CPSC prodded to take stronger action on furniture safety

A divided Consumer Products Safety Commission was given a hard push this week to take stronger action against furniture tip-overs.

“I’ve been really disappointed at the speed at which we’ve seen these dangerous products taken off the market,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Tuesday during a CPSC oversight hearing held by a consumer protection subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Every 14 days a child dies from a tip-over.”

All five commissioners appeared before the panel, which Schakowsky chairs. She quickly noted that they were split last month when Commissioners Elliot Kaye and Robert Adler proposed accelerated rulemaking to set mandatory safety standards for children’s dressers but were opposed by the other three.

The faster timeline could have seen new regulations established within months rather than years, Adler told the subcommittee.

Kaye concurred. “In my mind, this is one of those issues where we should be pursuing every authority we have,” he said. “Whatever tools are available to us, we should be doing that.” That “would send a signal to the industry that we are not leaving any tool unused.”

CPSC relies on voluntary standards written by ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. Schakowsky asked Ann Marie Buerkle, CPSC’s acting chairwoman, whether the agency monitors compliance and “how soon can we have a more robust mandatory standard to make sure kids are safe?”

Buerkle explained steps SPSC has taken recently. On Feb. 27, the agency’s deputy executive director, DeWane Ray, sent a letter to furniture manufacturers, retailers and other industry groups advising them to comply with the voluntary standards.

“Children face an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death from clothing storage units that fall within the scope of the ASTM F2057-17 standard but do not meet its requirements,” Ray wrote. “Should we encounter such products, we shall initiate an investigation and will seek the corrective action we believe is appropriate.”

The same day, Buerkle wrote to ASTM expressing support for proposed revisions to the ASTM standard. One would lower the minimum height of units covered from 30 inches to 27 inches. The second would raise the stability test weight from 50 pounds to 60 pounds.

To meet the ASTM furniture safety standard, units must pass two stability tests. The first is to remain upright when all drawers and doors of an empty unit are fully opened. In the second test, the top drawer or door of the unit is opened and weight is gradually applied to it. The test must be conducted without the use of anchoring devices, which are recommended for units at risk of falling over.

The Home Furnishings Association recently joined ASTM’s consumer products committee and furniture safety subcommittee and will vote on the proposed revisions. Ballots are due by April 22. HFA’s Government Relations Action Team will decide how the association will vote.

Any HFA member can apply for ASTM membership. Application for membership, at an annual cost of $400, is here. Select F15 Consumer Products Committee, F15.42 Furniture Safety Subcommittee and User as primary activity.

HFA also strongly supports CPSC’s Anchor It! campaign, which seeks to increase consumer awareness of the dangers of furniture tip-over and encourage parents to secure furniture to a wall.

Schakowsky has said she will again introduce what she calls The STURDY Act, for Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act. A similar bill in 2016 failed to advance, but its chances this year are better in the House because Democrats are now in the majority. The measure would require CPSC to adopt new rules unless it determines the ASTM voluntary furniture safety standard is effective in preventing accidents and is met by manufacturers. During Tuesday’s hearing, she urged commissioners to support the bill.

A video of the hearing is here.

Doug Clark is content manager and government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org

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