Tip-over standard update: What does it mean for the industry?

HIGH POINT — The U.S. government’s approval Wednesday of a new safety standard for the stability of clothing storage units alarmed some in the case goods industry because of concerns with certain testing methods and an obscure product rating system that could be extremely hard to achieve without significantly raising the overall cost — and weight — of case goods affected by the measure.

What the Consumer Product Safety Commission approved Wednesday Oct. 19 with a vote of 3 to 1 is what some view as a competing standard with STURDY (Stop Tip-overs of Risky Dressers on Youth Act), which was approved by the U.S. Senate late last month.

The CPSC said that the mandatory federal standard will take effect in 180 days from its passage in the Federal Register, meaning that clothing storage units 27 inches and over that are made after the 180 days must comply with the new standard.

Members of the ASTM safety subcommittee demonstrate proposed testing methodologies at this past summer’s AHFA Regulatory Summit.

While performance testing in both STURDY and the CPSC mandatory stability rule both account for similar real world situations, such as units being placed on carpeted surfaces and with fully loaded drawers, The American Home Furnishings Alliance said that is where the similarities end.

It opposed the CPSC rule shortly after it was first released in July 2021, noting that there were multiple deficiencies in two test methods the CPSC has prescribed for determining product stability.

AHFA noted that product testing in the current voluntary standard, F2057, which is being amended to incorporate the proposed testing methods of STURDY, would be a pass/fail test, meaning the unit either passes or fails.

In contrast, the CPSC rule uses a complex series of calculations to arrive at a minimum safety ratio of 1, which would be incorporated onto a hangtag that aims to communicate to consumers the stability of each unit.

In an Oct. 20 memo to its members obtained by Home News Now, the AHFA said that in comments submitted last year, member companies and independent labs were unable to achieve consistent test results following the testing protocol outlined in the CPSC rule. It went on to say that “the complex data acquisition resulted in such variability, that AHFA maintained the rule would end up mired in legal challenges that could render it unenforceable.”

“AHFA supports a mandatory stability standard with measurable performance testing that manufacturers, retailers and test labs can reliably and consistently repeat and that regulators can reliably and consistently enforce,” AHFA wrote in the memo.

AHFA also detailed industry objections to the proposed hangtag system on products with a unit rated 1 being less stable and 2 being more stable.

Many of those who already meet the voluntary standard ASTM F2057 would not even score a 1, according to sources familiar with the approved federal standard.

To achieve a higher rating, case goods importers and manufacturers likely would need to significantly re-engineer case pieces. One industry expert said that this would add even more weight to the case, thus creating further risk of injury or death in the event of a tip-over.

“AHFA supports stability testing that provides consumers with an assurance of compliance — not a sliding scale of “more” or “less” stable indicated by mere fractions of differentiation in a vaguely defined two-point rating system,” its Oct. 20 memo said.

STURDY incorporates real life scenarios involving clothing storage units, such as the use of a test weight of 60 pounds, up from 50 in the current voluntary standard.

It also requires the testing units on carpeted surfaces and with drawers open and filled with clothing and the use of dynamic force to simulate a child climbing on the unit or pulling it forward, both of which have resulted in many tip-over injuries and deaths over the years.

An amended version of STURDY, approved by the Senate last month, would direct the CPSC to adopt an updated version of F2057 as the mandatory standard as long as it incorporates the new testing methodologies required by STURDY. The AHFA said this would then supersede the CSPC rule adopted this week.

“AHFA has long supported a mandatory standard that ensures all manufacturers and importers are adhering to the same safety specifications designed to protect children from potential furniture tip-overs,” said AHFA CEO Andy Counts at the time the Senate version was passed. “The amended STURDY provides the best opportunity to accomplish this goal.”

The Senate version of STURDY is now being reconciled with a previous House version before being sent to U.S. President Joseph Biden’s desk for final approval.

Bill Perdue, vice president of regulatory affairs at AHFA, told Home News Now that he believes that revisions to the ASTM standard meet the language and intent of what the CPSC has proposed and approved.

“We think it is a high bar to look at F2057 and say that it doesn’t meet the standard,” he said.

“If STURDY passes, these conditions would be replicated in measurable pass/fail tests that have undergone an inter-laboratory review, confirming that they are consistently repeatable and reproducible,” Perdue said in the AHFA memo. “Only with these strong parameters in place can non-compliant products be identified and removed from the marketplace. This has been one of AHFA’s top priorities for the last two decades.”

But parents groups said they are still waiting for this revised standard to be made public and wanted to make sure that something was put in place sooner versus later to ensure the safety of children. They believe the current voluntary standard is weak and not effective enough to prevent tip-overs and have urged CPSC to develop a strong mandatory safety standard for many years.

“We support either one,” said Dev Gowda, assistant director at Kids In Danger. “One comes from Congress and one is from the CPSC. “We believe both are strong and would prevent furniture tip-overs. The goal of both is to prevent tip-overs and save lives.”

“We applaud today’s CPSC vote to finalize a rule for furniture stability,” said Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America of the Oct. 19 vote. “This decision is profound and will save lives. Too many children have died and too many families have suffered tragic losses due to furniture tip-overs. Their unimaginable losses and tireless advocacy have made this rule a reality.”

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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