Two-Thirds of Americans Don’t Anchor Their Furniture
A new CR survey shows most think furniture should be stable on its own. A bill now in Congress would address the tip-over issue.
The statistics have not improved for more than 20 years: Every 60 minutes, a child is treated in a hospital emergency department for injuries related to a furniture tip-over. And since 2000, at least 351 people have been killed following a furniture tip-over incident, with children accounting for 286 of those fatalities. Since February alone, four other children have died when furniture in their home reportedly tipped over.
But a new nationally representative Consumer Reports survey (PDF) of 2,065 U.S. adults found that the majority of Americans—67 percent—still don’t anchor their furniture, such as dressers and bookshelves, to the wall.
Of people who don’t anchor, 45 percent believe that their furniture seems stable enough to resist tipping. Yet even seemingly bulky dressers can become unstable when someone opens one or more drawers, shifting the furniture’s center of gravity.
There are an estimated 19,900 ER visits each year to treat injuries from furniture tip-overs.
The Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth (STURDY) Act—a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2021 and is awaiting a vote in the Senate—would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversees thousands of consumer products, to create a mandatory federal rule that would ensure furniture passes more rigorous furniture stability tests before going on the market.
Why People Don't Anchor
In CR’s survey, conducted in June 2021, less than a third—30 percent—of Americans said they had anchored any furniture in their home. Anchoring is more common in homes with children under age 6: 45 percent of people with kids under that age at home say they have at least one piece of furniture anchored. This latest survey is consistent with one we conducted in 2018 that also showed a majority of Americans don’t anchor their furniture.
Of those who didn’t anchor their furniture, 45 percent said they thought the furniture seemed stable, 41 percent said kids in their home are not left unattended around furniture, and more than half—56 percent—of people without children under 6 in the home said they didn’t feel they needed to because they did not have young children in the home.
But safety advocates say people shouldn’t assume tip-overs are just a problem with kids.
“Dressers have tipped and caused injury and death to older adults, not just children,” says Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on product safety. “And if children do visit your home, it is unlikely anyone will think to protect against furniture tip-over at that time.”
Indeed, there is no way to supervise children 24/7, and many fatal tip-overs have occurred after children were put to bed alone to sleep in a bedroom with a dresser their caregiver assumed was safe.
Another reason people don’t anchor their furniture is problems with installing the anchors: 29 percent said they don’t want to (or can’t) put holes in their wall, 13 percent that they don’t want to (or can’t) put holes in their furniture, 18 percent that the furniture didn’t come with anchoring hardware, 14 percent that they are unsure of the location of a wall stud, 13 percent that they’re unsure how to properly install the anchoring hardware, and 5 percent that the furniture is next to a wall unsuitable for anchoring, like brick or stone.
“It’s clear anchoring is not a viable solution, for many reasons,” says Amato, who is also a founding member of the advocacy group Parents Against Tip-Overs.
Anchors Are Imperfect
In CR’s survey, the most common reason people gave for anchoring their furniture, or considering doing so, was that the hardware came with the purchase.
Though anchoring is important, it’s not a perfect solution. CR has previously reported on cases in which anchors have failed to prevent a tip-over, such as one instance captured by a baby monitor in which a properly anchored bookshelf made by Ikea fell over. In fact, on top of twin toddlers in California. The boys narrowly escaped injury.
Yet many Americans seem to overestimate how effective anchors actually are. Of those who said they have anchored furniture in their home, 93 percent are at least somewhat confident the anchors will hold.
But, says Amato, "we know that many people who anchor do so improperly; plus, because anchors are not tested for effectiveness, even when they’re installed properly, anchors can and do fail.”
Janet McGee, a founding member of PAT whose nearly 2-year-old son Ted died in 2016 after an Ikea dresser fell onto him, has also had experience with faulty anchors. “Recently I opened a plastic anchor kit that came with my new dresser; it broke in my hands before I even installed it,” she says. “Anchoring furniture is an unreliable, short-term solution.”
The long-term answer? Safety advocates, such as Cowles, say we need more stable furniture.
CR’s Knight adds that “it shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to make their furniture stable. What we need is for the STURDY Act to pass, which will put the onus on manufacturers to prevent deadly tip-overs.”