New York acts on tip-overs

Photo above: Erica and Aaron Fried (courtesy HarperSmiles)

A tip-over tragedy inspired Harper’s Law in New York state, which places legal obligations on furniture retailers who sell new clothing storage units.

The legislation was approved by large margins in the New York Assembly and Senate May 30 and is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It prohibits the sale of new clothing storage units 27 inches high and taller that don’t comply with ASTM’s stability standard and requires retailers to display, keep in stock and offer for sale “tip restraint devices.” It allows fines of up to $500 for each violation.

The law also directs retailers to post an easily seen notice warning customers that, “Certain furniture may become unstable and tip over, leading to possible injury or death. Tip restraint devices may prevent tipping of furniture when properly installed.”

The law defines those devices as “straps, wall brackets, steel cables or plug and screw sets.”

Make safety a priority

The Home Furnishings Association urges members to sell dressers, chests, armoires, bureaus and other pieces that fit the definition of clothing storage units only if they meet the ASTM standard and to educate customers about the proper installation of anchoring devices. Safety must be a top priority.

The tip-over problem is illustrated by Harper Fried’s death at age 3 on Nov. 16, 2016.

“On this regular, sunny Saturday morning, the unimaginable happened,” her parents, Aaron and Erica Fried, write in “Our Story” at harpersmiles.com. “That morning our daughter died while playing in her room, which we wholeheartedly believed to be a safe, kid-friendly place. We believe she was either climbing or hanging from one of her drawers when the dresser fell on top of her.  We did not hear the furniture fall, as it landed on top of her.  A nearly instant cause of death that unfortunately was preventable.

“The remainder of that day, and each day since, our lives have been a nightmare that we will never wake from. Knowing that we could have spent just a few dollars and a few minutes of our time to secure the furniture to the wall and that she would still be with us today is a terribly haunting awareness.

“It’s not that we didn’t baby-proof our house. We had numerous baby gates in place. Locks on each cabinet. Safety outlets and outlet covers. The fact is, we believed that by purchasing children’s furniture from a reputable children’s store made by a manufacturer specializing in only juvenile furniture, that we made a safe purchase. The truth, however, is that no furniture, television or appliance is safe when not securely fastened to a wall.”

Grieving parents help others

Following Harper’s death, the Frieds, who live in Monroe, New York, wanted to channel their grief into a way to remember their daughter. “How do you not forget a 3-year-old?” Aaron remembers asking his brother. They considered a scholarship fund for gymnastics or some other “program that gives back to children.”

They settled on safety, founding a nonprofit called HarperSmiles, which raises funds with the goal of spreading awareness about furniture tip-overs and providing equipment and education to help other parents better protect their children from similar accidents. They and their supporters also have pushed to enact Harper’s Law, which will take effect 90 days after the governor signs it.

The New York action is not the only movement on this issue. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has begun a rulemaking process and warns retailers in the meantime not to sell furniture that doesn’t meet the ASTM standard. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has introduced a bill she calls the STURDY Act, which would direct the CPSC to set a mandatory standard and require stability tests on carpet or other uneven surfaces as opposed to a smooth floor. Also, ASTM is revising its voluntary guidelines, although it has not yet decided to what degree. That question likely will be settled later this month.

Aaron Fried told the HFA his main concern has to do with “the billion dressers in households now. Those units, to me, are the biggest hazard.” It’s a huge task to persuade the owners of all that furniture to make sure it is securely anchored and can’t fall over.

But Fried also believes that manufacturers should be required to construct more stable clothing storage units. The dresser that fell on to his daughter “exceeded the voluntary standard,” he said. “It passed the test on hardwood but failed the test on carpet.”

For safety resources

Furniture retailers and members of the public can find safety information and resources here. New York furniture stores should be able to tell their customers they’re proud to comply with Harper’s Law and to do all they can to prevent another tip-over tragedy.

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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