Citing reports of deadly tip-over accidents, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. said Wednesday that he was preparing to introduce legislation that could require manufacturers to make their furniture more stable.
In a letter, the Pennsylvania Democrat also challenged seven of the largest U.S. retailers to take immediate steps to raise awareness of tip-overs, including selling restraints near products that have the potential to topple if not anchored to a wall.
"It's kind of hard to comprehend that with all of the advances in technology . . . when we have the means to stop this, that we're not taking the action that we need to take," Casey said.
The details of his proposed legislation are still being worked out, he said, but Casey said his goal with both efforts is to curb what are largely preventable deaths.
Tip-overs injure more than 38,000 people each year, most of them children, and cause dozens of deaths, according to emergency-room data. Some experts partly blame a recent surge in accidents on consumers upgrading to flat-screen televisions and placing old sets on furniture not intended to carry that weight.
Casey said his focus on the issue was prompted in part by Inquirer reports last year, and the 2014 death of Curren Collas, a 2-year-old West Chester boy crushed beneath a tipped Ikea dresser.
Citing the death of Collas and a second toddler from Washington state, Ikea and the Consumer Product Safety Commission in July announced a repair program - a type of recall - for 27 million dressers that government officials said were at serious risk of toppling if not anchored to the wall. Ikea offered to send new restraint kits to consumers.
In the interview Wednesday, Casey said his office was working with the CPSC on possible legislation.
One version under consideration would require all U.S. manufacturers to reevaluate the stability of their furniture, in conjunction with the safety agency, and make improvements.
It's unclear how those changes would be enforced.
Such a bill would be the second attempt by a member of Congress from Pennsylvania to pass legislation aimed at making furniture safer. Former Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz twice introduced legislation that would have required many manufacturers to provide tip restraints with products.
Her bill, named after Katie Elise Lambert, a 3-year-old girl from Huntingdon Valley who died in a tip-over in 2005, never got traction.
A spokesman from the agency declined to comment Wednesday on Casey's plan, saying it was too early in the process.
In the letter sent Wednesday, the senator challenged seven retailers - Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Costco, Lowe's, and Home Depot - to improve efforts to educate consumers about tip-overs and to make safety devices more available. Many retailers do not stock tip-restraints in stores, meaning customers must buy them online or at specialty stores, an extra step safety advocates worry many won't take.
"Your companies and salespeople can play a vital role in consumer education," Casey wrote.
He called on the retailers to post notices in stores about tip-overs, train employees to educate customers, and stock anchoring kits near products that have the potential to tip. As for online retailers, he said they should post tip-over warnings on product pages and offer anchoring kits as recommended items for products that could tip.
Casey said that because retailers have direct contact with consumers, their efforts would almost certainly reduce injuries and deaths.
"They can do more in the next six months than government can do in two or three years," he said. "I wish we had a government that could act faster on these things. But we can't sit around hoping and wishing. We need to take action quickly."