Hearing covers furniture tip-overs

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A founder of Parents Against Tip-Overs pointed to common ground she shares with responsible furniture manufacturers and retailers during a congressional hearing June 13.

“The compliant industry folks want a mandatory standard,” Crystal Ellis told members of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce subcommittee. “It’s something we agree on. We just want it tougher.”

Ellis testified in support of the STURDY Act, introduced in April by the subcommittee chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois (photo above). The bill would direct the Consumer Products Safety Commission to set a mandatory safety standard for furniture stability – one that would be stricter than the current ASTM voluntary standard. STURDY stands for Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth.

June 13 would have been her son Camden’s seventh birthday, Ellis said. He died on Father’s Day five years ago when his dresser fell over as he tried to pull clothes from a drawer, trapping and suffocating him. She later started the parents’ group with others who lost children in similar accidents.

“Thank you, Ms. Ellis. I think you are an American hero, and I appreciate your testimony,” Schakowsky said.

The ASTM standard

The ASTM stability standard requires that empty clothing storage units stand upright when the top drawer is open and holding 50 pounds of weight. A proposal currently under consideration would increase the test weight to 60 pounds. The STURDY Act would lead to a mandatory 60-pound test and possibly even more rigorous testing.

The Home Furnishings Association and the American Home Furnishings Alliance, an association of manufacturers, support a mandatory standard with precise requirements to be determined by safety experts.

“AHFA welcomes and supports the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent moves to expedite a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a mandatory furniture stability standard under Sections 7 and 9 of the Consumer Product Safety Act,” AHFA said in a statement submitted to the congressional subcommittee June 13. “AHFA believes CPSC should expend the necessary resources on this effort in 2019-2020 to ensure the goal is met.”

Collaboration needed

AHFA also asserted that “CPSC and its staff of consumer safety technical experts, working in collaboration with child safety advocates and technical experts from the home furnishings industry, are best equipped to identify the requirements of an effective mandatory standard.”

In her testimony, Ellis contended the current ASTM standard isn’t strong enough. She also said that, before her son’s accident, “I had no idea that this was a danger in my home.”

William Wallace, manager of home and safety policy for Consumer Reports, also called for a stronger standard but noted that “only 27 percent of Americans had anchored furniture in their homes,” according to a CR survey. He said that anchoring furniture is the surest way to prevent tip-overs.

These statements argue for the need to increase public awareness about potential tip-over hazards – not just for customers purchasing new furniture but among all Americans who have old dressers and chests that might pose even greater risks.

Retailers have a role

The subcommittee hearing demonstrated that there is a desire for legislative and regulatory activity but didn’t settle on specific solutions. Conclusions that HFA members could draw is that, as CPSC already has warned, they should sell only units that meet ASTM safety standards; that they should make their customers aware of potential hazards and counsel them to secure furniture with appropriate anchoring devices; and that they should expect more changes to come.

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

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