After enduring the unimaginable and heartbreaking loss of her young daughter in 2004, Kimberly Amato created Meghan’s Hope and became a founding member and vice chair of Parents Against Tip-Overs. Her goal was and continues to be clear: to educate people on furniture safety and spare families from the kind of tragedy she experienced.
In the early morning hours of December 18, 2004, Amato woke up to discover her 3-year-old daughter, Meghan, had passed away after her dresser tipped over on top of her during the night. Neither she, her husband, Meghan’s twin brother, nor her 6-year-old brother heard the accident happen.
It’s a tragic, devastating story, and unfortunately, the Amato family is not alone. According to the 2021 Tip-Over Report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published in February 2022, 472 children under the age of 18 died from a tip-over from 2000 to 2020. It’s a staggering number that can leave families feeling helpless. Thankfully, with a little money and a little time, furniture and televisions can be secured in a way that can (and does) save lives.
“Instead of putting a few holes in our walls and furniture, we forever have one in our hearts that will never heal,” Amato says. “Walls can be fixed, broken hearts cannot.”
The Research and Regulations Surrounding Tip-Over Injuries
Researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio published a study last year that found that between 1990 and 2019, an estimated 560,200 children were treated in U.S. emergency departments for injuries related to furniture or television tip-overs. Young children are overwhelmingly impacted by tip-overs (70% of injuries happen to those under 6 years old), and nearly 60% of injuries are caused by TVs or clothing storage units (CSUs) like dressers.
So what’s being done about it? Currently, there are voluntary safety standards for manufacturers, but experts say the tests to meet these standards are lacking. They are performed on hard, level surfaces (even though many CSUs are placed on carpet), they don’t consider that drawers may be filled or that multiple could be open, and they don’t account for the way little ones yank on drawer handles. Perhaps most glaring, the tests use a weight that is lighter than many 6-year-olds.
“Safety education, warning labels, and promotion and use of tip restraint devices, while important, are not a substitute for strengthening and enforcing stability requirements,” Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, senior author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy said in a press release.
In July of last year, the CPSC proposed a rule that addresses the weaknesses in these standards. Amato told Pregnancy & Newborn that there will be inevitable pushback from the furniture industry, and so she advocates for federal legislation.
If passed, the “Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act,” or the “STURDY Act,” would require the CPSC to develop mandatory safety standards to protect children from CSU tip-overs. The House of Representatives passed the act in June 2021, and a revised version is making progress in the Senate. “As with any legislation passed by Congress and signed into law, CPSC stands ready to act,” CPSC spokesperson Karla Crosswhite-Chigbue told Pregnancy & Newborn.
Amato encourages people to urge their senators to pass the STURDY Act, and an easy way to do so is by using this form. “We need everyone to write or call and say, ‘Look, we want you to support this. It’s going to save lives. It’s long overdue, and we really want you to stand up for our kids.’”
Why You Should Secure Furniture
Even armed with the research, you may have misconceptions that lead you to believe securing furniture doesn’t need to be a priority. Amato says she often talks to people who are certain it will never happen to them and that their furniture is stable enough. “It doesn’t matter how tall your furniture is, how heavy it is, how wide it is, how much you paid for it,” Amato says. “None of that matters because what causes furniture to tip over is physics.”
Or, she says, parents are sure their child won’t climb, but she reminds them that play is the work of children. “Developmentally, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re exploring their environment.”
Even if you watch your child very closely, no parent can have eyes on their child every moment of the day, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Especially since around 50 percent of fatalities involving children happen in bedrooms, often when parents think their kids are asleep. “That’s why it is critical to make your home environment as safe as possible,” the AAP says. Plus, the CPSC’s “Even When You’re Watching” campaign video shows real footage of just how quickly a tip-over can happen.
How To Secure Furniture
Existing furniture should be anchored even if your child is only an infant, and any new pieces should be anchored ASAP. Use safety straps or L-brackets to anchor dressers, bookcases, entertainment centers, televisions, and other furniture to the wall. Remember that heavier furniture requires more anchors. Even if they are more expensive, use metal, name-brand anchoring products like HangMan and Safety 1st. Fabric straps can tear, and plastic ones can become brittle and break. Be wary of cheaper options with names you don’t recognize. Much like furniture, Amato says there aren’t mandatory standards for anchors, so knockoffs fail more often and give families a false sense of security.
Keep in mind that you may have to move furniture pieces so they are against a wall and aligned with studs, which means the dresser may not be perfectly centered along the bedroom wall. If your walls are made of brick or concrete, or if they have metal studs, talk to your hardware store to make sure you have the right products and tools you need.
Furniture should be kept clear of anything that might grab your child’s interest (think toys, books, remote controls, food, etc.) and cause them to climb. You should also do your best to keep heavy items close to the floor. For example, place your hardcovers on the bottom bookshelf and paperbacks up top.
If you don’t feel comfortable securing furniture on your own, childproofers can assess your home and/or install anchors. Amato also suggests having a childproofing party. “Have all your friends over, get pizza and beer to have after you’ve finished babyproofing, and then next time go to their house!”
Televisions should be mounted to the wall when possible. If your TV is placed on a surface, only use furniture that is specifically designed to hold TVs (an entertainment stand, not a table) and TVs of your size. Both the stand and your TV should then be anchored to your wall. Once everything is secured, tuck cords away so they don’t become a tripping hazard.
Old tube TVs should be recycled whenever possible. Some big box stores will even do that for you. Amato says a big misconception is that flat screens are so light that they won’t hurt anyone if they tip. “A light flat screen can weigh 10 pounds,” she says. “And you wouldn’t drop a 10-pound bowling ball on your child’s head.”
Install drawer stops or safety straps so your child can’t open them fully. If you use ones with a magnetic drawer lock, store the key in a safe place out of your child’s sight and reach. If you are convinced your dresser is sturdy enough on its own, Amato says you can test it by opening all the drawers. “On the top, with two fingers, press down gradually in the middle to see how hard it is,” she says. “You might be surprised.”
Securing Furniture in Other Locations
It’s just as important that family members’ houses have anchored furniture, too. Amato knows that many grandparents will put up a fight: “After all, you survived!” But she encourages families to talk to their loved ones, daycare providers, and vacation rental hosts to make sure the areas are childproofed and that furniture is secure.
She knows that anchoring furniture can be especially difficult for renters as it may cost them their security deposit. “A lot of landlords are just unaware,” she says. “Go to them and present the information, offer to patch the holes when you leave, and tell them that this is a matter of safety for your children.”
In the Case of a Tip-Over Injury
Immediately take your child to their pediatrician or the emergency room. “Even if they seem fine, there could be internal bleeding or damage to their organs,” the AAP says. It’s also important to report tip-overs to the CPSC even if your child wasn’t injured. This could help prevent future injuries or fatalities from the same type of furniture. “When we find specific models that are defective, we work to recall them,” Crosswhite-Chigbue says. “Getting them off store shelves and out of consumer’s homes.” Regardless of if a recall happens, Amato says parents can use the site as a resource when researching furniture to see if any complaints have been filed.
For more information and videos on how to install anti-tip devices, visit AnchorIt!, an educational campaign from the CSPC. To get involved and find support, visit Parents Against Tip-Overs at stoptipovers.org.