How about fifteen years? It's been fifteen years since the first furniture tip-over legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. I know because it bore the name of my daughter and that of another child killed by a furniture tip-over just one month after she was. It was called the Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act and it was introduced to the U.S. House 5 months after my daughter died under her dresser.
What we didn't know then, was that seven (!) years earlier, an ASTM furniture safety standard committee was created to address the issue of furniture tip-over because the CPSC and the furniture industry knew then that this was a danger that lurked in every single home and that every single child was at risk of having a dresser or other piece of furniture fall on them, and potential of suffering serious injury or death as a result.
Let that sink in. It is now 2020. The CPSC knew in the 1990's that furniture and TV tip-overs posed a danger to kids and now, more than 20 years later, and literally hundreds of thousands of injuries and more than 500 deaths later, they are still dragging their feet on creating an effective and mandatory furniture safety standard! Why? Excellent question! The only plausible answer has to do with politics and money being held in higher regard than the lives of children. How can I say that? Because I'm now "in" the game, have learned how they play it, and am determined to change it. Starting with telling you how it's played out over the past 22 years.
The Players in this "game"
Many players in this fight to end tip-overs participate in the ASTM (an international standards organization) furniture safety sub-committee and include furniture manufacturers and retailers that sell furniture, labs that test furniture for safety, regulatory agencies like the CPSC and Health Canada, child safety organizations, and consumer advocacy organizations. Members of the U.S. Congress get involved when legislation is introduced related to furniture tip-over prevention.
The most powerful players who have come on the scene in recent years are parent advocates like myself. We are the loud squeaky wheels determined to catalyze not just change, but the right kind of changes, to truly make furniture safer by mandating testing parameters that will significantly reduce the risk of furniture tipping over and injuring or killing children. We won't let inadequate voluntary standards masquerade as effectively doing anything to stop tip-overs any longer. This blog is one way we do it.
In order to understand why this battle is still being fought more than 25 years after it was first identified as an issue, you need to understand the history of what has and has not happened as a result of the voluntary standard setting process.
What is the ASTM Furniture Safety Sub-Committee and what does it do?
The ASTM furniture safety sub-committee on tip-over prevention has been tasked with creating a voluntary (read optional) safety standard that would, if followed, require that manufacturers make dressers and other clothing storage units (CSUs) that are inherently stable when a child attempts to climb or otherwise interacts with it, significantly reducing the risk of it falling on the child and injuring or killing them. This standard includes specifications for testing CSU's that meet the criteria for the standard and if they fail the tests, they should not be sold.
There is no legal enforcement of this standard, since it's only voluntary, and thus a suggestion, not a requirement. Let me be clear. This means that no piece of furniture, and in particular furniture intended to store clothing like dressers, including those sold specifically for children's bedrooms, and sold in the United States, is required to be tested for safety. None. Manufactures can choose to comply with some or part of the current voluntary standard, or not, without penalty.
Chances are high you have non-compliant furniture in your home right now, and if it's not properly secured to the wall, it's a deadly weapon.
The CPSC can issue recalls if it identifies a product does not meet the standard and has caused, or has the potential to cause, injury and death, but their hands are somewhat tied by a clause in the Consumer Product Safety Act called 6(b), which you can read about in this report by Public Citizen "Delay and Secrecy". The CPSC can also write a mandatory standard right now, and could have done so years ago, and while they announced in 2017 the intent to do so in 2017 with an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking. Now, 3 years later, they are moving at a snail's pace toward announcing their formal intent toward rulemaking for a mandatory standard, with no indication a rule (mandatory standard) will actually be issued in the next decade. We can't afford to wait for something that may never come from the CPSC. We can't afford to wait 10 more years!
Let me also be clear that the current voluntary furniture safety standard is inadequate. It does not account for drawers having anything in them (thus adding weight to the furniture), does not account for the forces on the furniture when a child attempts to climb or pull on or stand in drawers, and does not account for the impact of carpeting, all of which can affect the stability of the furniture and make it more likely to tip over and fall on a child. We know physics is what causes furniture to tip, and making furniture that can withstand these forces will protect children and significantly reduce injuries and deaths.
Children, and even adults, are also injured or killed by other types of furniture every day, but since most incidents that involved children also involved dressers, wardrobes, and other furniture designed to store clothing and used in bedrooms, it was determined that would be the only type of furniture the standard would cover.
There is no safety standard addressing the stability and safety of any other type of furniture, such as shelving units, bookcases, desks, entertainment furniture, tables, nightstands, or other furniture not intended to store clothing, nor does it address TV tip-overs or appliances of any kind.
What I've learned about this ASTM process and why you should care
I've been an active and voting member of the ASTM furniture safety safety standard committee as a consumer member and parent advocate for several years now, to be a voice for all the children who have been injured or lost their lives to tip-overs. By all accounts, this committee has a history of being contentious and moves at a glacial pace with regard to meaningful and effective changes to the standard.
The full committee meets twice a year, typically at ASTM headquarters in West Conshohocken PA, and is attended by furniture manufacturers and their attorneys, the CPSC, consumer advocacy groups, testing labs, regulatory agencies, consumers who are primarily parent advocates like myself who lost a child to a furniture tip-over, and safety groups and organizations like Kids in Danger, Safe Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the International Association for Child Safety. Anyone can join. If you are interested, reach out to me or to ASTM. There are also task groups that work on specific aspects of the standard such as test weight, development of a dynamic test involving more than one drawer open at a time, and tip-restraint testing. I participate in several of those as well and they meet via conference call primarily anywhere from once a year to several times a year.
I've learned a tremendous amount in the nearly 16 years since Meggie died, but only because I asked questions, wrote letters, and did a ridiculous amount of research. None of it was public knowledge, and really isn't now, either, though certainly a lot more people are aware of the danger than they were 16 years ago. If it were not for the hard work and voices of consumer protection and advocacy groups and parent advocates who are willing to share their heartbreaking stories, and fight to have their voices heard by the people with the power to change the system, and dedicate years of their lives to the cause, YOU would never know it was a problem until it happened to you. We owe them all a debt of gratitude for paving the way and guiding us to use our voices effectively.
As I prepare for yet another ASTM meeting that is likely to involve a lot of passing of the buck, circular arguments over semantics, stalling, and claims that they are waiting for someone else to do the testing and get the ever elusive data they can't seem to get (because they aren't really asking for it or trying to get it themselves) I feel the urge to write this blog. With COVID on the scene, it's a convenient excuse for the committee to have done next to nothing since the last big meeting a year ago.
I am compelled to educate you about this process as an argument as to why we need the STURDY Act and why we need it now. I feel a strong need to give a little history lesson of the history of the standard for those in a position to make a decision that could save the life of your child. Right now, this responsibility lies with the U.S. Senate and the Republicans on the committee of commerce, science and consumer protection who as of right now, have refused to support this bill.
This history lesson will draw parallels with the ASTM furniture safety standard (which is voluntary) and legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate which would require a more robust and mandatory standard. I do think you will find it rather interesting.
The Beginning - the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Identifies Tip-Overs as an emerging and increasing hazard to children
It's unclear exactly when the CPSC first identified furniture and TV tip-overs as a danger to children but it appears to have been in the mid 1990's, long before there was social media or a robust internet to disseminate information, although honestly, that hasn't done enough to "fix" the problem either. The CPSC issued safety alerts saying that furniture and TV's could tip over and injure or kill children in the 1990's, because they had gotten enough reports of those injuries and deaths to feel the alert was warranted. The problem was no one saw them, or at least, no one who could alert parents to the danger so they could take action to prevent it.
At that time, it was estimated three were around 8-10,000 ER visits due to furniture and TV tip-overs each year and approximately 6 children died every year. For the record, those numbers have DOUBLED, in part due to improved reporting and data collection, but I can tell you without a doubt the number of tip-overs that actually happen every year are easily much higher, as the statistics ONLY count those that resulted in ER visits with injuries or deaths AND that were documented to be a result of a tip-over AND are only estimates! So many incidents are not captured in the CPSC's data and they all could have resulted in an injury or death!
Despite this safety alert being issued, it was not something that made it's way to parents, pediatricians, or retailers, so it's no surprise injuries and deaths continued to happen and those with the power to educate (the CPSC and the furniture industry) decided instead to create a voluntary safety standard to try to get manufacturers to make safer and more stable furniture. Which is great in theory, but it missed the target audience and parents paid for it by having to bury their children from a preventable accident both the CPSC and the industry knew about! It also underestimated how inadequate this voluntary standard process would be at actually preventing these injuries and deaths.
The more I learn about what was known, when, and by whom, and how long this process has taken and STILL the numbers of people, mostly children, injured and killed by tip-overs is not significantly different than it was 10 years ago, let alone 5 years ago, the more angry I become. The number of injuries and deaths is known to be much higher than when this hazard was first identified! I blame both the CPSC and the ASTM for literally having the blood of these children on their hands for needlessly dragging your feet and not taking the robust and meaningful action you are tasked with and doing so in a timely manner. Shame on you! When you know better, you should do better, and by better, I mean for the safety of consumers and particularly children, not what's better for your pocketbook or political reputation and standing!
The CPSC now issues an annual Tip-Over report, first issued in 2008, and issued every year since 2010, usually in November every year. You can read the most recent CPSC Tip-over Report here. The 2020 report has not yet been released, but they clearly feel this is an important enough issue to gather data on it every year, yet not important enough to use every tool at their disposal to write a mandatory standard, which they can do and should have done years ago.
Rulemaking at the CPSC is a process that takes years and the ball is rolling oh so slowly right now with the issuance of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announced in 2017, and testing that is taking place, but no clear indication of when the actual Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be issued (perhaps in 2021?) and how many years it will take to write the mandatory rule, of if it will even happen, since all five Commissioners would need to agree to set partisanship aside and do the right thing for the children of this country, and we don't know what the political make up of the CPSC Commissioners will be when this mandatory rule writing is begun, or if the support for it will still be there. We cannot rely on the CPSC to write an effective mandatory standard without there being a law directing them to do so. That law would be the STURDY Act.
The Correlation between the ASTM Voluntary Furniture Safety Standard and Tip-Over prevention legislation introduced to the U.S. House and Senate
The Evolution of the ASTM Furniture Safety committee
In 1998, the furniture safety sub-committee was born at ASTM. This committee was tasked with creating a voluntary safety standard to address furniture tip-over injuries and deaths, and to find ways to reduce those incidents through testing and improvements to design and safety of furniture manufacturing. It's unclear who made up the committee at this point, but I presume it was a small number of manufacturers and maybe a testing lab and a consumer group. Certainly much smaller than it is today.
PS 110-98 was issued in 1998 - it was a provisional safety specification which had the first 3 bullet points of the 2000 specification below, and was withdrawn then the first official specification was issued in 2000.
F2057 - In 2000, the ASTM issued it's first safety specification for F2057 (its official standard #) . At that time the standard cited statistics from 1994 only (!) only that there were an estimated 8100 ER visits associated with furniture that year and approximately 6 deaths each year, 2/3 of which involved dressers or other furniture with drawers, and that approximately 80% of those injured or killed were under the age of 5. The standard included the following parameters:
- It covered "chests, drawer chests, chests of drawers, dressers and bureaus only"
- It did NOT cover any items lower than 30" tall
- It only covered children up to and including age 5
- It required that an empty unit should not tip over when placed on a flat level surface and that with all doors and drawers open as far as the glides allowed.
- It also required that when on a flat surface one drawer at a time should be opened and a test weight of 50 lb (25# on each side of the door or drawer) is applied, that the unit remain standing.
F2057-04 - The ASTM Voluntary Furniture Safety Standard was revised for the first time in 2004
The only change was to add that each weight used to test had to be individually wrapped in 2-4mil thick polyethylene film and sealed to reduce contamination!!
The Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act Introduced in 2005
In April of 2005, just 4 months after Meghan died and 3 months after Katie died, HR 1861 was introduced in the U.S. House. We were unaware that the ASTM Furniture Safety committee existed at this time!
The bill required that the CPSC issue a mandatory standard to protect consumers from the dangers of unsecured furniture and electronic appliances (TV's) to reduce the incidence of injury and death. It asked that this standard include testing in both loaded and unloaded conditions and the inclusion of anchors to secure furniture to the wall along with mandatory warning labels. It had bipartisan support and 45 co-sponsors and yet, it sat in committee and never made it to a floor vote, and expired at the end of 2007 when that session of Congress ended. However it did apparently get the attention of the ASTM furniture safety committee because several years later the warning labels and restraints were added to the voluntary standard.
A bill by the same name was re-introduced in the next Congress in 2008 as HR 4266 and again had bipartisan support, this time with 11 cosponsors, and again, died on the floor of the committee of energy and commerce. Honestly, I'm glad it did, because it had been watered down and was not the mandatory standard we were seeking. This bill had an addition to it for glass tables which was not part of the original bill nor applicable to the standard we were seeking. It also made mention of the ASTM voluntary standard committee and asked that anchors withstand a force of 100 lb if the test weight was 50 lb. This recommendation has not yet been incorporated into the voluntary standard.
F2057-09 -The ASTM Voluntary Furniture Safety standard revision #2 in 2009
NINE years after it's first specification the standard was finally revised. This revision included the following changes including two significant ones that were asked for in the first Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act, that tip-over restraints were included and a warning label to the consumer about the risk of tip-over was required. It's likely these changes were added because of the legislation that was introduced and the support it had, even though it never became law. So in this case legislation informed improvements to the standard.
- a definition of inch-pound units as being the standard
- a definition of operational sliding length
- That tip-over restraints shall be included for attachment by the consumer to help prevent tip-over and that restraint must withstand a pull force of 50 lb. Installation instructions must be included
- A warning label must be attached to the unit in a conspicuous location such as the inside of a drawer or door. colors, wording, and font were specified for the warning label
- additional pictures were added to support the language around testing procedures with the 50 lb total weight.
F2057-09a - A second revision in 2009
- Added that the warning label had to be permanent
F2097-09b A third revision in 2009
- Added a line to the warning label that stated "unless specifically designed to accommodate do not set TV's or other heavy objects on top of this product"
F2097-14 - The ASTM Voluntary Furniture Safety standard revision #3 in 2014
This revision only included one meaningful change, and that was the reference to a newly created tip-over restraint specification for the restraints to be included with the furniture by the manufacturers who chose to comply with the voluntary standard. Beyond that the changes were language clarifications that more clearly defined testing parameters.
- The definition of what type of furniture the standard does NOT cover was expanded
- It referenced F3096, the newly created standard for tip-over restrains used with clothing storage units.
- It defined clothing storage unit as "furniture intended for the storage of clothing typical of bedroom furniture"
- A change to the testing of units with doors was changed to "open one door to 90 degrees, all other doors and drawers shall be closed..."
- Clarification of how far drawers should be opened was included "to the outstop... or... to 2/3 of operational sliding length"
F3096 - Standard Performance Specification for tip-over restraints used with clothing storage units created in 2014
This standard is a companion standard created as a reference document for F2097-14, when they added the inclusion of a tip-restraint to the voluntary standard. It only applies to the tip-restraints included by the manufacturer with the clothing storage unit. It does not specify what kind of restraint should be included, just that it can withstand a gentle application of 50 lbs for 30 seconds. It is a bare bones standard and the key parameters were:
- To define the test method and requirements for tip over restraints as required by F2097
- Was to assess the strength of the restraint only, NOT the "real world" performance of the restraint in actually stopping a tip-over once installed
- The test method was described and included
- assembling the components according to manufacturer instructions
- secure one end of the restraint to a fixed and rigid structure by gripping it in your hand or attaching it to a wooden block or other fixed structure
- Attach a loading device to the other end of the restraint fastener
- Gradually "over a period of not less than 2 seconds nor greater than 15 seconds, apply the static load of 50 lbs and maintain it for an additional 30 seconds"
- Details of installation instructions are to include drawings of installation method and detailed written step by step instructions, a parts list with pictures of each part, and clear installation instructions
- The only labeling requirements were the manufacturer's name and address and date of manufacture including at least month and year.
The STURDY Act - HR 5442 (2016) Stop Tip-overs of Unstable Risky Dressers on Youth
The first version of the STURDY Act was introduced to the U.S House of Representatives in June of 2016, which was late in that session of Congress. It had general recommendations regarding a mandatory standard and it had no co-sponsors and died in committee. It was a warning that more robust legislation proposal was coming and that this issue was not resolved. It's unlikely the industry took the warning seriously.
F 2097-17 The ASTM Voluntary Furniture Safety Standard Revision # 4 in 2017
This standard update was a minor one that was primarily language clarification with regard to:
- The permanency of the warning label
- The addition of a symbol of a child climbing a dresser with a red circle around it and a line through it to visually demonstrate children should not climb on furniture.
- It also included the standard #'s of referenced documents
- A statement saying the standard was developed based on recommendations issued by the World Trade Organization's Technical Barriers to Trade Committee
The STURDY Act - HR 2211 (2019 House version) Stop Tip-overs of Unstable Risky Dressers on Youth
This version of the STURDY act was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on April 10th, 2019. It had 23 bipartisan co-sponsors. In September of 2019 it passed the house with bipartisan support and was passed to the Senate.
The STURDY Act S1902 (2019Senate Version)
This is the current version of the STURDY Act, passed from the House to the U.S. Senate in September of 2019. It is currently in the Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transportation and because of the bitter partisan politics currently at play, has yet to be taken up by the committee. As I write this, there are 2 short legislative sessions left in the year and this session of Congress to get it passed. It has 14 bipartisan co-sponsors.
The STURDY Act would require the CPSC to issue a mandatory furniture safety standard for clothing storage units within one year of it's passage into law and would require the following:
- Mandate testing on all clothing storage units regardless of height
- Require testing to simulate the weight of a child up to 72 months old
- Require testing that accounts for scenarios involving carpeted floors, loaded drawers, and the dynamic forces of a climbing child, all of which contribute to the physics of a tip-over in the real world
- Mandate strong warning requirements
F2057 -19 The ASTM Voluntary Furniture Safety Standard Revision # 5 in 2019
With the STURDY Act clearly having traction in Congress and the CPSC moving toward an NPR and conducting their own testing, this revision of the standard was the most significant and functionally meaningful one since 2009! Yes, the first significant change in TEN years.
Two major changes were balloted but only one passed, and it was not easy to make it happen. The fact one of my fellow parent advocates' son was killed by a 27 inch tall dresser and she is also part of this committee is likely what catalyzed the reluctant passage of that ballot measure by the industry, as they could no longer hide behind the "we have no data that indicates we need to change..."
The changes to the standard included:
- The standard was changed to cover all clothing storage units 27 inches in height or higher (a lowering of the height from 30 inches, which had been the standard since it's inception)
- The types of furniture NOT covered by the standard was updated to include specifically occasional and accent furniture not intended for bedroom use, laundry units, nightstands or clothing storage tests covered by F2598. (note: Nightstands are the most contentious type of furniture discussed at these meetings because if nightstands are excluded, manufacturers could call a small dresser a "nightstand" and avoid having to comply with the standard.)
- An expansion of the referenced documents
- A definition of a nightstand
- Specific language around warning labels in terms of color, font used, and the location of the permanent warning label as well as the terminology to be used on the warning labels such as "ALWAYS" and "NEVER" and specific warnings "Children have died from furniture tip-over" to make it clear to the user tip-overs can kill children. These were changes to make the existing warning label requirements more clear.
The ballot measure that did not pass was increasing the test weight from 50 pounds to 60 pounds to more accurately represent a the 95th percentile of what a 72 month old child weighs. There has been a 20 year argument about how old a 5-year old is and are we calling them 5 the day they turn 5 or the day before they turn 6? The industry has dug in their heels and does not want to increase the testing weight and their argument is that the definition of a five year old is a child the day they turn 5. The real reason of course, is that with a 60 lb test weight, there is a greater chance their furniture will fail the test and therefore not comply with the voluntary standard.
So what's the problem?
You mean aside from the fact it's been 22 years and very little meaningful change has been made, as evidenced by the fact there are still tens of thousands of injuries every year and a child still dies about every 12 days? Is that not enough?
I do want to say that most of the members who actively participate in the the ASTM furniture safety sub-committee and task groups are the ones who ARE complying with the voluntary standard and are truly invested in making furniture safer for kids. BUT they are also looking out for their bottom line and they know all of the requirements we are asking for in the STURDY Act are necessary and appropriate, but the stalling and arguing that goes on in meeting after meeting means it will likely be another ten years before even one of them might be incorporated into the voluntary standard. That translates into tens of thousands of more children being injured and likely a hundred or more dying.
We don't have that kind of time. It is clear that everyone is waiting for the CPSC to complete their testing, even though the manufacturers could be doing their own testing concurrently, and maybe they quietly are, but if so, are not sharing that with the full committee. It is likely everyone is also waiting for the CPSC to announce a notice of proposed rulemaking, but such an announcement is no guarantee a mandatory standard will ever actually be written or what it may or may not include.
It is also clear the players are waiting to see what happens with the STURDY Act, because if it passes, then they see it as the CPSC's problem as they'd be required to write the mandatory standard. This is illustrative of the basic problem with this entire process. Everyone is waiting for someone else to do their job and as a result very little meaningful change is made. That needs to change and the best, and quite possibly only way it can change is with the passage of the STURDY Act into law.
I also want to mention that you may hear that some of the furniture industry is in support of a mandatory standard BUT they want the current, inadequate, voluntary standard to be made mandatory. Aside from the fact the current voluntary standard is obviously not effective (just look at the data on injuries and deaths!), the reason I do not support this is because it's much more difficult to change a mandatory standard than it is a voluntary one, and now you know how much time it takes to change a voluntary standard!
The longer it takes to get a comprehensive, robust, and effective mandatory standard enacted that includes the key testing and safety parameters outlined in the STURDY Act, the more people, most of them children, will continue to be injured and killed by something that could have literally been prevented years ago! We need those testing parameters to ensure the safety of our children! This is why the STURDY Act is so important and why we need the U.S. Senate to move it to the President's desk for signature immediately. Not doing so tells your constituents that you don't care about the safety of their children. I know that's not true. Actions speak louder than words.