Uncertainties remain with proposed mandatory tip-over developments

CPSC must review safety, testing standards in updated ASTM F2057 and decided whether to incorporate that into a mandatory safety standard for clothing storage units

HIGH POINT — Now that the STURDY Act has been signed into law, it would appear that the case goods industry has a clear path forward relating to what mandatory tip-over standard and testing methods it should follow.

But industry officials watching the matter closely say that it’s too soon to say whether testing methodologies that are part of STURDY (Stop Tip-Overs of Risky Dressers on Youth) will pass muster with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency has already published its own mandatory standard and must agree to adopt new testing methods that are part of STURDY as the new mandatory standard.

“The CPSC has to agree to adopt it,” Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Alliance told Home News Now relating to the testing methodologies that are part of STURDY. “It is an unknown whether they will adopt it.”

The AHFA has supported STURDY, which it believes provides manufacturers a “clear pathway to compliance” that has been supported by various stakeholders including parent groups, legislators and the industry at large.

It has said that STURDY offers the industry a series of “objective, repeatable and measurable tests that simulate real-world use of clothing storage furniture,” which includes testing with multiple drawers open and with all drawers loaded. Testing required by STURDY also accounts for the impact of stability when the units are positioned on carpeted surfaces and the impact of dynamic force when children play on or climb on the units.

By comparison, the AHFA has said the CPSC standard’s testing methodology has so much variability that it knows of “no testing lab that would agree to perform third-party verification of the manufacturers’ test results.”

The AHFA also takes issue with the CPSC’s use of a sliding scale of more or less stable communicated to consumers on a hangtag on the unit at the point of sale, noting that this fails to provide consumers any assurance of actual compliance.

“AHFA opposed the CPSC rule because the complex process of determining a unit’s stability rating added unnecessary ambiguity to compliance efforts,” said Bill Perdue, AHFA vice president, regulatory affairs. “Further, there was so much variability in the prescribed test methods that even six weeks after the rule’s publication, we know of no test lab that would agree to perform third-party verification of a manufacturer’s test results. There was no clear pathway for home furnishings companies to comply and, consequently, no clear pathway for regulators to enforce the rule.”

Counts echoed this, based on what AHFA is hearing from various testing labs.

“There aren’t any third-party labs that are willing to do an official certification (of the CPSC testing methods) at this point,” he said. “They are not willing to put their stamp on this … because they don’t understand the tests enough.”

The CPSC has reportedly offered to perform an informational session on the testing methodologies sometime this month. But Counts believes that this is too late for a rule planned to take effect in late May for units manufactured on or after that date.

The AHFA also believes that the redesign, testing, packaging and shipping costs resulting from the CPSC rule would “disproportionately impact lower-cost units and make all clothing storage furniture more expensive without improving safety.”

The AHFA, along with the Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, have communicated these and other concerns in a request for a stay of the rule pending a judicial review of the CPSC standard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Because of the complexity of the issue, the court on Dec. 28 denied performing an expedited review of the matter.

Some retailers have reportedly demanded that manufacturers comply with the CPSC standard on Jan. 1. This is more than four months before it is set to take effect.

But Counts said this is unrealistic given the legal and legislative process now in play.

“That is not a realistic request, especially since the third-party labs aren’t even willing to test it,” he said. “There is too much uncertainty and too many unanswered questions.”

So, at best, the industry remains in limbo as the clock continues to tick toward the May 24 effective date for the CPSC standard.

But there is also another timeline related to the STURDY Act, which officials are hoping will be the standard that the CPSC agrees to regarding the stability and safety of clothing storage units.

A revised safety standard adopted by ASTM International that meets the requirements of STURDY is expected to be published by mid-February, Counts said.

ASTM has 60 days from the Dec. 23 passage of STURDY to publish the revisions to ASTM F2057, and the CPSC has 90 days to review this standard and decide whether to adopt it as the mandatory standard mandated by STURDY.

Based on the legislation, STURDY would take effect 120 days after it is approved by the CPSC. But officials note there are any number of paths the CPSC could take regarding a revised ASTM F2057.

+ Based on the latest version of STURDY, the CPSC is required to consider an updated F2057, meaning the agency could adopt it in whole or in part, according to the AHFA, combining what they consider the best parts of each standard.

+ Observers also note that the CPSC could possibly ignore the updated standard and rely on its mandatory standard, which was published in late October of last year. That standard would take effect May 24 for products made on or after that date.

“So we have another several months of uncertainty before manufacturers will really know where we are headed,” one source said.

However, some believe that it will be a tall order for the CPSC not to accept an updated F2057 as it meets the requirements established by STURDY.

“It should be based on the legislation and that ASTM (F2057) meets all the requirements of STURDY — and that is what they (CPSC) are going to adopt, but we won’t know that until it happens,” Counts said.

In the meantime, AHFA is also hoping that the court issues a stay and possible vacatur of the CPSC standard, which it once again communicated in a Dec. 29 response to the CPSC’s motion asking the court to deny the stay filed on Dec. 22.

“We are hoping we will have some answers sooner than later,” Counts said of what exact standard ultimately will prevail. “Hopefully there will be a stay and possible vacatur of the current CPSC rule making to clear up the confusion and people will have a whole new timeline that they will be operating under with STURDY. … We know there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty out there and people need a target to shoot for. But we are pretty sure the current target will be moved, so that is a good thing.”

In a statement to Home News Now, the CPSC added: “CPSC remains committed to protecting families from tragedies associated with furniture tip-overs, with a focus on the federal safety standard approved by the commission in October and the recently passed STURDY Act.”

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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