When outfitting a young child’s room, it’s easy to get caught up in the design details you can see: a cool color, decorative object, favorite toys. But choosing the right furniture means navigating a very real — yet hard to spot — danger that can threaten kids’ safety.
According to a Consumer Reports study released recently, injuries from furniture tip-overs have continued to rise. The latest data show that in 2016, 2,800 U.S. children were injured by tipping furniture, an increase of 33 percent over 2015. Though the reasons for the increase are not clear, researchers at Consumer Reports believe it may simply reflect the increasing availability of products that are not built with safety in mind.
Although an image of overloaded, toppling bookcases still comes to mind when we think of teetering furniture, among tip-over injuries to children, the most likely culprit is the dresser.
Dressers pose a danger to kids younger than 6 for several reasons. They’re in the bedroom, where children are most likely to be left alone to nap, so adults are less likely to stop them from climbing. They’re tempting to climb on; pulled-out drawers can look a lot like stairs. And we often place enticing objects on top of them, including heavy televisions.
“Over 80 percent of all the furniture tip-over injuries and deaths are children under the age of 6,” said James Dickerson, chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports. “They are the most vulnerable people.”
Yet, safety standards for dresser manufacturers are completely voluntary, meaning that manufacturers don’t have to comply with them and stores don’t have to use labeling to inform shoppers about products that don’t comply. In addition, Dickerson’s team found that the current industry standards, which call for a dresser to remain upright when a weight of 50 pounds is placed on an open drawer, aren’t stringent enough.
“We want the weight associated with the standard to be increased to 60 pounds,” he said, “which covers the average weight of children under 6 in the United States.”
After testing 24 dressers of different sizes and price points, Consumer Reports found dressers that passed the weight test in all categories, meaning it’s not price or materials that make the furniture safe, but good design.
“You can make a dresser of any shape or size that is safe,” Dickerson said, “because people are already doing it.”
He would like to see the voluntary standards become mandatory, a measure that has been supported by the furniture industry, which would welcome the level playing field created when all manufacturers are forced to produce dressers to the same standard. The change also has been called for by other consumer advocates, including Lisa Siefert of Chicago, who lost her son Shane to a dresser tip-over in 2011.
“The normal consumer has no clue,” Siefert said.
She’s right. Dickerson confirmed that his team’s research revealed no clear way that a shopper can tell whether a dresser will tip. “Just by looking at it or fiddling around with a dresser doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be stable,” he said.
Instead, he has two pieces of advice for parents: Avoid putting anything enticing or large on top of a dresser, and use wall anchors to attach the furniture to the wall.
“Anchor, anchor, anchor,” Dickerson said. Wall anchor kits often are included with new furniture. If not, hardware stores have them and they are easy to find online.
“This is a completely preventable issue,” he said.