Furniture dangers with small children

Dangers of kids climbing on furniture

A 3-year-old Chicago girl was killed when a bookcase toppled onto her.
A Pennsylvania family laid to rest their 2-year-old boy after he somehow pulled over a set of dresser drawers, crushing himself.
A few weeks earlier, an 8-year-old died at his Boston-area school after a rolling cart with a heavy TV on top flipped over, hitting him.
And the list goes on and on.

Roughly every two weeks, somewhere in America, a child dies after a television set, heavy furniture or an appliance falls onto them, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

That agency, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tracks these accident reports, which are staggering. Consider:

  •   More than 43,000 “falling furniture” injuries are reported annually, and about 60 percent involve children.
  •   Of the 349 deaths from being hit by a toppling TV or other furniture or appliance between 2000 and 2011, 85 percent involved children younger than age 9.
  •   Televisions are involved in 62 percent of the deaths. In the majority of the deaths, the young victim was struck in the head while climbing on a piece of furniture in a bedroom.

Concussions, cuts and traumatic brain injuries are the most frequently seen injuries in these types of accidents, according to the CDC. What makes the accidents even more heartbreaking is that relatively inexpensive furniture anchors or other safety measures could have prevented or lessened the injuries, according to Erika G. Janes, R.N., coordinator of Safe Kids Louisville, a program led by the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Kosair Children’s Hospital.

“These injuries can and do happen in our community. We continue to see these very severe, preventable injuries at both Kosair Children’s Hospital and Kosair Children’s Medical Center – Brownsboro,” Janes said. “Parents need to walk through their home, look for potential tip-over hazards and use the appropriate bolts and/or straps to stabilize these areas.”

There are no mandatory industry standards for stabilizing dressers, wardrobes, TV stands or other heavy items, although voluntary guidelines went into effect in 2000, according to the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA). The guidelines have been upgraded since then, though they remain voluntary.

One such guideline calls for a dresser to remain upright when one drawer is partially open and a 50-pound weight is placed at the drawer’s front center — simulating a 5-year-old child creating a “booster step.” This “stair step” scenario, perhaps to reach a toy on top, or a favorite shirt in the top drawer, can prove deadly — especially if no adults are nearby.

Parents offer a variety of reasons for not taking precautions, ranging from having no idea such accidents occurred to not wanting to put holes in their walls. (Note to grandparents or anyone else who has young visitors: Accidents can happen at your house, even if the kids live elsewhere.)

“Anchor it and protect a child,” said Janes, who noted that straps and other anchoring devices are sold at all home improvement and department stores.

Child safety advocates urge these precautions:

  •   Anchor dressers, wardrobes, book cases, wall units and TV stands to the wall or the floor using the proper size anchor and a stud-finder to make sure it will not pull out.   
  •   Use low, sturdy furniture for TVs, and anchor it all: The TV to the furniture or wall, and the furniture to the wall or floor. Push the TV as far back on the furniture as possible, so it will not flip if bumped or if a drawer is opened.
  •   Keep remote controls, toys and other items that might attract children off TV stands or high furniture.
  •   Keep TV and/or cable cords out of sight. If they are pulled or tripped over, the television or stand could fall.
  •   Supervise children in rooms where these safety tips have not been followed.

As a new parent, I remember thinking such precautions were a bit over the top, until I heard horror stories from the news, other parents — even my own family. I found out that the faint scars on my father’s shoulders and back were from a childhood injury when he used the oven door as a step ladder. His weight caused the oven to tip, and he was scalded by a pot of boiling water from the stovetop.

Today’s major appliances normally include anti-tip brackets, though not everyone installs them during setup. To be safe, make sure they’re installed on free-standing kitchen ranges, stoves, washers and dryers, and top-heavy furniture.

– Mickey H. Gramig