Some people are praising IKEA for taking an unsafe piece of furniture that has killed several children and likely injured countless others, off the market (in the U.S. and Canada, it is not a worldwide recall), and offering refunds or exchanges in addition to the free anchor kits they offered last year, when the initial safety alert was issued about the MALM dressers easily tipping and posing a danger to children. All of this after several children died when a MALM dresser fell on them.
Others are criticizing IKEA, and those who supported the recall, saying it's the consumer's responsibility to know that furniture can tip over and the parents' fault for not using the enclosed anchors. They think the recall is unnecessary and unfair to IKEA.
Still others believe it's common sense to secure all dressers (if only that were true), implying it's the fault of the parents if their child happens to suffer an injury or death from a tip-over.
As luck would have it, I have answers! Well, I have MY thoughts and opinions, and I'd like to share them with you. As a child safety advocate and a mom who knows what it's like to lose a child to a dresser tip-over. You might actually be surprised by what I have to say.
First, it's vitally important that people understand the tip-over risk does not apply only to IKEA furniture! Nor does it apply only to dressers! ANY furniture that is not appropriately secured to the wall has the potential to tip over on a child or even an adult, and cause injury or death. It doesn't matter how big, heavy, or how expensive or cheap it is.
As a parent who has lost a child to a dresser tip-over (not an IKEA piece, but a top of the line piece from a juvenile furniture manufacturer), I know first hand the very real dangers to your kids of not being aware that ANY piece of furniture, no matter how expensive or well made, can tip-over.
Parents, consumers, anyone who has furniture in their homes must be educated that furniture tip-over is a very real and very common cause of injury and even death to children. Every 15 minutes someone is injured in a tip-over accident. EVERY 15 MINUTES, of every hour, of every day, of every year. On average a child dies from a tip-over every two weeks. It could very easily be your child if your furniture is not secured.
Far too many people still think it can't or won't happen to them. Read my FAQ page to see what I have to say about excuses I've heard for why people don't secure their furniture once they learn of the dangers.
Second, I do not believe that recalls are generally the answer, because then parents think that ONLY the recalled style or manufacturer of the specific piece of furniture that is recalled is unsafe, and may mistakenly think that they don't need to secure other furniture because they didn't hear about that on the news. That is very dangerous thinking, and part of the reason I did not support a recall at first.
I still very much feel that any story about this recall needs to be accompanied by statistics and stressing that it is not just IKEA furniture that poses a risk. It needs to be coupled with education about the statistics and importance of anchoring all furniture to the wall to prevent tip-over.
Third, I'd like to state for the record that I don't think lawsuits are generally speaking, helpful in raising awareness either, although part of the catalyst for this recall is the fact several children died from THIS dresser specifically falling on them. By the same token, I don't judge those parents who have chosen to sue IKEA after their child was injured or died, as some families choose to do. Every parent must do what they feel is right for them and their family and they and only they can speak to what motivates them to pursue legal action.
People often asked why I didn't sue the manufacturer of the dresser that killed my daughter. Her dresser did not come with a warning label or anchors. It was purchased in 1997. Anchors were not sold in stores. There was no social media for me to learn about this danger. It was not taught in childbirth classes or baby care classes. It wasn't in parenting books along with other childproofing tips.
I was encouraged to sue Ragazzi after Meg died by several people. I called them and reported what happened, but I had no intention of suing. I just wanted them to be aware so they could make design changes, add warning labels, and sell their furniture with anchors. I did not think suing would solve the problem. It wouldn't bring Meghan back. It wouldn't be the best use of my time, knowledge, or message. I knew the problem was much, much bigger than one manufacturer. Keep in mind, this was over 11 years ago, before social media, before the level of awareness that exists today about the dangers of tip-overs. Social media and the internet has done a tremendous amount to raise awareness, and I'd like to think Meghan's Hope was a significant part of that movement.
IKEA has deep pockets, is a very well known manufacturer, and is loved for their very popular, inexpensive furniture, and the families whose children lost their lives under their MALM dressers (or any other piece of IKEA furniture) have shattered hearts. They want IKEA to accept responsibility for their part in their child's death. They want them to use their platform as a massive retailer and manufacturer to educate consumers about tip-overs by displaying secured products, selling anchors both with and separately from furniture, and putting safety information on their website and in their stores. That's probably why they chose to sue IKEA or pressure them for a recall, I presume, at least in part. Sure, financial compensation is probably also a factor, and I don't fault them for that, either. They want to use their voices and their child's story for change, just like I do, and unfortunately, media coverage and lawsuits are what it takes to get attention for your cause in our society much of the time. Lawsuits are also costly to companies and impact the bottom line and stand to damage the reputation of such a widely known brand, so they can be motivating to companies to comply with the demands of the consumer when the voices are loud enough.
Fourth, the manufacturer does have a responsibility. ALL manufacturers, not just IKEA. A responsibility to make safe furniture. A responsibility that should take precedence over profit. It shouldn't take a lawsuit or negative media attention and it certainly shouldn't take children dying, for manufacturers to see that. To understand it. To put the safety of kids first. It should happen because it's the right and ethical thing to do.
Unfortunately, it seems it does take all that, and more, to motivate manufacturers to take more responsibility for making safer products, in this case, furniture. Our kids had to pay with their lives. They only have to pay with dollars to make these changes. Dollars they could, in theory, pass on to the consumer.
If only they could live a day in our shoes, if only they could live through that God-awful day our kids died because of furniture THEIR company made. I bet they'd see things differently then... especially if it were their child...
So, why the recall?
So, if the IKEA MALM dressers (and other furniture from IKEA) comes with warning labels and wall anchors, why do they need to recall it? Parents should use those anchors and it wouldn't be a problem. Right?
In theory, yes. Except that's not what happens the majority of the time. If it did, 96 people, mostly kids under 5, would not be the victim of or injured every single day from tip-overs. Kids would not still be dying from falling furniture. So I'm sorry, but that argument simply doesn't fly. It is my dream that some day it will, but it is not true today.
You must also look at the bigger picture. This recall goes beyond just a recall of a particular brand of dresser from a particular manufacturer. The implications and potential outcomes of such a massive and visible recall could result in necessary and positive change, not only for the furniture industry and the safety of furniture through mandatory testing and standards, but through the awareness that comes from it, and improve the safety of our children, driving down those statistics and someday, perhaps eliminating injuries and death from falling furniture.
Here's why this recall is a good thing for the industry and for the safety of children everywhere:
- IKEA has made this particular dresser for over ten years. They have not provided warnings and anchors with their furniture for the entirety of the time this dresser has been on the market. There are more than 70 cases of injuries and seven known children who have died directly because an IKEA piece of furniture fell on them since 1989. At least 3 in recent years from this specific style of dresser. ONE child dying is too many!
- This dresser is poorly designed and thus, inherently unstable, because of it's dimensions and construction. It is not the only piece of furniture out there with design flaws, and IKEA is not the only manufacturer that makes inherently unsafe or unstable furniture.
- While any furniture can tip, inherently unstable pieces are much more likely to topple, especially when you apply the forces of a child attempting to climb or even just open all the drawers and put a little pressure on the middle of the top drawer. Go ahead, go do that with every chest of drawers you have in your house, regardless of size, weight, or manufacturer. If you can't tip it with a little pressure, Simulate the amount of pressure a 50 lb child would exert pulling or climbing on your bookshelves, entertainment center, or dressers/armoires. In other words, push hard on the middle of that top drawer. Let me know how many you could tip and how much pressure it took. I bet you'll be surprised.
- The dresser may no longer be owned by the person who bought it. It may have been purchased at a yard sale or consignment stores, handed down by friends or family, freecycled, sold on Craigslist or another resale site, or left out by the side of the road for free, and the instructions with the warnings and anchors were likely not included in those transactions. Thus, the person who ended up with that dresser may have no idea that it came with a warning and anchors or that furniture can even tip over and injure or kill kids.
- Not everyone reads the warnings. Not everyone who reads warnings, adheres to them or believes that the furniture could a) tip-over and b) injure or kill a child. This is a major obstacle in education and prevention.
- Maybe the people who purchased the furniture did not have kids at the time, so they did not think they needed to secure it. What happens when you have kids later, or have friends or family over who have kids? Chances are the owners are not thinking about those anchors that came with the dresser or the warnings on the directions months, or years later.
- The anchors that come with the furniture (and this applies to ANY furniture) are not likely actually tested to see if they can hold the weight of the furniture, plus everything in/on it, plus the weight of a child climbing or pulling on it. It's unclear if those anchors actually work under stress! This needs to be standardized, universal to all furniture, regardless of purpose, size, or weight, and mandatory. It needs to apply to anchors sold with furniture and those sold at stores.
- IKEA has been pressured by lawsuits from the families of children killed by their MALM dressers or other IKEA furniture, by government agencies that advocate for consumer safety like the CPSC, and from parent advocates like myself and other parents who have lost children to furniture and TV tip-overs, and child safety groups.
- There is a voluntary international furniture safety standard, that in part, requires warning labels and anchors be sold with storage furniture of certain dimensions, IKEA's MALM dressers did not adhere to this standard.
- IKEA is not recalling the MALM line in other countries including China and Australia. Shame on them. Just because there is less pressure and awareness in those countries about the dangers of tip-over, less pressure to recall furniture, educate families, and take responsibility for the safety of their consumers, does not mean they should risk the lives of children in those countries when they know it's unstable and dangerous.
Perhaps the best thing about the IKEA MALM recall is that it is raising awareness. It is generating discussion. It is bringing the issue of furniture safety and tip-over prevention to the table. It's been on the news, it's been discussed at dinner tables, parent groups, and the water cooler. It's turning the wheels of positive change.
It is showing manufacturers that we want and demand furniture that is safe, that complies with the current voluntary international safety standards, and we are demanding manufacturers take responsibility for the safety of the products they sell. It's not just about IKEA, but by holding IKEA responsible, it sends a message to other manufacturers as well. It's telling IKEA and the industry at large that it's not okay that kids have been injured and died because they made poorly constructed and unstable furniture. They could have redesigned it. They could have made it safer. They chose not to. That's not okay. We demand change. Our children's lives depend on it!
The dream that needs to become a reality, so no other parent ever has to know the pain I do
As a tip-over prevention advocate, and bereaved mom, I'd love to see that voluntary safety standard be expanded to include specifications for furniture safety and stability, specific testing standards that include fully loaded and weighted furniture taking into account the weight and physics of a child attempting to climb on it, and testing of anchors for weight compliance and safety.
I want to see manufacturers and retailers take a pro-active role in educating consumers about the dangers of tip-overs by including information and displays in their stores of properly secured furniture with statistics about how often tip-overs happen and how easy they are to prevent. I want to see anchors not only included with every piece of furniture and TV sold, but I want them sold in stores everywhere. I want them to be as well known as a necessary child-proofing tool as outlet plugs are.
I have worked closely with the CPSC for several years on tip-over prevention and awareness and am a community advocate for their Anchor It! campaign. Meghan's Hope has been about awareness and prevention from the very day she died. And yet when I see comment threads on my own social media posts or the articles about this massive recall, I get so frustrated when people who don't see the bigger picture. I hope now, you do see that bigger picture, at least from the perspective of a bereaved parent, and see the wisdom in the recall and the potential benefits it could bring.