It made me wonder... who should be responsible for preventing tip-overs? Should it be the manufacturer? The stores that sell the furniture? The consumers, who are mostly parents, grandparents, and responsible adults who may or may not have children in their home? All three?
The CPSC Tip Over Information Center reports that 71 children every single day are victims of a tip-over accident. That's 3 children every single hour. In the time it took me to write this post alone, 3 children have had a piece of furniture, a TV, or an appliance fall on them!
Preventable accidents are the leading cause of death to children. Preventable is the key word. Tip-overs are preventable!
Thanks to the work of the Consumer Product Safety Commission with ASTM (a voluntary standards organization), catalyzed in part by two bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives titled The Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act (2005 and 2009), in which we asked for warning labels and restraints to be sold with furniture, there is now a VOLUNTARY furniture safety standard for warnings and tip-restraints.
The problems with the current standards
This standard is a step in the right direction, but it has serious flaws that I'd like to see addressed and amended. For one, it's voluntary, not mandatory. Many manufacturers follow it, but many others do not. Some are adamantly resisting it! One of the problems with it is that the standard does not apply to all furniture, only storage furniture of a certain size, height, and design.
The standard also does not specify the type of restraint that must be included. Many of the restraints are cheap and some are downright insufficient. The anchors included with the furniture are not actually tested to see if they will safely hold the weight of the furniture, fully loaded and with a child climbing on it, nor is there any official or mandatory standard for testing. This needs to change and become part of the standard.
Furthermore, there is no standard for testing ANY of the restraints sold in stores and many do not indicate what their weight capacity is, either, and that also needs to change! It not only puts the child at risk, but also the manufacturer, as evidenced by the increasing number of lawsuits in tip-over cases.
Installation instructions vary and may be insufficient (not indicating the need to secure into a stud, using drywall anchors, attaching it to a solid wood part of the furniture, not press board, the fact more than one restraint may be needed, screws being too short, cable ties that become brittle or break or won't hold significant weight, etc.) leading parents to install the restraints incorrectly or giving them a false sense of security. They may think that if they install the restraint that comes with the furniture, their child is protected. That may not be true. Kids could still be at risk.
Myths and Misconceptions vs. truth and reality
Far too many people think it's just dressers or furniture designed for kids' rooms that is a tip-over hazard and that's just not true.
ALL furniture and ALL TV's have the potential to tip-over and fall on a child. It is not just the furniture in your child's room or in a play room that needs to be secured.
Furniture in every room needs to be secured. Dressers, book shelves, armoires, TV stands and entertainment centers, nightstands, hutches, desks, grandfather clocks, cube style storage units, cabinets with doors and/or shelves, file cabinets, corner or curio cabinets, and changing tables. It could be the most expensive well-made piece in the world or cheap dollar store furniture. If it's not secured, it's all the same. It all can tip. Does it matter some tips more easily than others? Does it matter if it takes 10 pounds of force or 30 pounds to make it tip? Does it matter how big or small your child is or how much they weigh? Not if your kid ends up under it. The testing weight used by the CPSC is 50 pounds! Some furniture may be more likely than others to tip due to inherent instability or design, but unless they are secured properly to a stud in the wall, all furniture and all kids are at risk. Period. End of story.
There are no caveats. Furniture and TV's properly secured = kids safer. Furniture and TV's not (or improperly) secured= kids at risk of injury or death.
It all makes me shake my head. It would not cost the manufacturers much, and certainly nothing significant, to include a proper restraint and detailed installation instructions. That is a cost they could pass on to the consumer and wouldn't amount to more than a few dollars in reality. The cost for them to test the furniture with the restraint for safety is well worth it for the safety and well-being of their consumers. Lives are more important than bonuses and huge profit margins.
Is there any benefit in suing?
The news story that inspired this post indicated the parents were suing the store and the manufacturer of the dresser that fell and killed their girls. It all also begs the question, is suing anyone for the death of a child from a tip-over accident the *right* answer?
After Meghan died, some people encouraged us to sue the manufacturer of her dresser. My response, "Why? That is not going to bring Meghan back. It is not going to address the larger issue of furniture falling on kids. It's an issue bigger than one manufacturer. I don't want to waste their time or money or mine. I want to educate, inform, and change the SYSTEM. The INDUSTRY. What and how we educate parents about dangers in their homes..."
I did call the manufacturer, to inform them of her death and the danger. They were very responsive. Perhaps because they were afraid I'd sue them. Perhaps because they genuinely did not realize the danger and were grateful I informed them. Perhaps because the woman on the phone was a mother and could hear the pain in my voice when I told her my story. This was also before there was the awareness there is now about tip-overs, before restraints were as readily available in stores and online as they are today, before there was a voluntary safety standard, before the CPSC initiated their Anchor It campaign. Much of that was born of the work of parents like me, looking for answers and asking questions.
I know other parents who lost children to similar tragic, preventable accidents. Some chose to sue, some did not. I can not speak for them, only that they did what they felt they needed to do. I don't judge. I understand their motivation. I'm sure at least in part, their intention was as much to try to catalyze a change for the better in terms of safety as it was for financial compensation. Fear of lawsuits is a motivating factor for many companies, and perhaps, the fear of litigation will motivate them to make safer furniture and comply with the voluntary standard. It makes me sad that is what it takes to motivate companies to do their part to save lives.
There are now law firms who actually specialize in, advertise and market to, and encourage parents who have lost children or whose children have been severely injured in tip-over accidents to sue. Why? Is it about positive change or something else? Legislation? Revenge? Anger? Or is it just a way to make money off of a tragedy, for both lawyers and their clients?
While the financial rewards of a lawsuit can help to pay for medical or even funeral costs and lost wages after the death of a child, what the industry and society at large seems to be missing is it would cost a whole lot less to PREVENT IT FROM HAPPENING IN THE FIRST PLACE. Not only in dollars, but in lives that would be saved.
The bigger problem: Denial
Except, of course, no one ever thinks "it" could happen to them, right? "It" always happens to someone else. Bad parents. Neglectful parents. Poor parents who can't afford "good" furniture. Parents who can't "control" or don't discipline their kids "correctly." Denial is dangerous and could be downright deadly. So is making assumptions. Don't assume it can't or won't happen to you or your child. Don't think your social status or financial status magically makes your child any safer than another. Don't put the importance of your furniture or TV or appliance above your child's safety. Your child's life is far too important for that game.
Holes in furniture and in walls can be fixed. Holes in hearts left behind when your child's death could have been prevented cannot be. Trust me. I know.
Maybe people think it only happens with cheap or poorly made furniture, only tall or unstable furniture, only with dressers or shelving units, only with kids' furniture, or only in bedrooms or play rooms. I remind people Meghan's dresser was small, sturdy, and well-made by a top of the line juvenile furniture manufacturer. It can happen anywhere, anyplace, anytime and to anyone. In a home (yours or someone else's), in a school, in a child care facility, in a store, at a meeting space (cub or girl scouts, religious education, activity spaces like gyms or dance studios), even to adults and the elderly in nursing homes or senior centers!
My question is who is really served by lawsuits? Who does it help and how? One family at a time? While it may bring solace and financial resources to a family, what about other children who are at risk? Maybe it gets one company to change it's ways, force a recall, or to comply with the voluntary standard in part, but for how long and how safe are they really going to be? (see above part about quality of restraints and documentation included for warnings and installation) Is it a good use of resources?
Here's the thing
Given the amount of money spent on lawsuits on both sides, it seems to me that instead of giving all that money to attorneys, manufacturing companies could easily provide quality, appropriate, and weight tested restraints that adhere to a reasonable mandatory safety standards, for every piece of furniture and every TV sold instead, included with it when it's sold. Why don't they do that?! Everybody wins and kids have the potential to be safer!
What it is going to take to stop tip-overs
We can stop kids from being injured and killed by furniture, TV, and appliance tip-overs. Easily. By securing the furniture and TV's and appliances to the wall. So why is it still happening?
Because it is going to take a coordinated effort by all involved parties to take the risk seriously. Until everyone including parents, educators, regulatory bodies, retailers, manufacturers, and consumers are aware of the dangers, begin to take the issue of tip-over seriously and all do their part to educate, inform, and prevent, kids are going to keep dying. The current state of awareness and compliance is not acceptable. We all need to work together for the greater good of all of our children.
So to answer my own question... We are all responsible. Everyone from parents and end consumers to the regulatory agencies, manufacturers and everyone in between needs to do their part. We need to work together for the greater good.
Here is my call to action:
This is not about what's best for whose bottom line. It's not about how to get around the standard that does exist because it's only voluntary. It's not about bad vs. good. This is about safety. This is about saving lives. The lives of our children. We have warnings on plastic bags. We have laws about seat belts in cars and car seat use. This is no different. We've identified a very real danger to children that is taking lives needlessly. We know how to prevent it. Slowly, people are becoming more aware and some of them are taking the proper steps to make their homes safer. Many more are still not aware or simply don't believe in the danger.
Preventable accidents are the #1 cause of death to children. We can easily reduce the number of children being injured and killed by tip-overs if everyone focuses on the end goal. It's about the children. It's about keeping them safe. It's about education and prevention. We need to get the information and the tools into the hands of the consumers who then need to follow through and actually secure the furniture.
What do we need to do?
The agencies that make policy, manufacturers, retailers and perhaps even lawmakers need to stop their bickering, posturing, political game playing and cut the red tape. Kids are dying while you are padding your profits and dragging your feet on creating standards/laws that could protect children. Why does it have to take so long? It's not rocket science.
Regulatory bodies need to set standards based on standardized testing. They need to be mandatory and they need to apply to all furniture and all anchors/restraints.
The manufacturers need to make safe furniture that comes with warning labels, appropriate weight-tested restraints with clear, easy to understand, and appropriate installation instructions. If that means we have to make laws or mandatory standards for them to actually comply, then so be it. I don't understand why it takes that much time and effort (and it takes forever) to change these safety requirements and why they seem not to care about the lives of children, but until it's their kid or grandchild that dies, they probably won't ever *get* it... it's so sad that's what it takes for so many people to wake up to the dangers and motivate them to do something to prevent it.
Stores and retailers need to educate consumers about the dangers of tip-over by securing display furniture and TV's properly, selling third-party restraints like those made by Safety 1st, KidCo, and others, and having informational posters or pamphlets displayed with the furniture and TV's to alert and educate consumers. Displaying and selling furniture and TV straps right along with other childproofing supplies should happen everywhere childproofing supplies are sold. Straps should also be displayed and available for purchase next to furniture and TV's that are for sale, and store employees trained to educate consumers on the importance of using them to safely secure TV's and furniture to the walls.
Consumers need to take these warnings seriously and use the restraints to secure their furniture, TV's and even appliances properly. They need to share this information with family and friends.
Hospitals and pediatricians need to give this information on tip-over prevention to parents just like they give other important child safety information when they have their well-child visits or at any other teachable moment.
Those in a position to educate parents in any capacity such as pre-school or elementary school teachers, childbirth educators, CPR and First Aid instructors, WIC, health insurance companies, urgent care centers, and child care facilities, should at a minimum, provide an informational brochure or pamphlet about these dangers such as the one I've designed for Meghan's Hope and ideally, offer educational seminars for parents where they can learn about all aspects of child safety.
The media needs to follow up and do their part in reporting not only when a child is injured or killed, but what can be done to prevent it and where to find anchoring devices and more information. Doing public interest stories on news or talk shows watched by parents and grandparents about Meghan's Hope and tip-over prevention has the power to help so many more people than the latest cute animal videos can.
Parents hold the ultimate responsibility. Your kids are, after all, your kids. You are in the end the only one responsible for their care. While yes, all of the previously mentioned entities have a role and a responsibility, there is currently no law or requirement that they do the right thing. Even if they do, when you put that new piece of furniture together or your new TV arrives, even if it comes with an anti-tip restraint, you have to be the one to actually use it to secure it to the wall. Furniture, TV's and appliances don't secure themselves. It is up to you in the end to take the appropriate steps to protect your children.
You must educate yourself and take the necessary and proper steps to protect your children from the things you can protect them from, like tip-overs. No parent can protect their child from everything, but this, you can. We have an awesome responsibility as parents to balance keeping our kids safe with allowing them to learn, grow, and explore their world. By making their environment safer, we allow them to do that work of being a child - play - in a safer world. Our gift is in watching them grow older and perhaps, one day gift us with grandchildren.
I will never see my little girl graduate, get married, or do all the things I imagined and hoped she would. Because she died under her dresser while we slept. No child deserves that fate. No parent should ever have to live with that pain. I don't have a choice. You do. Because of Meghan and her hope, you do...
My goal is to work with all of these elements and protect the lives of kids. My position is one of education and advocacy. I am Meghan's voice. I am the voice of the children whose lives were cut short from a tip-over. I am the voice of their parents who say the same thing I do. We don't want it to ever happen again.
Clearly, I can't do it alone. Together, though, we can stop the tip-over epidemic.
Let's do this.