Two months after announcing a recall affecting millions of dressers, federal safety regulators on Thursday urged manufacturers to enact stronger stability standards to limit the risk of children being injured or killed by furniture that topples forward.
At a sometimes-heated meeting in Conshohocken, a team of federal engineers came armed with proposed changes they said would improve dresser safety.
"We're trying to head off the incidents," said Arthur Lee, an engineer at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "If you would rather wait for those children to die before we do that -."
But the call was met with resistance from industry executives, who said the agency had not proved the standard is not preventing tip-overs. They pointed to evidence that televisions being placed on unsuitable furniture cause the bulk of fatalities.
"We're doing all of this without any incident data to even say that it's necessary," Gene Barrow, the product engineer manager for Bassett Furniture, a Virginia company.
In July, Ikea and the safety agency announced the recall of 27 million dressers, citing the deaths of two toddlers, including Curren Collas of West Chester, who were pinned and suffocated beneath Malm dressers sold by Ikea. The Swedish furniture giant also unveiled a safety awareness campaign and offered customers new brackets to better tether their units to the wall.
More than 75 children nationwide died in 2010 and 2011 when unsecured furniture or appliances toppled onto them, according to hospital data. Though many dresser manufacturers include restraints with their units, advocates worry that customers don't understand the risk and don't install them.
The safety standard under debate Thursday was drafted by a committee of furniture industry members, safety advocates, and federal regulators under the guidance of ASTM, a Conshohocken nonprofit.
Although it is voluntary, many manufacturers comply with the standard, which requires dressers to include warning labels and a restraint to tether the product to the wall.
The furniture also must not topple even when all of the drawers are extended or when one drawer is extended and a 50-pound weight - simulating the weight of a child - is added.
Lee, the engineer, suggested increasing the limit to 60 pounds, a standard that could force manufacturers to make potentially costly changes to their products.
Many in the room countered that the 50-pound limit was sufficient. They also questioned whether if the CPSC's suggestions were grounded in data that showed flaws with the standard.
"Right now, we don't know that the standard we have isn't working," said Harrison Toms of Virginia-based Hooker Furniture. "And my gut feeling is, it is. . . . We're not the problem. The problem is - and where the focus needs to be - how do you get companies to [comply with] the current standard?"
Lee and his colleagues suggested other changes, most of which the committee pledged to study. The only proposal that gained clear support was one requiring dresser warning labels to clearly state that furniture meets industry standards, something many agreed could help consumers more easily spot safe products.
Bill Perdue, an officer at the American Home Furnishings Alliance and chairman of the standards committee, said the group is next scheduled to meet in April but is likely to do so sooner. The last revision to the standard, published in 2014, took more than four years to finish.