Furniture and TV Tip-Over Hazards

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
"A TV can be a child’s best friend, but it also can be a parent’s worst enemy,” says the mother of a 3-year-old who was crushed by a television, according to a 2009 Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study. The watchdog organization recently published an 18-year study on the dangers of furniture tip-overs, including startling findings that should be heeded by inspectors and parents alike.

Dressers can easily tip over onto children
 Here are some facts and figures from the CPSC study:
  • From 1990 to 2007, an average of nearly 15,000 children under 18 visited emergency rooms each year for injuries received from furniture tip-overs. The number shows a 40% increase in injury reports over the duration of the study, hinting that the problem is growing worse. About 300 fatalities were reported.
  • Most injuries were to children 6 and under, and resulted from televisions tipping over.
  • The most severe injuries were head injuries and suffocation resulting from entrapment.
  • More than 25% of the injuries occurred when children pulled over or climbed on furniture.
  • Most of the injured children were males under 7 who suffered blows to the head.
  • The newer flat-screen TVs are not as front-heavy as the older, traditional TV sets, which means they may be less likely to tip over. Experts warn, however, that flat-screen TVs are still heavy to children, and they often have sharp, dangerous edges.
  • In 2006, Pier 1 Imports announced the recall 4,300 TV stands after one of them resulted in the death of a child in Canada.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has established standards for manufacturers which stipulate that dressers, chests of drawers and armoires should be able to remain upright when any doors or all drawers are open two-thirds of the way, or when one drawer or door is opened and 50 pounds of weight are applied to the front, simulating a climbing child. In addition, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) requires units to be able to remain upright when placed on a 10-degree angle with 70 pounds on top, to simulate the weight of a television. The ASTM and UL standards are voluntary, however, and many manufacturers will cut corners to save money. And despite efforts by the CPSC to enforce these standards, sub-standard furniture is still regularly sold at retail stores.

Parents can minimize the risks posed to their children from furniture tip-overs by practicing the following strategies:
  • Supervise young children at all times.
  • Place televisions low to the ground and near the back of their stands.
  • Strap televisions and furniture to the wall with heavy safety straps or L-brackets. Many of these devices do not require that any holes be drilled into furniture, and they can secure items up to 100 pounds.Safety Straps for furniture and TVs
  • Heavy items, such as televisions, should be placed far back on a dresser rather than at the front edge, which would shift the center of gravity forward and make the whole assembly more likely to tip over. Ideally, the center of gravity for furniture should be as low as possible, with the furniture placed back against a wall. 
  • Open the top drawer and apply pressure to see if the piece gives or rocks forward. Then, open all the drawers to see if the piece remains stable.
  • Install drawer stops that prevent drawers from opening to their full extent, as a full extension can cause a dangerous forward-shift in the center of gravity.
  • Keep heavier items on lower shelves and in lower drawers.
  • Never place items that may be attractive to children, such as toys, candy or a remote control, on the top of a TV or piece of furniture.
  • Do not place heavy televisions on dressers or shelving units that were not designed to support such weight.
  • Place electrical cords out of the reach of children, and teach kids not to play with them. A cord can be used to inadvertently pull a TV, and perhaps its supporting shelf, onto a child.
  • Read the manufacturer's instructions to learn about additional tips and hazards regarding the placement and use of your TV and furniture.

Remember that furniture is not designed to be safe. There is no requirement for furniture makers or sellers to implement well-established – but voluntary – safety standards. And there is no requirement to provide anchors for furniture that may be unsafe.

And tip-over risks are not just a problem for cheaply made or tall furniture. If it is heavy, hard to move, expensive, or low, it will not necessarily be stable. None of these characteristics guarantees the furniture's stability.

In summary, TVs and furniture can easily tip over and crush a small child if safety practices are not followed. 

Special thanks to Dawn Sacks for her valuable input on this article.