dressers or objects such as televisions placed on top of the units.

The Home Furnishings Association urges furniture retailers to make sure that all clothing storage units they sell comply with ASTM voluntary safety standards. HFA also supports the Anchor It campaign led by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Dressers and other furniture prone to possible tip-over should be anchored to a wall or otherwise secured.

Stricter tests proposed

The current standard applies to units over 30 inches tall. These units, when empty, must be able to stand upright with all their drawers open and with 50 pounds applied to the top drawer or door. Fifty pounds represents the weight of a 5-year-old child in the 95th percentile for their age.

ASTM proposed lowering the height of units covered to 27 inches, increasing the test weight to 60 pounds and gearing the standard to children up to 72 months of age. A 6-year-old child in the 95th percentile weighs approximately 60 pounds.

Earlier this year, HFA applied for membership in ASTM and joined its Consumer Products Committee and Furniture Safety Subcommittee. In that role, HFA voted for the revision to 27 inches but against the second and third proposals because there is no compelling evidence that those changes would make a difference. Furniture that meets the current standard has not contributed to the tip-over problem. Unfortunately, some manufacturers do not comply with the standard. HFA’s votes were recommended by its Government Relations Action Team and endorsed by the Board of Directors Executive Committee.

Vote totals vary

The balloting was held during April. ASTM released results this week.

On the first question, whether to reduce the minimum height to 27 inches, there were 67 affirmative votes among Furniture Safety Subcommittee members, seven negative votes and 33 abstentions.

On the second question, whether to increase the testing weight to 60 pounds, there were 50 affirmative votes, 22 negative votes and 35 abstentions.

On gearing the standard to children up to 72 months old, there were 53 affirmative votes, 21 negative votes and 33 abstentions.

Revisions to ASTM standards are not determined by majority votes, however. Members casting negative votes must submit reasons why, and the subcommittee must resolve specific objections before it can recommend adoption of the proposed changes. The subcommittee could be convinced by arguments against making revisions no no changes are needed. It will meet to discuss them next week.

Comments submitted by Bill Perdue, vice president for regulatory affairs with the American Home Furnishings Alliance, included: “There is not a demonstrated, data-driven correlation that testing CSUs (clothing storage units) to 60 pounds would be effective in reducing tip-over incidents. There is no quantified correlation that a CSU tested to 60 pounds is inherently safer than a CSU tested to 50 pounds.”

Other committee members voting against the 60-pound tests included representatives of Vaughan Bassett Furniture, Vanguard Furniture, Universal Furniture International, Gat Creek, Bassett Furniture, Hooker Furniture, Avalon Furniture, A.R.T. Furniture, Klaussner Home Furnishings, Lexington Home Brands and Steelcase.

Safer units will cost more

Subcommittee member Harrison S. Toms, regulatory compliance manager for Hooker, wrote that tightening the voluntary standard would widen the gap between manufacturers that meet the standard and those that don’t.

“It will make the compliant furniture increasingly more expensive relative to the noncompliant furniture,” Toms wrote. “This decision to move to 60 pounds and the associated much higher cost of furniture will drive consumers, especially those that are required for economic reasons to shop for price, to be driven to the most dangerous furniture in the marketplace, both new or used.”

Doug Clark is content manager and government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. He can be reached at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org. Keep up with regulatory issues on his Policy Matters blog.

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