Home Hazards: Despite Warnings, Furniture Injuries and Deaths Continue

Whenever someone buys a large piece of furniture such as a dresser, bookshelf, or television, the directions clearly state the item should be securely attached to the wall to prevent tip-overs. Despite these warnings, however, in 2016 2,800 children under age 6 were injured by falling furniture in the home.

That represented an increase of 33% over 2015. What’s fueling the rise? Apparently, a combination of poor furniture design, failure to follow proper anchoring procedures, and even rising rental rates play a role in these unfortunate incidents.

Chronic Culprits

A significant number of furniture tip-over injuries and deaths can be linked directly to two brands — Bolton and Ikea — both of which issued major recalls between 2016 and 2017. The Bolton recall affected about 1,000 dressers, which were especially top heavy, which meant they were prone to tipping over if not anchored securely to a wall.

The 2016 Ikea recall involved as many as 29 million pieces, but it only took effect after 6 children were killed. The positive aspect of the Ikea recall is that, because it was so widespread, it drew public attention to the tip-over problem and raised awareness regarding the importance of anchoring furniture in the home.

Still, many parents — particularly those who live in rental units — are hesitant to make permanent changes to their living space by anchoring furniture. Until parents, caregivers, and even landlords gain a greater understanding of the sheer number of hazards in the average home, it won’t be enough.

Overlooked Issues

Though dresser, bookshelf, and television tip-overs have attracted public attention, another critical home hazard has fallen out of the spotlight since the 1990s: window blind cords. But was the shift in attention warranted?

During the 1990s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) carefully studied cord-strangulation injuries and fatalities and issued voluntary safety guidelines for cord manufacturers. But many parents erroneously assume that flaws in blind cord design have been fully corrected.

Because they believe the cords are safe, parents fail to follow proper safety procedures for window blind installation. Only by positioning furniture farther from windows, reading all cord-installation directions, and using supplementary cord-covering devices, however, can parents protect their children from strangulation risk.

Comprehensive Childproofing

In order to protect children from the many dangers around the home, parents must undertake a comprehensive childproofing campaign that goes beyond covering outlets and installing baby gates. Full and proper childproofing includes anchoring furniture, such as locking drawers and cabinets that contain dangerous items, removing or guarding glass-topped tables, and removing potentially hazardous houseplants.

The best way to ensure that a home is fully childproofed is for parents to learn to see the entire space from a child’s-eye view. For example, by sitting on the floor, parents can get a better sense of the temptations their child may spy when he or she moves about the home.

Parents should also check their residence for choking hazards. A useful rule is that if an item can pass through a toilet paper tube, a child could choke on it and it should be placed out of reach.

Finally, parents should be cautious when using vintage furniture such as highchairs and cribs, which may not meet modern safety standards.

Until home-safety education is furnished to every parent, and product safety guidelines become mandatory rather than a voluntary (as remains the case with window blinds), children will continue to suffer injuries and die because of seemingly harmless household objects.

In environments designed around adult needs and habits, parents need to be proactive about keeping their children safe.