Scott Whittier does not mince words.
“I love kids. The last thing I want to do is kill one,” the president and CEO of Whittier Wood Furniture said in his showroom at High Point Market.
He urges furniture retailers to make sure they don’t kill children, either, but he fears that most aren’t taking tip-over risks seriously enough.
No one intends for accidents to happen. It’s just that “a lot of retailers don’t want to talk about it,” Whittier said.
He understands. Just a few years ago, he was no different. Then a customer of his Eugene, Ore., manufacturing company asked if Whittier Wood clothing storage units complied with ASTM voluntary stability standards. Whittier didn’t know because he hadn’t tested them. When he did, he discovered he had work to do. Worse, he thought, “It was just a matter of time before we’re going to kill a child.”
Even sturdy dressers aren’t safe enough
Now, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in development, Whittier Wood is an industry leader in building sturdy, ASTM-compliant products. But that still didn’t satisfy the company president. Simply meeting the ASTM stability standard does not mean a chest or dresser can’t tip over, Whittier said. So, he wanted to address the key question: “How do you ultimately keep that case from falling over and crushing the kid?”
Part of the answer is engineering. Whittier and his team designed drawer locks that prevent children from pulling out more than one drawer at a time, so they can’t create a staircase. Most tip-over accidents occur when children climb on furniture.
But the most important step is to anchor furniture. Tip-restraints normally fasten to walls, but Whittier found that to be problematic.
Tip restraint fastens into baseboard
“My product development manager and I, we did a lot of testing and tore out a lot of walls in my office,” Whitter said. That happens if the furniture isn’t anchored to a wall stud, which can be difficult for some residents to locate. So, Whittier devised a tip restraint designed to attach to
the baseboard. It’s secure and doesn’t leave noticeable marks. While the device is unique, Whittier said he hasn’t applied for a patent because he welcomes other companies to copy it.
Whittier Wood provides tip restraints for all its casegoods, not just clothing storage units covered by the ASTM stability standard. This is “the most important aspect of child safety,” he said.
One of those customers is Home Furnishings Association member Crowley Furniture & Mattress in the Kansas City, Mo., area. Owner Greg Crowley has instilled safety into the culture and daily practices at his three stores, and he has formed a partnership with Charlie’s House, a children’s safety advocacy organization in Kansas City. Crowley recently participated on a retail panel at the American Home Furnishings Alliance Regulatory Summit discussing tip-over safety.
Watch the video of the retail panel at AHFA’s Regulatory Summit featuring Greg Crowley of Crowley Furniture & Mattress, Jameson Dion of City Furniture and Chris Fox of Raymour & Flanigan and moderator Doug Clark of the Home Furnishings Association.
‘Very few Crowleys in the world’
Whittier commended Crowley’s efforts but lamented that “there are very few Crowleys in the world that are behind this.” So, he supports stronger regulatory action, such as a requirement that, when retailers deliver furniture to customers, the crew anchors units so they can’t fall over – unless the customer signs a release stating that they decline the service.
That, Whittier said, would do much more to prevent accidents than strengthening the ASTM stability standard, which many safety advocates support. The standard currently requires units to stand with 50 pounds of weight hanging on an open top drawer. ASTM this year narrowly rejected a proposal to raise the weight to 60 pounds. Designing furniture to meet that standard would make it heavier and potentially more deadly if it crashed over, Whittier said.
Stability is important, but the simpler, less expensive and more effective solution is to secure furniture in place. Retailers should make sure customers have the tools and knowledge to do that, Whittier said. Otherwise, the consequences can be severe.
“If that case tips over and kills a kid, whom are the parents going to sue, just the manufacturer? No,” he said. More than that, the last thing anyone wants to do is to kill a child.