Furniture demolition has killed 27 Australians since 2000. Of these deaths, 20 were children under the age of seven.
All Australians want their home to be a safe and pleasant place, says Dr Warwick Teague. Yet every month, as director of the trauma service at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, he sees a child admitted as a result of knocking down furniture in the home.
All age groups are at risk of injury from the weight of furniture and televisions hitting them, but it is particularly serious for children under the age of five. Teague explains that being small in stature, they can be overwhelmed by furniture, which can injure them from head to toe.
The Australian Consumer Law does not provide any mandatory safety or information standards to specifically prevent the risk of injury from tipping over furniture and televisions. However, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is evaluating potential regulatory options. The consumer watchdog made knocking down furniture and televisions one of its product safety priorities for 2021 and last week published a thematic document on the matter.
The document has identified three key safety factors that can influence the likelihood of furniture toppling over: product design, furniture anchoring, and consumer behavior. Delia Rickard, vice president of the ACCC, says these issues need to be considered together. “There is no magic bullet to solve this problem, we have to look at the design, we have to make it easier to anchor the furniture and raise awareness about the type of behavior that can lead to accidents.”
While formalized regulations have yet to be enacted, Guardian Australia has spoken with experts about the security measures that can be taken at this time.
Think about product design
The ACCC problem report says that furniture is most stable when it is designed to be shorter, wider, deeper and heavier at the bottom – the furniture your grandmother gives you can be of this sturdy type. “Modern, lightweight flat-pack furniture, like Ikea shelving and cabinets, is much lighter and doesn’t necessarily have a heavy base, so unless you tie it down, there is a chance it will fall off.” says Rickard.
The same goes for televisions. As televisions are increasingly designed to be thinner and larger, the ACCC report says that the stability provided by the stand becomes more important if it is not mounted on a wall.
In the last two years, at least nine products have been recalled due to their risk of downtime. The full list is available at Product Safety Website.
Anchor when possible
Furniture and TV anchor kits secure an item, either by screwing or tying it to the wall or any other secure surface. The ACCC problem report says that ideally furniture should be designed to be stable as long as it is freestanding, but anchoring can help prevent furniture from falling over if it starts to tip over.
Try to find furniture that comes with anchor kits or straps to avoid having to make a separate trip to the hardware store. Christine Erskine, CEO of Kidsafe NSW, says that many people are unaware that televisions and furniture come with a strap and throw them away, but she advises “if there is a strap, use it.”
Rickard suggests that “the stud, the piece of wood behind the wall, is the safest place to anchor, as it is the strongest.” She says you find it by “tapping your knuckles on the wood until you find a slightly different, less hollow sound.”
If you are having trouble with your anchoring equipment, Rickard suggests that you can turn to YouTube for how-to videos or outsource the task to a professional handyman. You can also find more practical guidance online, for example Ikea has developed a guide to anchor your furniture.
A survey by the consumer advocacy group Choice found that many tenants do not have secured furniture in their homes because the landlord has not allowed it, and Erin Turner, Choice’s campaign manager, says many tenants are afraid to request it.
But laws are changing to help tenants anchor furniture. The death of a young Perth boy who was crushed by a dresser after the family’s owner refused to allow them to pin the item resulted in Western Australia passing new laws in 2019. New south Wales Y Victory Similarly, they have allowed tenants to secure furniture for safety reasons.
Erskine notes that each state and territory’s fair trade departments will have their own regulations regarding tenant rights, including home security. She says that you have to ask permission to put or screw something on the wall, but that homeowners need to make sure you have a safe place to live.
Teague says that anchoring furniture can be done in a way that doesn’t ruin the wall, but at the end of the day “no wall is more important than the child.”
Think about the location of the furniture
The ACCC problem report also highlights that your own decisions regarding location and use can help prevent accidents.
Placing furniture on thick or uneven rugs will increase the risk of tipping.
Do not place heavy items such as televisions on top of furniture that is not designed to support weight, as it makes both units more unstable.
Keep your heaviest items at the bottom of drawers and shelves. “Your Encyclopaedia Britannica definitely goes to the bottom shelf,” says Teague.
Use the furniture as intended. Avoid leaning on furniture to lean or stand on chairs and tables.
Don’t tempt climbers
Many injuries are caused by children climbing on furniture. The ACCC problem report says that “the weight of a child standing on an open drawer or shelf moves the center of mass forward, increasing the risk of tipping over.”
Erskine says that “the more interesting the shelves are, the more exciting it is for the child to climb.” Avoid placing items such as toys and candy on high open shelves that may tempt your child to climb.
Teague says the most common age group he sees with furniture knock-down injuries are children under the age of three. “This speaks to the very curious but now mobile toddler who is exploring the world without the ability to understand the associated risks.”
“Caregivers must allow the opportunity to explore,” says Teague. “As an adult, I can act positively and decisively when buying an item to assess its risk of falling, or looking for ways to insure it, or considering options less prone to falling.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism