THE ROBINSON REPORT #23: Furniture is best when it is safe and STURDY!

I am delighted that Senators Casey (D-PA), with Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Klobuchar (D-MN) as co-sponsors, and Congresswoman Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the “Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act” or “STURDY Act” (see news reports here and here). The STURDY Act directs the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) to promulgate a mandatory stability standard for “free standing clothing storage units to protect children from tip-over related death or injury” under Section 553 of title 5 of the U.S. Code. This is a crucial step towards preventing furniture tip-overs and saving lives.

As I have previously said, furniture and television tip-overs kill a child every two weeks and injure a child every 24 minutes. Many of those injured or killed are under three years old. This is a very serious hidden hazard in our homes.

Currently, there is no mandatory standard requiring furniture stability, and the voluntary standard is not sufficient to keep furniture from tipping over in many real-life scenarios. To make matters worse, some furniture manufacturers refuse to even meet the minimal voluntary standard.

One possible solution is for people to anchor their furniture to the wall. While I am an active supporter of our Anchor It! campaign, there are many reasons why it is not the sole solution to this problem. First, people have to be aware of this danger. Second, anchoring requires a drill and stud finder and organizing furniture around the location of the stud. And, third, many renters and those in public and military housing would be assessed a penalty for drilling holes in their walls. This leaves our most vulnerable populations exposed to unreasonable risk of injury or death.

The solution is to require that our furniture be stable. The STURDY Act will help us achieve that goal by enabling the CPSC to promulgate a mandatory stability standard that the CPSC can enforce.

One might ask, “Why hasn’t the CPSC already enacted a mandatory standard without the need for this legislation?” The truth is that our statute makes it virtually impossible to pass such a standard due to the onerous requirements that are unique to our agency. We are required to make a number of findings, including a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed rule AND a cost-benefit analysis of all alternatives we rejected.

Senators Casey, Blumenthal, and Klobuchar and Congresswoman Schakowsky recognized the strong need for a mandatory stability standard for our furniture and were aware of the rulemaking barriers the CPSC faces under its statute. When Congress really wants a mandatory rule, as they did when addressing hazards posed by infant and nursery products, they mandated that we do rulemaking under the very different analysis requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) similar to other regulatory agencies. The STURDY Act instructs the CPSC to promulgate a rule under the APA within 540 days. The STURDY Act also provides that if a voluntary standard is passed within 180 days of the passage of the Act, and CPSC determines both that the standard “adequately protects children from tip-over related death or injury,” and that substantial compliance is likely, that voluntary standard will become a mandatory standard. This follows the highly successful model of mandatory rules for durable infant products adopted under Section 104 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (“CPSIA”). Since the passage of CPSIA in 2008, CPSC has promulgated sixteen much-needed rules under Section 104 to address serious hazards such as drop side cribs. In sharp contrast, CPSC has only been able to promulgate one rule in over ten years under the requirements of its own statute.

We at the CPSC will work diligently with industry, as we always do, to draft a new voluntary standard that will truly protect children from the hidden hazard of furniture tip-overs. If such a standard is not passed or there is insufficient compliance with the new standard, however, the STURDY Act would require our agency to do what is necessary to protect our children from dangerously unstable furniture through a mandatory standard. The tragedy of household furniture tip-overs has gone on far too long, and by requiring furniture to be inherently stable, and requiring manufacturers to comply with the law, the STURDY Act would be a substantial step towards ending tip-overs and saving lives.

Thank you again, Senators Casey, Blumenthal, and Klobuchar and Congresswoman Schakowsky for all you do to help us fulfill our health and safety mission to keep consumers safe!

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