This means that industry and consumer advocates along with concerned parents could play a role in creating safer motion furniture
HIGH POINT — With the revelation in late June about the creation of a new safety standard for recliners came a new set of regulatory concerns for the industry.
For those who might remember, this all fell on the heels of the nightmarish scenario the wood segment faced in meeting a new mandatory furniture stability standard. Those concerns were alleviated earlier this spring as the Consumer Product Safety Commission accepted a new voluntary standard that met the requirements of the STURDY (Stop Tip-Overs of Risky Dressers on Youth) Act that was developed through a consensus of industry and parent groups, legislators and other stakeholders all wanting to create safer clothing storage units.
Motion furniture resources reading about the latest regulatory issue may dread a similar scenario. However, there are key differences between the two that may ease the minds of those involved.
For one, the standard being discussed is a voluntary standard versus a mandatory standard like the one proposed by both STURDY and the CPSC. And in bringing the issue to light, the American Home Furnishings Alliance wanted to let the industry know what was happening behind the scenes.
For those that missed the original story, here is a quick recap. According to the AHFA, the CPSC wrote the ASTM’s Furniture Safety Subcommittee Chair Richard Rosati on April 27 asking the subcommittee to develop a performance standard for reclining furniture. In this letter, the CPSC’s Office of Hazard Identification and Reduction said it knows of 13 incidents with recliners, including seven fatalities involving children ages 8 months to 5 years old, that occurred between 2011 and 2021.
The AHFA noted that ASTM does not currently publish any standard relating to reclining furniture. But the organization also said that along with participating in the standard development process, it is also convening a new motion task group to review the incidents and consider possible requirements for the standard.
AHFA said that according to the CPSC, the incidents show two hazard patterns, including entrapment in the foot support mechanism from beneath the recliner, “which is compounded when the lift is motorized.” A second occurs due to entrapment in the top of the leg-rest when the furniture is in a reclined position, or when a child gets caught between the leg-rest and the seat cushion.
Thus the industry has been given a sense of where the safety issues occur. That in turn provides an idea of how to address the safety issues, which will be the subject of a July 10 meeting hosted by Rosati, who is also vice president of governmental affairs and industry standards at product testing, inspection and certification specialist Bureau Veritas.
An AHFA official said there is nothing in the Consumer Product Safety Act that prevents the CPSC from going directly to a mandatory standard. However, the official also noted that the CPSC typically prefers to let the voluntary standard process take place first. If the agency deems that the process or voluntary standard is insufficient — as injuries or deaths continue, for example — it then shifts to a mandatory rule-making process as we saw with the CPSC’s development of a mandatory standard for tip-over.
The good news with this latest safety standard is most importantly, it will help protect children from injury or worse related to reclining furniture. That remains at the heart of any safety standard and one that most everyone in the industry agrees is critical. Putting it succinctly (and this message is for you, Richard Trumka), no one wants their furniture to be unsafe and tied to injury or death of a child, particularly just to make a profit. Period. And most every company we know of goes to very great lengths to make sure their products are safe for consumers.
The other positive with this, the AHFA official noted, is that the industry is now aware of the safety issue and can address it head on by developing its own standard. This also gives the industry an opportunity to work with other involved stakeholders to develop a consensus standard. This was the long and arduous process that occurred with the STURDY Act that ultimately came up with a tip-over standard that made sense not only to the industry, but to parents and lawmakers alike.
The hope is that in developing a voluntary standard for recliners, a similar process will occur. But having industry engineers at the table — a group that probably receives too little credit for their manufacturing insights and dare we say their genius of product design and functionality — is critical as they are the best ones to help make safety enhancements that address the problems at hand now and in the future.