AHFA Sponsors Furniture Safety Symposium

Bill Perdue, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the American Home Furnishings Alliance and chairman of the ASTM Subcommittee on Furniture Safety, along with  CPSC Commissioner Marietta Robinson at an all-industry furniture safety meeting August 18 in High Point, N.C.

Bill Perdue, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the American Home FurnishingsAlliance and chairman of the ASTM Subcommittee on Furniture Safety, along with CPSC Commissioner Marietta Robinson at an all-industry furniture safety meeting August 18 in High Point, N.C. // Photo by Michele Morris, AHFA

HIGH POINT, N.C., AUGUST 19, 2015 – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), ASTM International, UL, national child safety organizations and more than 40 manufacturers of residential and commercial furniture assembled here yesterday for a furniture safety symposium sponsored by the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA).

Representatives from the American Society of Furniture Designers, the North American Home Furnishings Association, the Consumer Electronics Association and manufacturers of tip restraints also were on hand for the day-long discussion focused on reducing the number of furniture and television tip-over accidents.

According to CPSC data, TV and furniture tip-over incidents have failed to decline in recent years, now killing a child every two weeks, on average, and sending 38,000 Americans, mostly children, to emergency rooms.

CPSC Commissioner Marietta Robinson opened the meeting by telling furniture manufacturers that it is “unrealistic” to think that the safety issue can be addressed by educating parents to use tip restraints.

“We must do more … and we must begin by designing furniture to be more stable,” she said.

Furniture stability is addressed in the ASTM voluntary tip-over standard, a specification first adopted in 2000 and updated three times since then, most recently in 2014. ASTM is a globally recognized leader in the development of international voluntary consensus standards.

The ASTM Subcommittee on Furniture Safety has jurisdiction over four standards. In addition to the furniture tip-over standard, there is an ASTM standard for furniture tip restraints, one for horizontal glass used for desks and tables and one for cedar chests. There are approximately 130 voting members on the subcommittee, according to AHFA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Bill Perdue, who chairs the committee.

Robinson said the CPSC favors voluntary industry standards when they are effective and when an industry can demonstrate widespread compliance. But she described the furniture tip-over standard as “insufficient” and said the industry must work toward “broader compliance.”

Many members of the subcommittee that oversees the furniture tip-over standard attended Tuesday’s meeting, which included a demonstration of the two tip tests specified in the standard.

The first test requires that the unit not tip over when all of the drawers and doors (if any) are opened. The second test requires drawers and/or doors to be opened one at a time and a 50-pound weight to be applied to the outside edge, again without the piece tipping over. The 50-pound weight is meant to simulate the weight of an average 5-year-old child. These two tests were demonstrated on three different furniture pieces during the meeting – all of which remained stable when the weights were applied.

Perdue noted that, although the standard requires that a tip restraint be enclosed with the piece of furniture, the restraints are not intended to be the primary safety measure in the standard.

“This is not an either/or proposition,” he emphasized repeatedly. “The standard requires the furniture to pass both of the performance tests. You cannot enclose tip restraints and then not test to the performance requirements.”

But Robinson pointed out that at least one company is using language in the introduction to the standard to claim that the performance requirements are not applicable if the consumer does not use the supplied tip restraints.

The introduction states that the specification does not apply “to products that are blatantly misused” by the consumer, including disregarding the instructions and warnings supplied with the product. Industry executives who worked on the standard said the introduction was intended to emphasize that products constructed to meet the specification could still fail if the product was misused by the consumer.

Robinson, who practiced as a trial attorney for 35 years before being appointed to the CPSC, said the introduction was “poorly written” and, therefore, created the potential legal loophole. She described the argument of the company in question as “unconscionable,” given that a consumer’s failure to use tip restraints is a “misuse” that is “completely foreseeable.” But she urged the industry to rewrite the introduction anyway.

A task group from the ASTM Subcommittee on Furniture Safety met during the last two hours of the August 18 symposium and set priorities based on the day’s presentations and discussions. The task group agreed rewriting the introduction to the tip-over standard to eliminate any possible legal loopholes should be the first priority.

Another update to the standard as a result of the symposium will likely be an increase in the standard 50-pound weight required for the performance tests. Arthur Lee, an engineer on the CPSC staff who worked with the appliance industry on a tip-over safety standard for freestanding ranges, pointed out that 50 pounds was the average weight of a five-year-old in 1977. The CPSC is now updating its data using more current weight averages. The task force agreed it should obtain the CPSC’s new data and update the tip-over standard accordingly.

Additional measures discussed included:

  • Furniture anchoring systems that would not require tools to install or that would not require holes in the wall.
  • Making tip restraints more conspicuous to the consumer, including making them a brighter color or having the furniture side of the tip restraint bracket “pre-installed” on the back of the furniture.
  • An industry label that distinguishes between compliant and non-compliant products.
  • More involvement from the television industry, including the possibility of having tip prevention information included in the remote control set-up tutorials on new televisions.

The task force will report on all of these measures at the next ASTM furniture safety subcommittee meeting in October.

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