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There’s a danger in all family homes and suppliers can easily help fix it. But apart from a few conscientious manufacturers and retailers, not much is being done. An opportunity exists for furniture retailers to make a difference.

What’s the problem?

Kids explore by climbing and often know that things they’re not supposed to have are kept up high. So they find ways to climb. They can’t get a ladder – but it’s fun to use open drawers as steps or clamber up a bookcase.

The website Grave Lessons recently posted a furniture tip-over story of a Victorian toddler who was unable to be revived after a chest of drawers fell on her. This website tells us that in Australia one child dies each year from injuries sustained in furniture tip-overs. But Australian injury data is not very detailed and doesn’t tell the full story.

USA injury data reveals 121 deaths and 38,000 injuries that required hospital treatment over a three year period. On this ratio, one death per year in Australia would suggest more than 300 non-fatal injuries. Of the US injuries, over 30% involved fractures or internal organ damage.

All these injuries and fatalities are easily prevented!

See what can happen

The Queensland Office of Fair Trading has produced this video

And this American video gives an even more graphic demonstration

Easy solution . . . but it requires awareness

In the Queensland video, Dr Ruth Barker says ‘From a toddler’s perspective their home looks like one big playground, but they don’t recognise the dangers. The trouble is, most parents don’t recognise the dangers either.’

So, one might think that furniture manufacturers and retailers would offer ways to anchor furniture at the time of sale. But with a few notable exceptions, this isn’t happening in Australia.

Perhaps more importantly, what’s also missing is the reminder at point of sale and the chance to buy an anchor kit. This would help those who already intend to fit an anchor and educate those who are not as aware.

Mini retail survey

I went to a local home-maker centre where I was able to visit ten stores that sell furniture. Only one – IKEA – provided anchor kits with their products (and explains the need for them in their product buying guide). Two other stores had a couple of furniture items that came with anchor straps attached, although the staff were not sure about their use.

The other seven stores were not able to answer questions about anchor kits.

While some stores products were very solid and apparently stable, there were many others that I could easily wobble.

I also went to my local baby goods store where they sell children’s furniture and a range of safety accessories. They had a TV anchor kit but not one for furniture.

All the retailers I spoke to told me to go to Bunnings hardware store where I could easily get suitable tools to secure the furniture. None of them showed any understanding of the importance of anchoring.

ACCC consumer awareness survey

The ACCC has just published a research report: Consumer Awareness of Furniture Stability Risks and Prevention. 650 people with children under the age of five responded to the online survey. Many were already aware of the risks and some had taken steps to anchor some of their furniture.

However, not everyone appreciated the types of furniture prone to tipping and some said that ‘if the furniture was unsafe they would expect the equipment to be provided with the purchase’.

More than a quarter of respondents (175) had experienced a tip-over incident. While most resulted in a near miss or minor harm, 40 families reported their child had suffered moderate or severe injuries.

Opportunity for retailers to easily make a difference and show leadership

If you sell furniture such as bookshelves, tall boys and other chests of drawers there’s several things you can do:

  • Demand anchoring devices, information and fitting directions be provided by your suppliers with their products
  • Inform your customers of the tip-over dangers and the need to anchor (have information brochures available)

And until anchor kits are provided with all products by manufacturers:

  • Offer anchor kits for sale (or included in the furniture price)

Having kits available in store will make it easier for customers and save a separate trip to the hardware store.

I believe everyone in the business of selling domestic furniture should take these simple steps and help families to recognise and manage the risks.

Product liability provisions in the Australian Consumer Law relate to defective products. A product has a safety defect if its safety is not what the community is generally entitled to expect. Given what the consumer awareness report has shown regarding consumer needs and expectations, product liability should be a consideration for all suppliers.

Furniture industry and business associations can help show the way. The ACCC’s consumer awareness report provides pointers to the most effective ways of addressing the needs.

And consumer groups, parent groups and individuals can lobby their local furniture outlets to promote awareness and provide anchor kits.

Further information

Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading has an excellent web page explaining the tip-over hazard and how to prevent it.

The ACCC’s Product Safety Australia website has a new consumer fact card. These cards could be printed and distributed at point of sale.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission launched a campaign this month which includes a dedicated website www.anchorit.gov

Info about the need to anchor is on many (but not all) the child/home safety guidance sites and publications, including Kidsafe Victoria. Anyone producing home safety guidance should add this to their checklists.

Manufacturers may be interested in the US CPSC’s paper Tipover Prevention Project: Anchors without Tools.

Retailers and other suppliers may wish to use the Australian/New Zealand Standard as a reference, AS/NZS4935:2009 – Domestic furniture – Freestanding chests of drawers, wardrobes and bookshelves/bookcases – Determination of stability

I was inspired to write this article after seeing a presentation at this year’s International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organisation Annual Symposium by Lisa Siefert, founder of Shane’s Foundation – a US not for profit that promotes awareness of furniture tip-over hazards. Lisa lost her two-year-old son Shane in 2011 when a chest of drawers fell on him.

This issue is an example of product design hazards as described in one of my 2014 blog articles. Product Design – Avoiding Unintended Safety Consequences, talks about unintended product uses and users and the environment in which a product is used.

See also our media release on this topic and the Herald Sun article of 1 August 2015

Update

On 3 April 2017 the National Retail Association launched a new guide for retailers and industry. Read about it in my blog article New guide to prevent toppling furniture and TV injuries.

Netflix released a documentary in 2019 that explores issues around furniture tip-overs. See the blog article Netflix documentary – How cheap furniture is killing children – Lessons for all

Feature image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net