At first glance, a child’s dresser seems like the most innocuous thing in the house.
But after more than 300 deaths and thousands of injuries involving dressers since 2000, consumer advocates and parents of children killed in tip-over accidents are calling for tougher, mandatory standards for the piece of furniture that is a staple in nearly every home with a child.
A child is killed every 10 days on average from furniture or TV tip-overs, according to government statistics.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston), chair of the subcommittee overseeing the Consumer Product Safety Commission, plans to introduce the STURDY Act — the Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act — after a hearing next week on the agency’s activities.
The legislation would force the safety commission to undertake a broader array of tests on all clothing storage units and come up with a mandatory safety standard that all manufacturers would have to meet.
“The fact that children had to die in order for this to come to the forefront is completely unacceptable,” Schakowsky said at a press conference Wednesday.
Unlike baby cribs, which are subject to federal safety standards, other furniture doesn’t have to meet any mandatory stability standard.
The furniture industry governs itself with voluntary standards. There is no requirement that manufacturers meet even that voluntary bar.
As a result, there’s no way for consumers to know whether a dresser is safe just by looking at it, safety advocates say.
Even shorter dressers, under 30 inches high — which are exempted even from the voluntary standards — have been implicated in deaths and injuries from tip-overs.
Lisa Siefert of Barrington Hills is one of several mothers nationwide pushing for stricter laws. Her 2-year-old son, Shane, was killed eight years ago when his dresser tipped over on top of him.
“We were the family that purchased all the safety products,” Siefert said. “I baby-proofed my whole house and I didn’t know about this.”
Child safety advocates stress that real-world conditions are often different than the situations current voluntary standards are meant to address.
The voluntary industry standard now tests for stability by hanging a 50-pound weight from a single opened dresser drawer.
In real life, curious toddlers often open more than one drawer and pull up on their dressers in their natural quest to explore.
In the early mornings or at nap times — when these tragedies often occur — often parents aren’t in the room when they happen.
Janet McGee of suburban Minneapolis said she put her 22-month-old son, Ted, in his room for a nap on Valentine’s Day in 2016. When she went to check on him, she saw to her horror that his dresser had fallen forward, pinning him. He died four hours later at a hospital.
“We never heard the dresser fall because his little body absorbed the noise,” McGee said.
Devastated, she said she assumed it was a freak accident until she learned about all the other toddlers who had been killed by falling furniture.
“Had the STURDY Act been in effect … Ted might still be with us today,” McGee said.
A safety commission spokeswoman said staff is already “doing technical work with clothing storage units to inform both the voluntary standards and the federal mandatory rule making.”
“As with any legislation passed by Congress and signed into law, CPSC stands ready to act,” she said.
Absent a mandatory standard, anchoring furniture to walls can help prevent tip-overs, but not every parent — especially parents in rental housing, who often aren’t allowed to drill into walls — takes that step.
In 2016, IKEA undertook a voluntary recall of 27 million dressers implicated in deaths and injuries.
But IKEA’s eight-drawer Hemnes dresser, which tipped onto and killed a 2-year-old Florida toddler on Mother’s Day in 2017, still has not been recalled, said Nancy Cowles, executive director of the Chicago nonprofit, Kids in Danger, which backs mandatory safety standards.
Cowles stood next to that model of dresser at the press conference Wednesday.
“I just bought this,” Cowles said. “They did not recall this one because they assert that it meets the voluntary standard.”
An IKEA spokeswoman said the Hemnes model is safe “when assembled and used according to the instructions provided.”
“For decades, IKEA dressers have been sold with instructions to attach dressers to the wall and wall attachment kits,” the spokeswoman said, adding that free attachment kits are given to any consumer who requests one.
Parents can check SaferProducts.gov for recall information and to file complaints. More information and tips are at KidsInDanger.org.
The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association did not respond to a request for comment.
The CPSC is pushing its “Anchor It!” campaign aimed at getting parents to anchor all furniture and TVs, which can topple off TV stands and dressers.