Citing the deaths of two children, including a West Chester boy killed when his dresser toppled onto him, IKEA and federal regulators Wednesday announced a recall affecting 27 million units and said the company would distribute new anchor kits to tether the furniture to the wall.
In a statement issued with the Consumer Products Safety Commission, IKEA said that it had received 14 reports of dressers from its popular MALM line tipping over and that four resulted in injuries.
One victim was 2-year-old Curren Collas of West Chester, whose February 2014 death was chronicled earlier this year by The Inquirer. That story also examined the arduous process of setting safety standards for furniture-makers, and cited parents and medical and safety experts who have been working to raise awareness about what they say is a growing danger.
Furniture tip-overs - most often from unsecured dressers and televisions - lead to more than 38,000 emergency-room visits in the United States each year, according to the safety commission.
IKEA's move Wednesday was part of what the Swedish home-furnishing giant said was a campaign "to raise awareness of this important home safety issue."
It prompted praise but also a call for furniture-makers to do more.
"We know that industry can make more stable furniture," Elliot F. Kaye, the safety commission chairman, said in an interview. "We know it's not expensive. What's been lacking is a will to genuinely solve the problem."
Children, apt to climb on furniture, are especially susceptible to tip-overs. In 2011, the last year for which reliable data are available, tip-overs killed 49 children nationwide - 21 more than the year before, hospital data gathered by the safety commission show.
Experts are unsure what is causing the spike. But they worry that consumers buying flat-screen televisions have placed their old sets on unsuitable furniture such as dressers, creating a volatile mix.
Furniture manufacturers have worked to address the threat with a voluntary industry standard that requires clothing units to come with warning labels and a tip restraint - usually an anchor that the buyer must tether to a wall.
The unit is also expected to be stable on its own, and the standard requires that dressers won't tip when a drawer is extended and a 50-pound weight, simulating the weight of a child, is added.
The committee that drafts the standard - composed of industry, safety advocates, and parents of children killed by tip-overs - has considered, but not adopted, more stringent standards. And some members have expressed frustration with the pace of the revision process.
Kaye said Wednesday that he thinks the latest version of the standard - instituted in October after a year-and-a-half of delays - could be improved. He said he is considering whether the commission should press for a mandatory standard but said that would be a lengthy process.
"Industry can solve this problem now," he said.
Gary Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance in Columbus, Ohio, echoed Kaye's comments, saying that once a product is in homes, the chance of it being repaired is slim.
Only 14 percent of all children's products recalled in 2013 were successfully corrected or destroyed, according to a May report from Kids in Danger, a nonprofit focused on product safety.
"Certainly the step that IKEA is making is a good one," Smith said. "But in many ways it's too late."
Bill Perdue, the chair of the standards committee, said the group takes its role seriously. He said the current standard is thorough.
"We've always stated one death is too many," said Perdue, vice president of regulatory affairs at the American Home Furnishings Alliance. "However, if a tip restraint isn't installed and is misused it can cause problems."
In the two deaths cited by IKEA, the dressers had not been secured before they toppled.
Collas' mother, Jackie Collas, has filed a lawsuit against IKEA, saying the dresser was defective. She has previously said she hoped IKEA would recall its MALM dresser.
In a statement released Wednesday through her attorney, Collas expressed relief at the news.
"I am incredibly happy to know this information is out there," she said. "And that other families will be spared this heartache."
Four months after her son's death, a 23-month-old boy in Snohomish, Wash., died after becoming trapped beneath a three-drawer MALM dresser. That unit was less than three feet tall, according to the company.
IKEA said it was aware of three other deaths from tip-overs of its chests and dressers since 1989. But it has maintained its products are extensively tested and its dressers are safe when "permanently attached to the wall, in accordance with the warnings and instructions."
The company, whose U.S. operations are based in Conshohocken, said it was offering tip restraints on 27 million dressers, seven million of them from the MALM line.
The units - including the three- and four-drawer chests and two styles of six-drawer chests - went on the market in 2002 and range in price from about $80 to $200.
The company is not offering to take back or replace the dressers, and an IKEA spokeswoman Wednesday described the action as a repair program, not a recall. The Consumer Product Safety Commission uses recall as an umbrella term that applies to repair, replacement, or warning programs.
In a statement, Patty Lobell, IKEA's U.S. commercial manager, said the company was "committed to helping raise the awareness of this serious home safety issue and to continue to provide consumers with the tools and knowledge they need to prevent these accidents."
IKEA for years has provided tip restraints with its products. But safety advocates and manufacturers worry that consumers routinely don't bother installing the restraints provided by many furniture companies.
Lisa Siefert, a Chicago mother whose 2-year-old son, Shane, was killed in 2011 when his dresser fell on him during his nap time, said she was still surprised by how few parents know of the risk. Wednesday's announcement will only raise awareness, she said.
"I know what these families have gone through and my heart goes out to them," Siefert said of the cases involving IKEA. "It's too late for us. But it's not too late for others."
Consumers can receive free wall- anchoring kits at IKEA retail stores, by calling 888- 966-4532, or by visiting IKEA-USA.