After years of legislative back and forth, the furniture industry has a final ruling on the Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act, or STURDY. The Consumer Product Safety Commission met today to issue a decision on the adoption of a mandatory standard that aims to prevent clothing storage unit (CSUs) tip-over incidents through more stringent testing. It did just that, approving a standard set forth by the third-party standards organization ASTM International as the new industry rule. But the CPSC stopped short of instituting an even stricter standard—one the organization itself had proposed.
Furniture tip-overs and resulting injuries and fatalities have been a legitimate and heartbreaking issue for decades. The CPSC cites 234 fatalities resulting from tip-overs from January 2000 through April 2022, 199 of whom were children. While many CSUs now come with anti-tip hardware that consumers can install themselves, parent-led lobbying groups have long pushed for the government to develop a federal safety standard (as opposed to the voluntary standards that have previously been in effect) that would apply more rigorous standards to the furniture itself.
The adoption of the ASTM standard is a win for the furniture manufacturing industry and its lobbyists, who vocally opposed a competing standard issued by the CPSC. The CPSC’s proposed standard threw the industry into chaos last year with its highly technical testing methods, which required determination of seemingly inscrutable elements such as “the tip-over moment” and “the threshold moment,” and called for the creation of a hangtag on CSUs that would display a safety rating. The complex standard was set to go into effect May 24, despite organizations like the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) filing multiple motions to delay and legally void the rule.
The fate of the CPSC standard changed with the passage of STURDY in December, when it was folded into the $1.7 trillion fiscal 2023 spending bill signed by President Biden. The final version of STURDY required the CPSC to adopt what’s known as ASTM F2057-23, a more straightforward standard than the CPSC’s offering. The ASTM standard is a series of three pass-fail tests, a much clearer goal than the CPSC’s proposed score-based testing.
In the CPSC’s decisional meeting today, the ASTM rule was passed three to one, with agency commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. casting the sole dissenting vote. During the proceedings, Trumka gave an impassioned speech in favor of the CPSC’s own standard, expressing vehement disapproval of the ASTM standard, as well as what he called “backroom lobbying” from the furniture industry. “These are the same folks who knew about this problem and refused to fix it for decades,” said Trumka Jr. “We all know that CPSC’s rule is much more protective than the industry’s rule. There’s no dispute on that. Everyone knows that under the industry rule, kids will die that would have been saved by our law.”
Despite the commissioner’s objections, the new standard passed and will go into effect 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register and a concurrent 30-day period for public comment has passed. All told, it points to an effective date in late August to mid-September.
Trumka Jr.’s fellow commissioner Peter Feldman took a more optimistic view. “This is a hard-fought win. There’s nothing we can do that will ease the loss that families have endured, but it’s squarely in our power to avoid them in the future. I believe that today’s actions will do that. The ASTM standard sets clear guidelines to protect children from furniture tip-overs and establishes clear obligations for furniture makers. … This should have happened sooner.”
Correction: April 21, 2023
An earlier version of this article stated that the new mandatory standard would be implemented in October. The CPSC has since reported that the rule will go into effect between late August and mid-September.
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