Furniture stability emerges as an important issue

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The furniture tip-over problem has come under intense scrutiny in 2019, creating uncertainty for retailers and the industry.

The Home Furnishings Association is playing an important role. Last month, HFA voted in favor of a proposed revision to ASTM voluntary safety standards and against two others.

ASTM, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is a private organization that sets voluntary standards across a wide range of industries, including furniture. In 2000, it adopted guidelines meant to lessen the risk that clothing storage units will tip over, which has happened many times when children pull, push or climb on them.

“CPSC received numerous reports of child fatalities that occurred between 2000 and 2017, associated with clothing unit tip overs,” DeWane Ray, deputy executive director of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, wrote Feb. 27 in an open letter to furniture manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers. Products that fall within the scope of the ASTM standards but don’t meet its requirements present “an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death” to children, he wrote.

At the same time, CPSC Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle urged ASTM to strengthen its standards by adopting three proposed revisions.

The first proposed revision lowers the height of units covered to “27 inches and above” from “over 30 inches.”

The standard covers “free-standing clothing storage units including but not limited to chests of drawers, drawer chests, armoires, chifferobes, bureaus, door chests and dressers.”

The second proposed revision raises the testing weight from 50 pounds to 60 pounds. The weight is gradually applied to the top, open draw or open door of the unit, which is otherwise empty but not anchored with restraints.

The unit must not topple over.

The third proposed revision extends the scope of the standard to cover children “under 72 months of age” rather than children “up to and including age five.” For purposes of the standard, a child’s weight is calculated at the 95th percentile for his age, which for a 72-month-old is approximately 60 pounds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In effect, this revision justifies raising the test weight to 60 pounds.

Earlier this year, HFA applied for ASTM membership and now occupies places on its Consumer Products Committee and Furniture Safety Subcommittee. HFA used its votes to support lowering the minimum height of covered units to 27 inches because some manufacturers, whose products would not meet the safety standard at 30 inches, are evading its requirements by building units slightly shorter than 30 inches.

HFA voted against the second and third proposed revisions because, as Buerkle acknowledged during a recent congressional hearing, there are no data indicating that the current testing weight of 50 pounds is inadequate. Instead, tip-over accidents occur in units that don’t meet the current standard.

The American Home Furnishings Alliance took the same position on the ballot questions. HFA and AHFA both urge full compliance with the current standard but believe it hasn’t been shown by evidence that there is a significant benefit gained by testing with weights greater than 50 pounds.

HFA’s position was adopted April 17 by its Government Relations Action Team and endorsed by the Executive Committee of the HFA Board of Directors.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) recently introduced a bill she calls the STURDY Act, for Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act. It would direct CPSC to adopt mandatory safety standards.

HFA supports a mandatory standard to ensure that the products retailers offer for sale are as safe as possible. Tragic accidents can be dramatically reduced by compliance with the current standards, but too many manufacturers fail to meet their responsibilities. HFA members should sell only products that carry the ASTM certification, and they should provide equipment and instruction so that purchasers can anchor dressers and similar units to a wall.

The HFA believes Schakowsky’s bill is flawed because it sets no minimum height for covered furniture and would requiring weight-testing to simulate children up to 72 months of age as well as testing of units on carpeting, with multiple open drawers and with “dynamic force.” The scope of this testing goes beyond what is reasonable and would force substantial changes to the type and cost of products that would be available to retailers. HFA and industry allies will push for modifications to the STURDY Act while continuing to support universal compliance with and enforcement of ASTM standards.

One more thing: Individual furniture retailers also can apply for ASTM membership here. The cost is $400 annually. In the meantime, HFA’s Government Relations Action Team will continue to act as an advocate and voice for HFA members.

About the Author

Doug Clark
Doug Clark is content manager and government relations staff member for the Home Furnishings Association. Please contact him with story ideas or concerns at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org