Is Your Furniture Safe For Children?
The Law Of… avoiding furniture injuries
In recent months, furniture safety has been making headlines as various stories have emerged of children being harmed – and in some cases even killed – by furniture.
With tables, bookcases, wardrobes, beds, chests of drawers, and televisions all attributed to consumer injuries there are possible dangers in every room of the home.
Highlighting the scope of the problem, in the US alone a child is admitted to the emergency room every 30 minutes because of an injury sustained by falling furniture, with one child killed every two weeks by falling furniture.
Furniture injuries can happen in a split second, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of harm to children around the home. Nicola Duff, Solicitor in Simpson Millar's Multi-Track Personal Injury team, outlines some of the main risks in the home and how to mitigate the common dangers posed by unsafe furniture.
What Types Of Furniture Can Cause Injuries?
One of the most concerning aspects of furniture injuries is how quickly things can go awry and cause injury, with various products holding the potential to cause harm.
One of the most common types of furniture injuries is falling furniture, with unsecured, top heavy pieces at risk of being tipped if a child tries to climb and reach an item on a higher shelf or top drawer.
Falling furniture is not the only risk to children however, as furniture with automated mechanisms can also cause harm – an example of this is the toddler who was strangled by a looped handle on an ottoman bed, which caught around the child's neck and left him hanging unconscious.
Even blinds have been identified as a hazard by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), as cords can be a serious strangulation risk – RoSPA found that 27 toddlers have been killed by blind cords or chains in the last 15 years in the UK; around half of these took place after 2010.
"Common sense needs to prevail when we are weighing up the risks”
"The inquisitive and often boisterous nature of children means that any piece of furniture could become a hazard without proper regard to safety”
"We have seen a renewed focus on falling furniture recently, which is probably the most common cause of furniture injuries, but it is important to be aware of other potential hazards, especially from furniture or appliances that have an automated mechanism or feature anything that hangs down, which poses a serious risk of strangulation."
What Injuries Could Be Caused By Unsafe Furniture?
The types of injuries that can be caused by unsafe furniture vary greatly, especially when one considers the sheer number of ways furniture can cause injuries.
A report by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission found that the following injuries were sustained after an incident of falling furniture:
- Bruising and abrasions
- Deep lacerations
- Damage to internal organs
- Broken bones and fractures
The same report highlighted that heads and legs are the most common areas to sustain injuries from tipped furniture.
Aside from falling furniture, unsafe, defective, or poorly designed products can pose risks if they break or become unstable through use, with furniture breaking under increased weight, having the potential of causing serious bruising and broken bones.
How Can I Minimise The Risk Of Unsafe Furniture?
In many cases, furniture will be sold with additional safety items that can secure unsafe or unstable items – even in instances where this is not the case there are a number of ways furniture can be secured and set up to minimise the risk of injury.
The reason that there is such a high risk of furniture tipping onto children is the fact that they often climb onto drawers, shelves, or TV units, either as part of their play, to grab something stored out of their reach, or as they try to pull themselves up.
After a video of a boy saving his twin brother from being crushed by a falling chest of drawers garnered widespread attention, there was a renewed focus and a campaign to ensure that chests of drawers were secured to a wall to avoid them tipping over.
There is a perception that it's only cheaper, lighter, pieces of furniture that need securing. However even heavy solid oak pieces can become top heavy and topple forward if drawers or cupboards are opened and weight is placed on the wrong area.
Securing furniture, including TVs, to the wall is one of the safest ways to avoid furniture falling onto children. Furniture will often come packaged with wall fixings, but even if they do not, brackets are relatively inexpensive and easy to fit.
When stacking shelves or putting items in a piece of furniture, it is advisable to place heavier items in lower drawers or on lower shelves, so that the whole item has a lower centre of gravity and is not top heavy.
For certain risks, such as hanging loops, it is important that the furniture is either removed from the home altogether or children are not left unattended around the at risk item.
"Securing furniture to walls is a crucial safety step in minimising risks to children, especially if they are at the age where they are crawling and exploring and everything is a climbing frame. It only takes a second for something to become unbalanced and tip over, but securing furniture to the wall should give parents added piece of mind."
"For certain types of furniture, for example those with loops or accessories that could become caught round a child's neck, it is best just to replace the item with a safer model, especially as we all know that constant supervision of children is impossible."
When Is A Manufacturer Liable For An Injury?
IKEA had to pay compensation to three families whose children had been killed by the company's MALM chest of drawers.
IKEA were forced to offer wall brackets for free at their stores, however fixing furniture to the wall remained voluntary. Eventually the company recalled the drawers and stopped selling them in the US; worryingly they are still for sale in the UK.
The recall of MALM drawers constituted one of the biggest consumer product safety recalls in American history, with claims being made that furniture should have been shipped with anchoring kits, rather than retrospective kits being sent out. Further commentators on the topic outlined that the Swedish company should have been producing safer products from the ground up, with an improved weight distribution reducing the risk of the drawers tipping.
In instances where a manufacturer has made an unsafe or defective product then compensation could be sought, as Nicola said:
"In cases involving injuries, which can be serious in nature, caused by falling furniture liability must be established. If furniture comes with an anchoring kit or bracket to fix furniture to the wall, and the packaged instructions explains as much, then the consumer would be liable if an injury occurred because the furniture tipped."
"On the other hand, if the product was defective, inherently unsafe, or did not include safety instructions for affixing furniture to the wall, then the manufacturer may be liable for damages."
"This is especially true for poorly designed furniture that includes hanging or loose items that can become a strangulation risk, or for pieces of furniture that are produced to a low standard that are lightweight and top heavy as they are liable to tip under even the smallest shift in weight."
"If you, or your child, have suffered an injury because of a manufacturer's safety oversight then you could be eligible for compensation. Our Personal Injury team are experienced in defending consumer's rights and can help explain your options for a claim."