The subject of furniture tip-overs “is receiving the agency’s highest attention at this time,” Consumer Products Safety Commission member Peter Feldman told industry leaders in Washington, D.C., last week.
Feldman, nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate last year, is the newest commissioner on the five-member CPSC. While Feldman said he favors regulating with a “light touch” and eliminating outdated and unnecessary rules, “the stories are heartbreaking” when it comes to children killed and injured by falling dressers.
Just days before Feldman spoke to members of the Home Furnishings Association and American Home Furnishings Alliance, the CPSC announced a recall of more than 300,000 chests produced by South Shore Industries Ltd. of Canada following a tip-over accident that killed a 2-year-old child.
“It’s a serious issue, and it’s one the agency is paying attention to,” Feldman said.
CPSC considers mandatory standard
Several things are happening. CPSC has published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, which could result in the adoption of a mandatory safety standard. In the meantime, the agency has warned manufacturers, importers and retailers to follow the ASTM International voluntary safety standard.
HFA supports that directive: Retailers should not sell clothing storage units or similar furniture that is covered by the standard but not compliant. Furthermore, they should educate purchasers of such products about potential hazards, instruct them to anchor units to walls and floors and supply customers with the necessary hardware.
At the same time, ASTM is considering revisions to its standard. One is to cover shorter units. The South Shore chest subject to this month’s recall is 27 ½ inches high. The standard covers pieces 30 inches and taller. ASTM proposes dropping the minimum height of units covered to 27 inches.
HFA is a member of ASTM’s Furniture Safety Subcommittee and voted for that change in preliminary balloting last month. A strong majority of voters agreed, although a handful of objections were being reviewed before a final vote is taken.
ASTM proposes stricter testing
Other proposed revisions have to do with the weights used for testing the stability of clothing storage units, and there is more disagreement about that. Currently, a unit must stand upright when empty, with the top drawer fully extended and 50 pounds applied to it. A proposal to increase the test weight to 60 pounds was considered. HFA and more than 20 other subcommittee members voted no. Reasons cited included lack of evidence that increasing the weight would produce safer units and suggestions that more manufacturers would fall out of compliance.
Feldman didn’t state a position.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I think you and we are now having the right discussion,” he said.
He did say that ASTM must determine whether its present standard adequately remits risk. So must the CPSC. Feldman also endorsed the approach of conducting a cost-benefit analysis as a part of crafting mandatory regulations to ensure that required remedies are narrowly tailored to address the danger.
Congress may act, too
That’s a key question because, in addition to the CPSC and ASTM, a third party involved in the current debate is Congress. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has introduced the STURDY Act, which would direct CPSC to set a mandatory standard without cost-benefit analysis, with 60-pound testing and no minimum height for units covered. Schakowsky chairs a consumer protection subcommittee in the House and may schedule hearings on her bill soon.
It would be a “horrible idea” to adopt a 60-pound testing standard, Doug Bassett, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture in Galax, Va., told Feldman, explaining that the stricter standard would be less practical and widen the gap between compliant and noncompliant products.
“We think the industry has a noncompliance problem,” he said, speaking of manufacturers whose products don’t meet the current standard and retailers who sell noncompliant units. “We’re ready to go immediately to a mandatory 50-pound standard.”
Eric Blackledge, owner of HFA member Blackledge Furniture in Corvallis, Ore., echoed Bassett’s sentiment.
“We want a mandatory standard,” he said, noting that purchasers also have a responsibility to see that they use anchoring equipment properly.
Anchor It is important but not foolproof
Feldman pointed out that CPSC put a lot of resources into its Anchor It awareness campaign but found its effectiveness had limits since many purchasers don’t own their homes and encounter destruction-of-property issues with landlords when they anchor furniture to walls or floors.
“I don’t know that Anchor It is foolproof,” Feldman said.
Brian Adams of HFA member Ashley Furniture Industries criticized CPSC for not recalling furniture that failed to meet the ASTM standard but instead waiting until accidents happen.
“This is a longer conversation,” Feldman said.
There are many conversations underway, and HFA aims to be a leading voice. Meanwhile, retailers should do all they can to protect their customers and themselves by selling products that meet safety standards and educating consumers about potential dangers if products are misused.
Doug Clark is content manager and government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.