March 22, 2018
Furniture Tip-Overs: A Hidden Hazard in Your Home
Some makers do it right, but children still die from unstable dressers. And there are no laws to help prevent future tragedies.
After church one Sunday afternoon in 2016, Janet McGee waited for her 22-month-old son, Ted, to wake from his afternoon nap. As family members busied themselves in their Apple Valley, Minn., home, McGee checked on Ted every 15 minutes or so. The last time she peeked in, Ted wasn’t in bed, and she noticed that the dresser had toppled over.
In an instant, the horrible reality set in. “He’s under there, he’s under there,” McGee remembers thinking. “I lifted the dresser up, and I started digging through the drawers because all of the drawers had fallen out. And there he was at the bottom. His face was purple. His eyes were half open. I screamed for my husband to come. I started CPR on him. My 11-year-old son called 911.”
Paramedics rushed Ted to the hospital, but medical staff couldn’t revive him. McGee remembers holding his hand at the hospital. “It was cold, and I knew.”
The weight of the dresser had suffocated the little boy. And though family members were within earshot, no one heard a crash because Ted’s body absorbed the impact of the falling dresser. McGee and her husband, Jeremy, assumed their tragedy was a freakish occurrence. But they soon discovered that Ted was just one of many victims of what safety regulators categorize as a “furniture tip-over,” a sometimes fatal event affecting thousands of U.S. families each year. The McGees also learned that the dresser, an Ikea Malm, had been linked to previous tip-over deaths. Ikea did not decide to recall the product until four months after Ted died.
The tip-over problem is epidemic: Someone in the U.S. is injured every 17 minutes by a furniture, television, or appliance tip-over, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. After declining for a few years, estimated tip-over injuries for children younger than 6 involving dressers and other clothing storage units increased in 2016 to 2,800 from 2,100 the year before, or by 33 percent, according to the CPSC.
Dressers and other clothing storage units account for at least 11 percent of furniture tip-over injuries, according to the CPSC. But it’s the number of tip-over deaths in the category—there were 195 reported to the CPSC between 2000 and 2016—that particularly makes it a crisis.
Podcast: Hear Moms Tell Their Stories
To protect Ted in his home, the McGees installed safety gates, covered power outlets, and latched all cabinets—but they had never heard of a furniture tip-over. “It was just this little, tiny window of time where your life changes forever,” McGee told Consumer Reports. “Instead of planning his second birthday party that was supposed to be Elmo-themed, we were planning his funeral.”
“I had no idea that they made anything to strap down furniture.”
—KEISHA BOWLES, CONWAY, ARK. Bowles’ daughter, Sydney Chance, was killed after a dresser and the TV atop it fell on her in 2012. Sydney Chance was 2 years old.
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