Spotlight: New proposed legislation to prevent furniture tip over

Foreword by Jeremy Schutz, senior corporate sales manager at Sedgwick:

Welcome to the latest edition of spotlight. This month, Carolyn W. Wagner at Crowell & Moring LLP shares her thoughts and opinions on the STURDY (Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth) Act, which aims to prevent furniture tip-over incidents that can result in injury or death.

The recent reintroduction of the STURDY Act by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL in the U.S. House and by Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA in the Senate, is being hailed as a long-overdue remedy to a deadly problem. The legislation — which passed in the House in 2019, but failed to make it to the Senate floor — is buttressed by advocacy groups who cite current voluntary standards (ASTM F2057-19) for storage units as being insufficient to prevent tip overs. Such groups are seeking stronger mandatory stability standard within one year of enactment.

Product safety advocate groups have long criticized the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for a perceived lack of oversight and enforcement. By late 2020, it was clear that CPSC leadership was responding with a more aggressive and vocal approach to its enforcement actions. Whether or not Congress passes the STURDY Act this time around, furniture manufacturers need to be ready for more aggressive CPSC regulation, including more frequent, well-publicized recalls.

Read on for more insight from Carolyn.

Recent calls for Congress to re-visit H.R. 2211 would require the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to promulgate a consumer product safety rule for free-standing clothing storage units to protect children from tip-over related death or injury. Here's what we know so far.

As indicated in our May 2020 analysis of dresser tip overs, these incidents have been a main focus for the CPSC and consumer advocacy groups in recent years. A CPSC report indicates that 571 people died from furniture tip overs between 2000 and 2019. 82% were children aged anywhere from 1 month to 14 years. A survey conducted by the CPSC showed that 41% of respondents did not anchor furniture in their homes.

Currently, there is no mandatory standard requiring manufacturers to test furniture to specific stability and safety standards. The current voluntary standard, ASTM F2057 – 19, is recognized by the industry and the CPSC as required best practice in order to prevent tip overs from dressers and other clothing storage units.

H.R. 2211 makes it much easier for the CPSC to get to a final rule to prevent deaths from furniture tip overs. Normally, CPSC rulemaking is initiated by the CPSC under section 9 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. § 2058), which requires the CPSC to publish proposed rules with preliminary analysis containing: (1) a cost benefit analysis; (2) a description of any reasonable alternatives to the proposed rule, together with a summary description of their potential costs and benefits, and a brief explanation of why such alternatives should not be published as a proposed rule; and (3) the CPSC’s reasoning regarding why other rules/voluntary standards already in place are insufficient to address the issue. If this bill passes, the CPSC will be allowed to initiate the rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. § 553) (“APA”), a much more streamlined process.

The proposal in the STURDY Act aligns with CPSC’s Acting Chairman Robert Adler’s recent remarks commenting on his desire for “less cumbersome rulemaking of the sort that was added to the agency’s statutes some 40 years ago. Despite the claims that these extra procedures and mandatory findings would produce better rules, 40 years of history show that all they’ve done is produce fewer rules, with no discernible quality improvement, and at a great cost to consumer safety.” (Acting Chairman Robert Adler’s ICPHSO 2021 Keynote Address, Feb. 24, 2021.)

If enacted, the new mandatory standard would increase the weight used in testing to mimic the force of heavier children and take into consideration real life conditions, like the fact that dressers can be placed on different types of floor coverings.

Download the full PDF copy of this spotlight feature for a close look at how the newly proposed bill, H.R. 2211, compares to the current voluntary standard ASTM F2057-19.

About our guest author:

Carolyn W. Wagner serves as counsel at Crowell & Moring LLP. Working out of Washington D.C., Carolyn advises clients on the full range of consumer protection issues with particular focus on consumer product safety and regulatory compliance. In this role, Carolyn works with clients to identify and analyze potential legal risks associated with the manufacture, distribution or sale of consumer products.

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