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Hidden Danger – Child Deaths Due to Tipping Furniture on the Rise

On average, one child dies every 2 weeks when a TV, piece of furniture, or an appliance falls on him, according to reports received by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) between 2000 to 2010. In 2010 alone, the most recent year for which federal estimates are available, unstable furniture sent about 23,600 people – the highest number since 2006 – to emergency rooms. Most of the injured were less than 10 years old.

These statistics are shocking to most and many parents are unaware of the danger posed by unstable furniture, especially small pieces of furniture. This lack of awareness has inspired CPSC officials, consumer advocates, and furniture and electronics industry executives to explore ways to make dressers, storage cabinets, TVs and other heavy household items more stable and to look for new ways to spread awareness about this sometimes overlooked danger.

According to Dr. Gary Smith, president of the nonprofit Child Injury Prevention Alliance and a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio,” Furniture was designed for the convenience of adults, child injury was never considered. Parents simply don’t know that they’ve got this danger lurking.” This statement seems to apply to all parents, even well educated and safety-conscious parents.

The unfortunate stories of Meghan and Charlie are both examples of safety-conscious parents who did not realize the dangers of smaller pieces of furniture. Parents in both cases had taken precautions to secure large pieces of furniture but failed to recognize the potential danger of smaller pieces. Both children were discovered choked to death under relatively small pieces of furniture. These instances are often called “silent deaths”. This is because the child’s body acts as a cushion for the falling furniture and the fall often goes unheard. After the furniture is on top of the child, the weight of the furniture prevents the child from crying or calling for help.

Meghan and Charlies’ families have both created foundations to help raise awareness about the dangers of tipping furniture in an effort to prevent further tragic and preventable child deaths. To read more about their stories and to become involved, visit Meghan’s Hope and Charlie’s House.

Since 2000, the furniture industry has been guided by a succession of voluntary stability standards for dressers and other wardrobe storage units. The current standard, in effect since in 2009, calls for furniture to remain steady when all drawers are open and when a 50-pound weight is placed at the front of a drawer. That is meant to simulate a child around the age of 5 attempting to climb on furniture. Chests and dressers also are supposed to have tip restraints that consumers can use to attach the furniture to a wall.

CPSC officials, consumer advocates, and furniture and electronics industry executives are currently evaluating these standards and debating whether or not to toughen the standards and how. One of the debates is whether or not a tougher standard would actually do anything to make furniture safer. Since the standards are voluntary and not mandatory, many worry that some companies will simply ignore the new standards. Another problem is that the ideas currently under consideration would continue to exempt items without drawers that children can climb on, such as tables and bookcases. According to Pat Bowling, a vice president with the American Home Furnishings Alliance trade group, although those items account for many injuries, they aren’t being considered for the possible revised voluntary standard because they are less likely to be involved in fatal accidents.

It seems one way to ensure stricter standards are upheld by all companies would be to enact mandatory government safety rules. However, there hasn’t been a push by consumer advocates or anyone else for the CPSC to impose mandatory government safety rules. In 2005, a similar measure aimed at furniture and TV set safety was introduced to Congress, however, it failed despite support from groups like the Consumer Federation of America.

Until new standards or mandatory regulations can be evaluated and implemented, increasing public awareness about the dangers seems to be the best way to prevent more injuries and deaths. Like Meghan’s Hope and Charlie’s House, numerous support groups and child safety centers have appeared across the country to help educate parents on tipping furniture safety.

According to the CPSC, the most common tip-over scenarios involve toddlers who have climbed onto, fallen against or pulled themselves up on furniture. About 70 percent of children’s fatalities involved falling TVs, and 27 percent involved only furniture falling. The majority of fatalities where furniture fell by itself or fell along with a TV involved a chest, dresser, or a bureau. Often, these pieces of furniture have drawers that children can use to climb.

To prevent tragedies, follow these safety tips in any home where children live or visit:

  • Anchor furniture to the wall or the floor.
  • Place TVs on sturdy, low bases.
  • Or, anchor the furniture and the TV on top of it, and push the TV as far back on top of the furniture as possible.
  • Keep remote controls, toys, and other items that might be attractive to children off TV stands or furniture.
  • Keep TV and/or cable cords out of reach of children.
  • Make sure freestanding kitchen ranges and stoves are installed with anti-tip brackets.
  • Supervise children in rooms where these safety tips have not been followed.

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