In-Depth: Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee who began her career as a consumer advocate, reintroduced this bill from the 114th Congress to direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt a stronger, mandatory stability standard for clothing storage units and prevent furniture tip-overs from killing or injuring children:
“Every hour, of every day, approximately 3 children are getting injured – over 25,400 per year. Between 2000 and 2011, these tip-overs have resulted in at least 363 fatalities, with most of the innocent victims being less than 8 years old. I’m introducing the STURDY Act to help protect children from these preventable accidents and spare their families these painful situations, resulting simply from a piece of furniture.”
Kids in Danger supports this bill. Its executive director, Nancy Cowles, says low recall numbers in 2019 thus seem to suggest that dangerous products are being left in homes, putting children at risk:
“It is tricky to say whether low recall numbers are a good thing – pointing to safer products – or a sign of lax enforcement, leaving dangerous products on store shelves and in our homes. Indicators this year, such as less effective actions in lieu of recalls and fewer findings of design defects in the recalls that were announced, make us worry it is the latter.”
In a joint fact sheet released by Kids in Danger and a number of other consumer and medical groups, Cowles added that the current voluntary standard hasn’t done enough to reduce tip-overs. She concluded, “Congress must pass the STURDY Act now to mandate stringent testing on dressers before they hit the market and end up in children’s bedrooms.”
Consumer Reports’ organizing manager, Meg Bohne, adds that a more effective mandatory standard would help make furniture safer for young children:
“There’s no easy way for a consumer to simply look at a dresser and tell whether it is likely to tip over. A more effective, mandatory standard would help consumers trust that dressers on the market resist tipping over onto young children. Consumer Reports strongly supports the STURDY Act and urges its swift passage to help prevent these avoidable tragedies.”
While it supports a mandatory stability standard to hold all manufacturers to the same safety specifications for clothing storage furniture, the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) argues that this bill is unnecessary because the CPSC has already begun working on a mandatory standard. It also argues that some elements in this bill, such as testing furniture on a “standard” carpet and “standard” carpet padding, aren’t possible because there are no standard definitions of such items. The AHFA’s CEO, Andy Counts, says:
“None of these proposed new tests have been defined yet nor determined to be feasible. In order for a mandatory standard to be enforceable, the stability tests must be precise, so every manufacturer is able to conduct the tests exactly the same way. Whether a company is located in the United States or overseas, whether they produce low cost furniture or luxury furniture, everyone must use specified test materials and methods to remove any guesswork and guarantee accurate results. AHFA remains committed to working with CPSC to research meaningful new tests that can be standardized and incorporated into a mandatory standard.”
This legislation passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote with the support of 23 Democratic House cosponsors. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), has three Democratic Senate cosponsors and hasn’t yet received a committee vote. It’s also supported by Kids In Danger, Parents Against Tip-overs (PAT), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Public Citizen, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and Consumer Reports.
In the 114th Congress, this legislation didn’t have any House cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Casey, had two Democratic Senate cosponsors and also didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: There have been several high-profile toddler deaths linked to falling dressers in recent years, including incidents in February 2016 and May 2017. More generally, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that a child dies due to a furniture or TV tip-over every 10 days, and a child is sent to the emergency room due to this every 30 minutes. When Rep. Schakowsky originally introduced this bill in December 2016, it was in response to three reports of toddler deaths after IKEA Malm dresser tip-over accidents.
The current voluntary standard for furniture, ASTM F2057-17, requires a 50-pound weight to be used to stability testing. This reflects the 95th percentile weight of a child up to five years old (60 months).
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / PeopleImages)