A brief internet search shows that unambiguously, industry, regulators, and NGOs all agree that furniture tip-over is a priority in the consumer markets sector. However, there is little agreement on the best approach. Over the last year alone, we have seen the U.S. Consumer Product Commission announce that the Commission deems “clothing storage units” that do not meet ASTM F2057-17 as posing a “substantial product hazard” (presumably requiring a Section 15(b) report and perhaps recall). ASTM F2057-17 requires tip-over testing and permanent warning labels for any clothing storage unit over 30 inches in height. CPSC announced this arguably backdoor rulemaking despite initiating rulemaking at the end of 2017 to address tip-over. The public comment period for the proposed rule closed in mid-2018, but there has been no apparent action.
Shortly after CPSC’s announcement, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2211, the STURDY Act (Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act). Putting aside the acrobatics required to make that acronym, the STURDY Act would require the CPSC to promulgate a mandatory consumer product safety standard for “clothing storage units” to include testing to simulate real world use of products of any height by children up to 60 pounds, and establish uniform, permanent warning requirements. That legislation has been idling in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation since September.
To further complicate matters, ASTM recently revised ASTM F2057 to expand its scope. ASTM F2057-19 now applies to clothing storage units 27 inches in height and higher. The revised standard states that it is “intended to reduce injuries and deaths of children associated with tipover of free-standing clothing storage units, including but not limited to chests, chests of drawers, drawer chests, armoires, wardrobes, bureaus, door chests and dresses, 27 in. (686 mm) and above in height.” ASTM F2057-19 does not cover bookcases or entertainment furniture, office furniture, laundry room storage, under-bed storage, dining room furniture, occasional accent furniture, nightstands, built-in units intended to be permanently attached to the building, or clothing storage chests that are already subject to ASTM F2589. The revised standard also adds new labeling requirements for media chests and for clothing storage units not intended to hold a television.
The impact of the revised standard is murky. Under normal circumstances, we would expect CPSC to consider ASTM F2057-19 as the applicable voluntary standard for any clothing storage unit manufactured more than 180 days after ASTM’s publication of the revised standard. But CPSC’s “substantial product hazard” announcement is tied to ASTM F2057-17, and CPSC has not issued any guidance clarifying this. We also have not seen a recall or enforcement trend that would help clarify the situation (as compared to similar CPSC “substantial product hazard” announcements, such as drawstrings and hoverboards). There have only been a handful of furniture tip-over recalls announced in 2019.
Unless and until somebody, anybody, clarifies the situation, we think it’s a safe bet that CPSC would consider ASTM F2057-17 to be the minimum required standard, but would not be surprised if in a reporting/recall situation, CPSC argued that inventory failing to meeting the revised 2019 standard constituted a substantial product hazard.