The purpose of the ASTM Furniture Safety Sub-Committee
The ASTM furniture safety sub-committee, which is comprised of the American Home Furnishing Alliance (AHFA) and their member manufacturers, furniture manufacturers, other related industry professionals, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) all claim they want to end the tip-over epidemic as much as I and the other consumer members of the committee do. This is, in fact, what the committee was created to do. The problem is, they appear to have no apparent sense of urgency to do so, as is evidenced by the fact it's been 19 years since the committee was first formed, and there has been little significant change in the numbers of children injured and killed by falling furniture each year. I've also been told that this committee is likely the most dysfunctional and contentious sub-committee in all of ASTM.
Only recently has the CPSC issued a notice of proposed rule making regarding tip-over prevention, and perhaps not coincidentally after members of Parents Against Tip-Overs, of which I am a founding member, met with all 5 commissioners last November to share our stories, our frustrations with the process, and our suggestions for solutions. We've kept in contact with the CPSC, testified in front of them about why this issue needs to be a priority, and follow up to be sure they are following through on tasks the assured us they would.
Likewise, our presence at the ASTM furniture safety sub-committee meeting has changed the dynamic of these meetings. We call them out, we offer suggestions and insights into the problem, the process, and the solutions, that only we can, forcing them to at least listen to us, and hopefully, put an end to years of stalling, stonewalling, and circular arguments with no real progress. All while hundreds of children have died and hundreds of thousands have been injured. Every one of which could have been prevented if they took this issue to heart and truly cared about the children and families behind the statistics, instead of choosing to focus on their pocketbooks and serve political, professional, and corporate interests.
We sit together at the table several times a year at this ASTM furniture safety sub-committee and task group meetings, attempting to collaborate on creating a safety standard that is truly effective in preventing injuries and deaths due to tip-overs specific to clothing storage units (i.e. dressers or any furniture that can be used to store clothing). The current standard is only voluntary, and for reasons explained in previous blog posts, is inadequate and ineffective at preventing injuries and deaths, which primarily involve children, but also include adults and a growing number of the elderly.
20 years is more than long enough
This sub-committee first formed in the year 2000. Four years before my daughter died when her Ragazzi changing table/dresser fell on her in the early morning hours while the rest of the family was asleep. We did not hear it fall, for her body absorbed the impact of the dresser falling onto her, and onto a carpeted floor. She could not cry, for her head we presume was trapped in the vertical drawer, her airway compressed by the side of the drawer. She died in mere minutes. This is a commonality in tip-over deaths. For those who did not hear it fall, or can't understand how you can't hear a tip-over, this is why.
In an instant, just one week before Christmas in 2004, my world came crashing down, just like that dresser did on my only daughter, and I've had to live my life without my beautiful little girl, her twin without his soul mate, and her older brother without the sister he adored. Instead of making Christmas cookies that day, I had to figure out how to plan a funeral for my daughter. No parent should ever have to know this pain.
Her death, like every other tip-over death, could have been prevented. If her dresser was designed so that it was not front and top heavy, if it were stable when a child interacted with it, if it were tested for safety, if I knew of the risk it could fall and kill her, if I knew that a proper furniture anchor could also protect my children, and those anchors were advertised and widely available where other childproofing supplies are sold, I'd have used it.
I promised Meghan that cold and sunny December morning as I held her dead body in my arms and rocked her for the last time in the emergency room, that I would make sure she was the last child to die from a tip-over. Much to my dismay, I was unable to keep my promise. She was far from the last child to die from a falling piece of furniture, and the people in a position to prevent it from happening to others have yet to create effective and meaningful mandatory furniture safety standards.
What the hell will it take to make that a reality?
In fact, since Meghan died on December 18th, 2004, according to the CPSC's 2018 Tip-Over Report, a total of 274 more (mostly) children have lost their lives to a furniture tip-over, and that's only through 2017. That is beyond unacceptable. Every single one of them could have been prevented. Every. Single. One. It's been 19 years since this sub-committee was formed and they STILL don't have an adequate safety standard, clearly evidenced by the fact the number of injuries and deaths per year have changed very little since 2000.
From 2006-2017 there were 402,300 ER visits because of furniture-tip-overs! That's an average of 27,300 every single year, or 75 every day, or 3 every single hour of every single day. And these are just the ones that were reported to the CPSC! The actual number of tip-overs and minor injuries or near misses are likely easily twice this!
My promise has not changed. I will do everything I can to facilitate the end of injuries and deaths due to furniture tip-over. Including holding those in a position to make it happen right now accountable for doing so. I vowed to change the world by making it a safer place from tip-overs. I will not rest until I do.
In the 14 years since Meghan died, the voluntary furniture safety standard itself has changed very little, and the changes that have been made were ones catalyzed by The Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act, a bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 and again in 2008 in memory of my daughter and Katie Lambert. It's cousin, the STURDY Act was just introduced last month. It is my fervent hope that the STURDY Act is embraced and supported by all members of Congress and passed. It's likely the only way we can put an end to the tip-over epidemic and force all furniture manufacturers to adhere to an adequate furniture safety standard once and for all.
Why do we need Congress to pass a law?
Because if a group of industry "experts" including engineers and masters of design can't find a way to stop tip-overs in 19 years, they likely never will until forced to do so. It's not because they can't. It's because they have a bigger concern than the well-being and safety of our children. Which I can only presume is the almighty dollar, which is clearly of more importance to them than hundreds of thousands of injured children every year or of parents who've had to bury their children as a result.
I have no choice to think that way, because we know college students have designed stable furniture that doesn't tip. We know manufacturers right now have designs that are stable and don't tip even with a testing protocol stronger than the current voluntary standard. We know that right now, this committee has two proposed changes to the standard that they've been arguing about for years that would save lives right now, and yet, they have yet to agree to make the changes. I've sat in these meetings for years and listened to the same arguments over and over and over with a mind-boggling resistance to change and forward progress from the industry.
Since Meghan's death, I've become an expert on the subject of tip-overs and how to prevent them. I've been advocating for over 14 years, literally since the day she died. I want to raise awareness of the issue. I want to educate everyone, everywhere about this danger that exists in literally every single home. I want the tip-over epidemic to end.I want the ASTM furniture safety subcommittee and the CPSC to do absolutely everything in their power to make a robust, effective, and mandatory safety standard to protect kids (and adults). Now.
I realize that there are better solutions likely in the future, but we need to make changes now to make furniture safer and reduce the number of injuries and deaths. We can always make the standard better, but doing nothing until the "perfect" solution is found is irresponsible and downright deadly.
How do we stop this epidemic?
Education and Action.
We need to educate people not only about the danger, and why it's a danger, but I want them to know how to prevent it. I also want those in a position to reach the public, especially the most vulnerable populations, our children and our elderly, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, family practice doctors, geriatricians, independent and assisted living facilities, senior centers, emergency room staff, teachers, day care providers, social workers, churches, DCF, childbirth educators, postpartum and NICU staff, and retailers, to name a few, to actually do their part to educate those they serve about the dangers of tip-overs and how to prevent them.
I also want to see those in a position of power to force change at a national and global level to do so. Now. I'm looking at you ASTM, AHFA, every single furniture manufacturer out there, the CPSC, and members of Congress. You are tasked with protecting consumers from these dangers and you should be ashamed. You are failing. Do you know why you are failing? Because you are not listening to the people who are the experts on the other side. The ones that have an honorary PhD in tip-overs. The parents and grandparents who had to bury their children because of a tip-over, and those whose children survived a tip-over, but will never, ever, be the same as a result of their catastrophic injuries. I'd like to remind you that you are not even hearing from the ones who had near-misses or minor injuries that were never reported.
Instead of taking meaningful action, you are saying you care and it's important, but you are constantly delaying forward progress by hiding behind a dirty little four letter word. DATA.
Let's talk about data
Here's the thing. I understand the value of data. I'm actually a woman of science. Specifically of movement science. Surprised? I'm not just some bereaved mother who is pissed off because a dresser you made, and that I thought was safe, fell and my child happened to be one of the unlucky ones killed by it. Though make no mistake, I am most definitely her. I am also a physical therapist who has worked with the very young and the very old. I understand child development and how children interact with their world. I understand the physics of how the human body works and how it can and cannot react at all ages when it interacts with other objects and the world around it. I'm also a runner and a ballroom dancer. I get the physics of movement. I have the book knowledge and the practical knowledge from the human body side of things. I have worked in health care since I was 15 years old, and for those keeping score, that's 35 years. I've also been a childbirth educator, a child and home safety instructor, a birth doula, and a CPR and first aid instructor. I'm the mother of three. I know a hell of a lot about kids and keeping them safe. I am intelligent, well-spoken, and quite frankly, I know more about tip-overs than I ever wanted to or should, and in a much broader sense than any of you that are on the industry or government side do.
I am also not alone. We, the parents of the children who were victims of tip-overs, look at the data in a different way than you do. Our children ARE your data. For every one of those deaths, there is a pain and heartache I hope you never have to know. Your data, our children, are not just numbers. Tip-overs don't happen because parents were not doing their job. It wasn't just a "fluke". Tip-overs happen because the furniture is not inherently stable or made to withstand the forces of a child climbing, pulling, reaching, or pushing on it. Clearly, the data you claim to be waiting for is nothing more than a shield for your pocketbooks. If it's not, you have a hell of a lot of convincing to do.
If 542 dead children in the past 17 years, and hundreds of thousands of injured ones are not enough "data" to motivate you to take meaningful action in a timely manner to create an effective safety standard, I'd like to know what the number of dead children you'd consider enough to take action is.
Here's what you need to acknowledge and understand about data
And then apply it to the voluntary standard process, data collection and analysis, and the creation of a mandatory furniture safety standard.
By the CPSC's clear indication in their annual tip-over report, their reports of injuries and deaths due to tip-overs are ESTIMATES. You all know why they are estimates, but since everyone in that room last week at the ASTM furniture safety subcommittee meeting who was not a consumer member seems to have forgotten, or perhaps just ignored, let me help you understand why the data you are claiming you need and are waiting for will never materialize.
- The NEISS problem.The vast majority of the data the CPSC gets on tip-over injuries and deaths comes from the NEISS hospitals. According to the CPSC, "NEISS injury data are gathered from the emergency departments (ED) of approximately 100 hospitals selected as a probability sample of all 5,000+ U.S. hospitals with emergency departments" That's only 0.02% of the actual data from ER's that is definitively captured. And it's ONLY accounting for injuries severe enough to require an ER visit! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to extrapolate that data and realize this problem is way more pervasive, and tip-overs are significantly more common, than the CPSC statistics indicate.
- The cause of death problem. Information is also gathered from death certificates. This is never going to be sufficient unless all medical examiners in the U.S. are required to not only report the medical cause of death, but the attributing factors. For example, Meghan's death certificate states positional asphyxiation due to a fallen bureau. I know of other tip-over deaths where the death certificate simply said "asphyxiation" or "blunt force trauma" with no documentation of the tip-over. Those deaths would never be captured as being due to tip-over. Medical examiners also don't always know what the contributing factors to the death were, either.
- Non-ER visit data is not captured. The minor injuries that don't require or are not seen in an ER, but instead are seen a a pediatrician's office or urgent care center are not captured at all unless a rare and savvy doctor knows how and why to report it to the CPSC. The vast majority do not.
- Near misses (furniture that tipped, but the child was not injured) and minor injuries are not captured. The near misses and minor injuries that don't require any medical intervention at all are completely unknown, since there is no official record of them. Other tip-over parents like myself know about them, because those parents tell us about them, and it happens a lot!
- It's not easy to report a tip-over. The average parent, consumer, physician/medical professional, or medical examiner has no idea Saferproducts.gov exists, or why. They don't know how or why to report injuries due to a defective or unsafe product including tip-overs. Even if they are informed about it, it's cumbersome and time consuming and many parents are fearful of talking to a government agency, especially because many parents whose children are injured or killed by a tip-over are investigated by the police and sometimes DCF. They are treated like criminals because of the lack of awareness and sensitivity training out there as to the frequency and prevalence of tip-overs. If you've gone through that, you are understandably skeptical and traumatized when it comes to talking to any other "agency" about the tip-over incident. The CPSC needs to find a way to ensure everyone knows how and why to report hazards, injuries and deaths due to products sold in the U.S., to simplify the system and make it user friendly, and to make that widely publicized, easy to access, and encouraged, if not required, by every professional who interacts with children.
- Reports of tip-overs can happen years after the incident, due to the reasons outlined above, and many parents find out from other bereaved parents how and why to report their incident. It's also important to realize that from the time an incident is reported and the time it is investigated and the report completed can also take many months if not years. And while you wait, every 17 minutes, another tip-over happens. A tip-over that you could have prevented. A life that you could have saved. .
- You'll never be able to get all the data you want about what the child was doing to cause the tip-over because the vast majority of the time, no one was in the room where the tip-over happened except for the child who was the victim. For 99% of these injuries and deaths you'll never know exactly how that child was interacting with the furniture. Assumptions can be made, but they are not facts. You'll never be able to know how many drawers were open, if the child was climbing, pulling, reaching, standing in a drawer, leaning on a drawer, or if they simply bumped into it while playing. The answer is simply physics. So you need to stop asking for and waiting for that data, because you'll never get it and you already know that. The CPSC has told you this as recently as the May 10th meeting of this year. This is why we need to include testing with some and all drawers open, loaded with the things typically in drawers (clothes, toys) and to test with enough test weight to simulate the dynamic force of at least a 72 month old child climbing, pulling, or pushing on open drawers, and to account for the effect of carpet.
- Every single child that died because of a tip-over could have lived, and every single child that was not killed in a tip-over incident could have died. Let that sink in. There was nothing special about any of these situations. Some call it luck, but you and I know it all comes down to physics, and every single situation was different.
- You will never know for sure how many times furniture you (the manufacturer) made has tipped over, and likely will never know about all of the injuries and deaths associated with your furniture falling. So claiming you have no reports, or "only" one death (and seriously, if that "only" death was your child, how would you feel about me downplaying this topic in that manner), or a handful of minor injuries, is ignorant and dangerous. Why will you never know? In addition to all the reasons I've already pointed out, consumers typically don't know who made their furniture. Nor do they care. They want it to be safe and they want it to be functional and aesthetically pleasing. They might remember where they purchased it, but they probably don't know who the manufacturer was, nor would they care until their child is injured or killed. Thus, you will never have accurate data on that, either.
- Hiding behind the fact your costs will increase has to stop. We understand that changes to the safety standards can result in costly changes to your manufacturing processes. We understand you are businesses and need to make a profit. We get that. But I can tell you that as a parent and a consumer, when we shop, we shop for furniture that is aesthetically pleasing, meets our needs, and is in our price range. Whether I'm paying $100, $500, or $1000 for a dresser or other CSU, I'm going to pay a little more if it means I know it's been tested and passes a stringent safety test. In fact I might change my mind and choose your furniture instead BECAUSE I have proof that your furniture is compliant or goes above and beyond, what is required for safety. So you can pass those costs onto the consumer at a reasonable dollar amount and absorb some of the cost for the greater good it will result in.
- Complaining your competition will hurt your sales if you comply with the voluntary standard has to stop. Victim consciousness (as in they won't play nice in the sandbox so why should we) has no place in adulting or in the development and enforcement of safety standards. It's immature, a cop-out, and cowardly. My violin is way too small for that. You do you. Don't worry about your competition. Do the right thing. Own it. Be the change. Lead the way. Do it in the ASTM meeting, do it for your constituents, do it because you want to be ethical and trusted by consumers. Do it to save lives and bring the number of injuries and deaths to zero. Do it because it's the right thing to do. You know how to do it. You know how to market. Market yourselves as the ones who do the right thing, who go above and beyond and put your money where your mouth is. Prove it to us. Educate consumers about the tip-over epidemic and then explain what you have done to address it. Require retailers that sell your furniture to educate consumers as well. Don't mislead consumers. It will come back to haunt you. Trust me.
- No one is immune. Even your friends and family. I bet you all have every single piece of furniture in your home anchored, right? Why? Because you know it's not safe when it's freestanding right now. Until you are willing to allow a child you love freely interact with, climb, and play in a dresser/CSU or lie a child you love in front of any CSU/dresser and apply the current safety test to it, confident that it will remain upright un-anchored, the standard is not strong enough. Consider that. Tip-overs happen to the young and the old, to the wealthy and the poor, the highly educated and the poorly educated, in cities and in rural areas, in private homes and in public places, to people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, to people of all religious and spiritual beliefs, and to all genders. It could even happen to your family. NO. ONE. IS. IMMUNE.
- Tip-over is not a partisan issue. I'm looking at you CPSC and Congress. There is absolutely no reason every member of the CPSC and every member of Congress should not fully support the STURDY Act. This is an issue that affects democrats, republicans and independents. The only common denominator is unsafe furniture because there is no adequate or mandatory safety standard to prevent tip-overs of furniture. We need the STURDY Act to protect consumers, especially the most vulnerable, our children.
- YOU NEED US. Parent advocates and coalitions like Parents Against Tip-Overs and other consumer advocates are a rare breed. For every one of us who are bereaved parent advocates, there are hundreds of others who are not comfortable sharing their stories and their pain publicly, or who can't because of their jobs or other reasons. That doesn't mean they don't exist and they don't want to see these changes any less than we do. We are here to represent them, too. We are the voice of every person who has ever been the victim of a tip-over, whether it was a near miss, a minor injury, or resulted in a catastrophic injury or death. We are connected to literally thousands of other parents who have had, or know someone who has experienced a furniture tip-over incident. We are experts, too, and we bring important perspective, insight, and ideas to the table. You need us and we need you to end this epidemic. We have to work together. But waiting for some magical data, some magical number of injured or dead children that will make you finally have a sense of urgency about this will no longer be tolerated.
It is my greatest wish that all members of the ASTM furniture safety sub-committee and the CPSC finally make a commitment to rapid and meaningful forward progress with this standard. It needs to be a priority and it needs to happen now. There is no reason we can't create and implement a stronger standard this year, with the two changes supported by the CPSC and Parents Against Tip-Overs, that being a change in the height to 27 inches and above and a change in the test weight to 60 lbs, and continue to change it for the better as additional testing (carpet, dynamic real world tests, open drawers, etc.) and innovative designs are created. We have all the data we need right now to make a stronger standard.
In the words of Nike, for the love of every child injured or killed by a fallen piece of furniture, JUST DO IT. You are out of excuses and frankly, out of time.