Opinion

We Need Strong Furniture Stability Legislation Now

Once every 60 minutes, it sends a child to the emergency room. Once every two weeks, it leads to a child’s death. It is hard to fathom that a seemingly mundane incident — furniture tipping over — can cause such a terrible toll in our homes. But according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it does.

That’s why a bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives recently reintroduced the Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth (STURDY) Act (H.R.1314/S.441). The STURDY Act would direct the CPSC to create and finalize, in a timely manner, a strong and sensible mandatory standard to help prevent tip-over incidents involving dressers and other clothing storage furniture. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 in a bipartisan voice vote, but stalled in the Senate.

The primary trade group for furniture manufacturers, the American Home Furnishings Alliance, has said that it “supports a mandatory stability standard that holds all manufacturers and importers to rigorous safety requirements for clothing storage units to help prevent furniture tip-over incidents.” Protecting our children from furniture that can all too easily injure and kill them should be an issue that crosses the political aisle and has support from both consumer advocates and industry — so we welcome this statement of principle from AHFA. The industry should back up its words with action by endorsing the STURDY Act and working toward its passage.

Unfortunately, some furniture manufacturers would rather see the current, industry-driven, inadequate voluntary standard become mandatory. This voluntary standard has not done nearly enough to reduce tip-overs, despite being present largely in its current form for more than a decade.

Importantly, at least one child has died from a tip-over involving a dresser that met the voluntary standard. That’s because the voluntary standard lacks key provisions that would ensure furniture must be manufactured to resist tipping over under the weight of a child. Congressional supporters of the STURDY Act have rightly decided that stronger product testing and safety requirements should be mandated, to help prevent child fatalities and injuries.

The CPSC rule created under STURDY would also require companies to account for real-world scenarios — because tragedies rarely happen under the most straightforward circumstances. The bill would require testing furniture in order to simulate the weights of children up to 72 months (6 years) old and to account for scenarios involving carpeting, drawers with items in them, multiple open drawers and the dynamic forces of a climbing child. The STURDY Act would also mandate strong warning requirements. In all, these provisions would better represent the real-world risks children face from furniture tip-overs, and significantly improve on today’s voluntary standard.

The industry appears to take issue with STURDY Act’s requirement that the CPSC undertake “notice and comment” rule-making instead of using its general authority under Sections 7 and 9 of the Consumer Product Safety Act. Notice and comment rule-making is the procedure that almost all federal agencies use to receive public feedback and expert advice while drafting federal regulations. It is a proven mechanism for setting appropriately strong and sensible safety rules–and doing so in a timely manner. In contrast, the CPSC’s general rule-making authority gives industry much greater control of the creation of a standard — and often takes years to complete.

For more than 20 years, consumer advocates and manufacturers have worked to create a voluntary standard through a process convened by ASTM International, but the group — controlled by the manufacturers — has not reached a consensus on a standard that adequately reduces tip-over deaths and injuries. Simply relying on the current voluntary standard and on consumers to attach furniture to the wall is not acceptable, especially since far too many furniture tip-over incidents have happened when a wall-anchoring kit was in use.

Congress now has an opportunity with the bipartisan STURDY Act to help ensure safer dressers and other clothing storage furniture are on the market and in our homes. Parents and caregivers need a strong mandatory standard to protect children from furniture tip-overs, and the STURDY Act would direct the CPSC to implement one. We urge members of Congress, furniture manufacturers, retailers and all who want safer homes to join us in supporting this lifesaving legislation.

 

Nancy Cowles is the executive director of Kids In Danger. Remington A. Gregg is counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at Public Citizen. Gabe Knight is a policy advocate for Consumer Reports. Rachel Weintraub is the legislative director and general counsel of Consumer Federation of America.

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