Citing an "alarming number of children" killed in furniture tip-overs, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. introduced legislation Thursday that would force all dresser manufacturers to meet the same stability standard.
The Pennsylvania Democrat said major companies were taking advantage of the fact that the current standard is voluntary, pointing to the deaths of three toddlers since 2014 after Ikea dressers toppled onto them.
"The days of companies choosing whether or not to build safe furniture will end," Casey said. "We'll get this right. Because the lives of vulnerable children are literally on the line here."
The bill marked the latest attempt to address a growing public safety concern that regulators and others say has quietly led to thousands of injuries each year. It also comes amid concerns that a repair program announced last summer by Ikea has not resonated with customers who bought its popular, low-cost dressers, and that its efforts have not fixed the underlying problem of the units being unstable.
On Thursday, Elliot Kaye, the chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the agency and Ikea had agreed on the "substance" of a new program to further address the hazard. He declined to elaborate, but said he expected to announce details of the program within two weeks.
"If it were my choice, I think we would move sooner, because I feel that concern every day," Kaye said in an interview. "Time is of the essence with this hazard."
Tip-over accidents injure more than 38,000 people each year, most of them children, and cause dozens of deaths, according to emergency-room data.
Casey has said his focus on tip-overs was prompted by Inquirer reports last year and news of the 2014 death of Curren Collas, a 2-year-old West Chester boy crushed beneath a tipped Ikea Malm dresser, a popular low-cost model.
Citing the death of Collas and a 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 at risk of toppling if not anchored to the wall. Ikea offered to send new restraint kits to consumers but did not offer to replace the dressers.
Since a third child died in a Malm tip-over in February, advocacy groups and others, including Casey, have pressed the safety agency to issue a new recall that includes taking the products off the market and offering refunds to consumers.
Casey's STURDY Act - short for "Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth" - would give the CPSC the ability to streamline the typically onerous process for mandating a safety standard.
The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.). Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) sponsored an identical measure in the House. Casey acknowledged that if no Republicans add their support, it is unlikely to gain traction.
"We are hoping that colleagues on both sides of the aisle will flock to this legislation," Schakowsky said during a conference call with reporters. "It's hard to see why they wouldn't."
The voluntary stability standard targeted by Casey is drafted by a committee of furniture manufacturers and safety advocates. It requires that dressers remain upright with a 50-pound weight hung on the drawers, even if the dresser is not tethered to the wall.
Ikea, the Sweden-based furnishing giant, has said it does not believe it needs to comply with the standard.
Casey's bill first directs the furniture standards committee to adopt a stronger standard within 180 days.
Under the bill, if the CPSC agrees the standard adequately protects children, it would adopt it as a mandatory standard. If the standards committee fails to develop a new standard - or if the agency thinks its proposal falls short - the agency is required to develop its own mandatory standard within 540 days.
Bill Perdue, chairman of the standards committee and vice president of regulatory affairs for the American Home Furnishings Alliance, said his trade group's 250 members already follow the voluntary standard.
He said the safety commission's energy should be spent instead acting against the companies that don't comply, through recalls or other means. "How about CPSC enforces the standard we already have?" he said.
Kaye on Thursday declined to describe the forthcoming agreement with Ikea, but said that compared with last year's repair program, it is "far stronger and appropriate for this stage."