HFA welcomes Netflix focus on tip-over danger

The Home Furnishings Association welcomes the Netflix documentary series “Broken,” which shines light on unsafe products, including ready-to-assemble furniture that can tip over on children.

“People should know that children have been injured, and in some cases killed, by bedroom furniture that’s fallen over when children have tried to climb up drawers or pulled on it in other ways,” Sharron Bradley, the association’s chief executive officer, said. “Parents should always fasten this kind of furniture to fixed surfaces such as walls or floors to prevent accidents.”

Netflix says, “This investigative docuseries shows how negligence and deceit in the production and marketing of popular consumer items can result in dire outcomes.” Coming Nov. 27, it will focus on plastics, cosmetics, e-cigarettes and furniture. In the trailer, a narrator states, “Every 17 minutes, someone is injured by a piece of furniture falling over on them.”

The HFA has taken these steps to promote safety:

  • Asked the Consumer Products Safety Commission to set a mandatory standard for furniture stability.
  • Urged members in the meantime to sell only products that meet the voluntary ASTM International standard.
  • Voted, as a member of ASTM’s Furniture Safety Subcommittee, to extend the voluntary safety standard to cover clothing storage units at least 27 inches high, down from 30 inches.
  • Led a retail panel in a discussion about safety at an industry conference.
  • Supported CPSC’s Anchor It campaign.
  • Highlighted best practices and safety initiatives by its members and manufacturers.
  • Drawn attention to recalls of unsafe products.
  • Endorsed Harper’s Law in New York, which requires retailers to make tip-restraint kits available to customers.

CPSC report shows positive trend

Fortunately, a  new report from the CPSC staff notes a continuing positive trend in furniture safety.

“From 2010 through 2018, there is a statistically significant linear decline in Emergency Department-treated tip-over injuries involving children and only furniture,” according to an analysis by Adam Suchy of CPSC’s Directorate for Epidemiology. The report was released this month.

CPSC refers to furniture-only tip-overs when the accidents don’t also involve a television or appliance.

The CPSC has been tracking these incidents since 2000. From that year through 2018, it has recorded 556 deaths attributed to tip-overs. More than 80 percent of the victims were children who were crushed under falling furniture, televisions or appliances, or a combination, or killed by blows to the head or torso or asphyxiated when trapped under heavy objects.

The CPSC numbers show that ED-treated injuries from furniture tip-overs among individuals 18 and younger declined from an estimated 16,100 in 2010 to 9,200 in 2018. Last year saw a slight increase from 8,900 in 2017. Furniture tip-overs include combinations of furniture and televisions and furniture and appliances, which occur when a television or appliance is placed on top of or in a piece of furniture.

Most of the children injured were younger than 5. The report noted that 94 percent of children taken to emergency departments during the 2016 to 2018 period were treated and released.

“It is heartening to see progress in reducing injuries to children,” Bradley said. “However, I believe that, with stronger retailer safety programs, we can make a much greater difference.”

Tables cause more injuries than CSU’s

In the most recent years, from 2016 to 2018, the most common type of furniture causing tip-over injuries to children were tables – not clothing storage units covered by the ASTM stability standard. Tables accounted for an annual average of 3,500 tip-over accidents involving children. Categories of tables, according to an index in the report, include baby changing tables, TV stands, computer tables and ping-pong tables. Chests, bureaus and dressers – clothing storage units – were involved in an annual average of 3,200 tip-over accidents causing injuries to children. The next most common furniture types, in order, were shelving and bookcases, “other” and stands.

Eight deaths in all age groups were recorded in 2018, CPSC said, although it noted that more could still be reported for 2018. Three of those incidents involved only furniture, two only an appliance and two only a television. In one instance, a piece of furniture and a television both fell.

CPSC tries to determine what led to each accident, but that isn’t always possible. The most commonly known cause is attempted climbing by a child. The report states:

Tip-over details are often unknown

“Of the 459 deaths involving children, there is a large set of unknown scenarios (180 deaths; 39 percent), which commonly happened when the child was alone in a room at the moment the incident took place, leaving no eyewitness to observe the tip-over incident.

“In 171 deaths involving children (37 percent), the victim or someone else was climbing on the television, furniture or appliance. This is followed by scenarios in which force was being applied to the television, furniture or appliance, such as hitting, pulling or kicking (61 deaths; 13 percent).

“In 32 deaths (7 percent), the victim was involved in some activity near the product, such as playing nearby or adjusting the controls on a television or electronic device connected to the television. The remaining 15 deaths (3 percent) have known scenarios that do not fit into the other categories.”

‘Dynamic testing’ may be coming

The ASTM standard requires a clothing storage unit to remain upright when empty and with 50 pounds of weight applied to an extended top drawer. ASTM and CPSC are both considering the feasibility of “dynamic testing,” which could more closely simulate the action of children climbing or pulling on furniture.

In all circumstances, the best protection against tip-over accidents is to secure the furniture to a hard surface. Retailers should offer customers the equipment and instructions to make their homes and families safer.

Bradley said she is grateful for the additional attention to furniture safety that the Netflix series can produce. “We hear much too often about parents who never thought about the potential danger that poorly constructed furniture in their children’s bedrooms can pose,” she said. “If they see this program, I hope they will purchase stable products from reputable furniture stores but still install them safely in their homes with tip-restraint devices.”

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