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HFA calls for mandatory stability standard

The Home Furnishings Association is urging the Consumer Products Safety Commission to pursue expedited rulemaking to achieve a rigorous safety standard for clothing storage furniture stability.

“Your agency has documented the dangers associated with accidental tip-overs of bedroom dressers, chests of drawers and similar units,” HFA CEO Sharron Bradley wrote in a letter to CPSC Acting Chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle (center in photo above, flanked by other commissioners) today. “The time has come to take decisive action.”

As the leading trade association for furniture retailers in the United States, HFA has supported CPSC’s “Anchor It!” campaign since it was launched, “and we pledge to continue to make our members aware of the need to inform customers that they should anchor clothing storage furniture to secure surfaces to prevent tip-overs,” Bradley wrote. “Many consumers still leave furniture stores, or order furniture online for home delivery, with little knowledge of the potential hazards or the urgency of placing clothing storage units safely in their children’s bedrooms.

“At the same time,” Bradley continued, “we recognize the importance of ensuring that every piece of furniture sold in our members’ stores is designed and built for safety and stability. We heeded your agency’s letter of February 27, 2019, advising retailers not to sell any clothing storage units that don’t meet the ASTM safety standard, and we communicated to our members the gravity of this warning. Our members take this responsibility seriously. Some incorporate furniture stability into their own safety programs, and some conduct their own stability testing under the auspices of UL’s stability verification program.

Mandatory standard will create certainty

“Yet, we must also point to the difficulties some of our members encounter as they seek to serve their customers’ desire to purchase home furnishings products at affordable prices,” Bradley wrote. “It isn’t always easy to know with certainty whether a chest or dresser truly meets the ASTM standard. As long as compliance is voluntary, much of the product available from manufacturers or other sources may be less sturdy than it should be. Lacking the expertise to carry out their own testing, some of our members may be unaware that a product they offer for sale might not pass a stability test under the ASTM standard. While all retailers should instruct customers to anchor these units in place at home, chests and dressers should be stable and secured with proper restraining devices.”

The Home Furnishings Association holds a seat on ASTM’s Furniture Safety subcommittee and voted in April in favor of a revision to include additional clothing storage units within the scope of the voluntary safety standard. HFA voted against other proposed revisions to increase the weight used in stability testing, because protocols for mandatory testing should be determined by CPSC’s staff of technical experts working with child-safety advocates and engineering professionals in the home furnishings industry. The standard must be sound, effective and feasible.

The appropriate standard is also under debate in Congress, but the right body entrusted by law to address critical consumer safety matters is the CPSC, Bradley wrote. “That is why we are counting on the Commission to move beyond ASTM’s voluntary standard and the congressional debates. … Our members want to know that every clothing storage unit they sell is verified to be as safe as it can practically be made.”

‘As one grandmother to another’

In her letter, Bradley also addressed Buerkle on a personal level, writing, “As one grandmother to another, I will tell you that it grieves me to my core every time I hear of a terrible accident involving a piece of furniture that injures or claims the life of a child. I hope I never hear of another, and I’m sure you feel just as I do. So do the members of the HFA, most of whom run small businesses selling furniture to their friends and neighbors. It isn’t just a black mark on our industry when a chest or dresser falls over onto a child; if the furniture was sold by a member of our association to a family in his or her community, the tragedy would be personal and forever painful.”

Bradley concluded with a hopeful note, stating, “I’m confident we can prevent many of these accidents if we work together in these ways:

  • By setting and holding manufacturers to a strong and reasonable safety standard for furniture stability.
  • By selling compliant furniture with proper restraining devices and instructions for their effective use.
  • By making more Americans aware of tip-over dangers posed by furniture, whether it was recently purchased or has been part of their household for decades.”

The Home Furnishings Association soon will announce further efforts to reduce furniture tip-over dangers.

Doug Clark is content manager, government relations liaison and author of the Policy Matters blog for the Home Furnishings Association. He can be reached at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org.

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