Commissioner's Blog: Choose furniture wisely to protect children
With Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard
Many products we buy can be a danger to children. Often Consumer Protection voices concerns about small items such as parts that can choke, button batteries that can cause internal burns or potentially poisonous laundry detergent pods. But large items, such as furniture, also pose a big risk.
Every year in Australia at least one child under nine years old dies from domestic furniture falling on them. Here in WA, last year (October 2015) a 21-month-old boy was killed by a chest of drawers at a home in Yokine. In 2013, a 2-year-old girl was crushed to death by a TV in Perth.
Apart from following some basic tips when buying furniture (we’ll get to those shortly), adults can protect children by anchoring items to the wall or floor.
If you are in any doubt about how easily a child’s weight can cause unanchored furniture to fall and kill them, we recommend you watch the ‘Anchor it and Protect a Child’ safety videos that are available online. There is a powerful one from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has a dedicated website www.anchorit.gov and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has a video at www.productsafety.gov.au/anchorfurniture.
To reduce the chance of injuries and deaths follow these important tips when it comes to buying furniture and putting it in your home …
- Choose low-set furniture or furniture with sturdy, stable and broad bases.
- Try to buy furniture that comes with safety information and equipment for anchoring it.
- Test the furniture in the shop. For example, pull out top drawers of a chest of drawers and apply a little pressure to see how stable it is and how easily drawers come out.
- Always check with the manufacturer or supplier about the suitability of furniture for your particular circumstances e.g. for a child’s bedroom or playroom.
- Furniture which has not passed a stability test or not been tested for stability may have a warning to say so – check for warnings like this.
- If you must buy lightweight furniture, be sure to restrain it from tipping by attaching, mounting or bolting it to the walls and/or floors. Equipment to anchor furniture is not expensive and readily available from hardware stores.
- Put locks on drawers to prevent children opening them and stepping on them.
- Place televisions at the back of cabinets and if possible strap them to the wall.
Small children should be discouraged from climbing on furniture but the fact is they will have a natural tendency to do so and we all know how quick they can be! You can make it less tempting by not putting things out of reach that they want to get hold of, for example a favourite toy on top of a sideboard or wardrobe. Remember furniture can be made top-heavy by its contents, or objects placed on it, so DO NOT put heavy items on top shelves of freestanding bookcases.
When it comes to anchoring furniture we have received reports from tenants that property managers or landlords do not allow them to drill holes in the wall.
Under WA tenancy law, tenants can be prohibited from affixing fixtures, renovating, altering or amending the home OR they can be allowed to, on a case-by-case basis with consent.
Consumer Protection encourages property managers and landlords to give tenants permission to anchor furniture in a bid to protect children. A hole in a wall can be patched or repaired at the end of a rental agreement but a child’s life cannot be replaced.
If people renting in WA find requests to anchor furniture are denied, Consumer Protection is happy to speak with the property manager or landlord on behalf of the tenant. Email us at email@example.com or call 1300 30 40 54.
In the case of furnished rental properties, lessors should anchor furniture prior to tenants moving in.