Is It Time for Tougher Furniture Safety Standards?
By James Roswold
In 2007, Jenny Horn was a busy mom. She and husband Brett had little idea that a senseless tragedy was about to steal their peace and a rob them of a precious member of their young family.
Two-year-old Charlie Horn was killed when a small piece of furniture toppled over on him. The small dresser stood only about 30 inches high, and had never raised alarm bells for Jenny and Brett, who actively baby-proofed other areas in their home, including securing a larger cabinet prior to Charlie’s fatal accident.
The tragedy prompted the opening of Charlie’s House, a nonprofit organization based in Kansas City and dedicated to home safety. The organization has a signature product, a strap, simple in design, that secures a piece of furniture or an appliance to the wall. Had the strap been attached to the small dresser Charlie chose to climb on, he might have been saved. The same could be said for three-year-old Meghan Packard, who died in 2004 after the small dresser she apparently climbed on toppled over and crushed her. Her body was discovered by her father and her twin brother.
The Packard family had, like Charlie’s family, worked to baby proof their home, but they overlooked some of the smaller pieces of furniture like the dresser that eventually killed the little girl. In 2010, federal statistics report that over 20,000 people went to the emergency room because of injuries from unsecured furniture. In addition, 20,000 more were injured by television sets.
Unsecured furniture is hurting a great number of small children, who make up the majority of the injured. The injuries included fractures, internal organ damage, severe bruising, and death. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 300 deaths from unsecured furniture. Most of the fatal injuries were caused by the child being crushed under the furniture.
There are cries coming forth from a commission of safety experts calling for newer and tougher standards. Since the early 1990s there have been nine industry recalls affecting almost 2 million different pieces of furniture. Voluntary recalls and standards have been the norm. But some wonder of mandatory standards would be more effective.
Voluntary standards that were adopted in 2009 called for furniture to remain stable when all drawers are open and 50 pounds of weight is placed in the front of a drawer. Restraints are also supposed to be present in chests of drawers and dressers so that the furniture can be secured to a wall. Under the voluntary standard, there are some manufacturers who still sell the furniture that do not meet the safety standards.
Is it time for a mandatory standard?
Some in Washington think so. Senator Dick Durbin (Dem. Illinois) has asked the CPSC to adopt steps that would include tougher standards and parental education.
Television accidents are being reviewed for tougher standards, as the number of television related have increased significantly. The thought is that families upgrade to flat-screen televisions and place older, heavier models on furniture that is not designed to support a television set. This results in a potentially lethal situation in households with young children. A recent study conducted by the American Home Furnishings Alliance found that only a third of homes with children under are six had televisions that were secured.
The push for tougher standards focuses on the furniture industry, and does not level blame at parents of young children. Education is a big focus, and organizations like Charlie’s House are doing their part to get the word out to parents. The group has a model home located in Overland Park, Kansas that showcases child safety and multiple products designed to keep children safe. Among the devices were straps that keep toilet lids secured; locks for appliances such as washers, dryers, and ovens; bumpers and buffers that protected small children from sharp furniture corners and fingers slamming in doorways.
The hope is that, as commission members and industry experts work toward safer standards for small children, fewer and fewer families will have to lose a Charlie or a Meghan before the standards are changed.