The American Home Furnishings Alliance has responded to a standard for clothing storage furniture that was published today, Feb. 3, in the Federal Register.
The proposed mandatory safety standard will now be subjected to a 75-day comment period on the 1,100-page document and moving it one step closer to adoption by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
AHFA has raised several key concerns with the proposed rule, which the CPSC released in July 2021. The agency announced its intention to draft the rule in November 2017 and has spent the last three-and-a-half years conducting extensive research on tip-over incidents and analysis of testing options to ensure clothing storage furniture is more stable when small children are interacting with it.
AHFA and its member companies support a mandatory furniture stability standard to help prevent tip-overs, which have resulted in the deaths of 166 children age 3 or younger since 2000, according to CPSC statistics as reported by the AFHA.
A voluntary standard to address this hazard was developed in 2000 and has been updated five times since then in response to emerging product trends and changing consumer behavior.
“In 22 years, only one incident is known to have involved furniture that the manufacturer said complied with the voluntary standard,” said Andy Counts, AHFA CEO.
However, injuries and deaths due to non-compliant units have persisted. Therefore, AHFA and its member companies favor a mandatory federal rule that holds all manufacturers and importers to the same rigorous safety standard.
“While we applaud the CPSC’s commitment to a mandatory furniture stability standard, AHFA believes the direction the agency has taken in its proposed rulemaking creates an ambiguous testing protocol that would be unenforceable,” he said.
“Further, CPSC’s estimates of the rule’s compliance costs are dramatically understated. Actual costs for product redesign, testing, reinforced packaging, and transportation will force many companies specializing in entry-level products out of the market. This will leave parents who are on a limited budget with few options,” Counts continued. “AHFA opposes any standard that makes safety a luxury only certain families can afford.”
Finally, the CPSC’s rule revolves around a hangtag designed to help consumers compare tip “ratings” before purchasing a clothing storage unit. “Although modeled on the familiar Energy Star Energy Guide rating system, the CPSC’s proposed hangtag fails to provide consumers with meaningful insight to a product’s stability,” says Counts.
Energy Guide labels show a product’s energy usage, with lower numbers equating to a lower energy bill for the consumer at the end of the month. CPSC’s proposed furniture hangtag – a bright yellow, 5-inch by 7-inch tag that must be attached to all clothing storage furniture where consumers can see it before purchase – shows a “tip rating number” between 1 and 5 that is the ratio of the unit’s “tip moment” to a “threshold tip moment.”
“Unlike savings on your electric or gas bill, these ‘tip moments’ are not familiar concepts for consumers,” Counts points out.
AHFA members have tested thousands of clothing storage units in many styles and price points using the methods prescribed in the CPSC’s proposed rule. Although the tested units all complied with the current voluntary standard (and many exceeded it), none met the CPSC’s proposed minimum “tip rating number” without modifications. Some units, particularly those with a drawer interlock system (which prevents more than one drawer from being opened at a time), required minor modifications to reach the minimum tip rating of 1.0. Those without drawer interlocks required significant design modifications to reach the minimum tip rating. “No measure of modification resulted in a stability rating of 2.0, let alone anything over 2. CPSC is proposing an elaborate and costly testing regimen that supposes consumers will make buying decisions based on mere fractions of differentiation in a unit’s stability rating. AHFA believes most units, regardless of price or quality level, will score between 1.0 and 1.5 after modification. A few may reach 2.0, but we have not found any of those units yet.”
CPSC staff said it tested 186 units and found just one unit that met the minimum rating of 1.0 without modification. CPSC has thus far declined to reveal the manufacturer of that unit.
AHFA maintains that these ambiguities in the proposed rule will result in years of debate and indecision. “Meanwhile, furniture that fails to comply with the current voluntary standard will continue to be produced and marketed to American consumers,” Counts said.
When voting to publish the NPR, the commissioners amended the rule to shorten an already tight compliance timeline from 180 days to just 30 days, despite significant changes the rule requires in product design, raw material needs, packaging requirements, and delivery protocols.