Why IKEA furniture can tip over and crush people

Malm chest of drawersIKEAThe Malm 4-drawer chest can tip over if not properly secured to the wall.

IKEA is providing free wall anchoring kits for about 27 million dressers after two children were crushed to death by the company’s Malm chest of drawers. The dressers, which owners assemble themselves, can tip over if they are not properly secured to the wall, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

IKEA provides wall anchors and instructions with all floor standing units, according to an emailed statement from IKEA UK and Ireland Customer Relations Manager Gerard Bos, b
ut tip-over accidents can happen if the metal brackets are not used.

Assembly instructions for the Malm chest of 4 drawers includes a diagram that illustrates where the wall anchors should go. It also shows the danger of climbing on the drawer set.

Screen Shot 2015 07 23 at 14.23.42IKEAIKEA provides buyers with visual and written warnings of the danger of furniture tip-over.

Some furniture item instructions have a tip-over warning, but say that “fixing devices for the wall are not included.”

The problem, it seems, is that many customers ignore these warnings. They either don’t use the metal brackets because they are difficult to put in and/or because they don’t know how easily the unit can tip over without them. People don’t normally attach their furniture to the wall, so it’s understandable that it’s something that might be overlooked.

That was the case in 2005, when an IKEA wardrobe fell and crushed two-year-old Katie Lambertto death. The family sued IKEA and claimed the weight of the doors on the front of the unit far exceeded the weight of the back-panel.

In the lawsuit, the family cited figures that showed the doors on the wardrobe’s front were three times heavier than the back-panel, according to philly.com. The wardrobe had come with restraints, but the previous homeowner who assembled the unit discarded them.

The furniture company refuted the family’s allegations that it had failed to recall a fatally flawed product, arguing that clear safety instructions had simply been ignored.

Despite the tip-over warnings, it’s true that the back-panels of many IKEA items are startlingly thin, to the point where it can bend, as illustrated in the assembly instructions.

Screen Shot 2015 07 23 at 14.38.11IKEAThe instruction manual shows that the back-panel is so thin it can be folded.

IKEA uses what’s called fibreboard, which falls into the composite materials category. These materials are made up of sawdust and wood-scraps. Composite materials are notoriously flimsy and IKEA itself doesn’t always know where the wood originates from. On their website, IKEA says: “We’re working with suppliers to improve their ability to trace the origin of the wood they use.”

Essentially, there is very little weight to hold the the back of the unit in place.

CPSC warns: “Consumers should immediately stop using all IKEA children’s chests and dressers taller than 23 ½ inches and adult chests and dressers taller than 29 ½ inches, unless they are securely anchored to the wall.”

A bigger problem

Tip-over injuries are not isolated to IKEA furniture. In the US alone, 38,000 children are admitted to hospital every year with injuries relating to falling furniture, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Many of these injuries happened because curiosity got the better of a child who tried to grab something from on top or climb the units.

IKEA malm furnitureIKEAThe IKEA Malm furniture range.

IKEA has said before that their products are rigorously tested, but without proper fastening furnishing units can become unstable. Before new products are released, they are tested to withstand the weight of a small child.

According to the Washington Times, a growing amount of tip-over injuries is due to the increasing popularity of flat-screen TV’s. People are buying new flat-screens and storing their older, bulkier sets on furniture that simply wasn’t designed to withstand the weight.

The above graph shows that children are most at risk of furniture tip-over accidents. It shows that between 2000 and 2008, furniture and television accidents involving children accounted for almost all incidents in the US. While adults, who are generally the most able-bodied, accounted for the least number of incidents.

Another graph released by the CPSC shows that most children are injured or killed by falling chest, bureaus, or dressers more than any other household furnishing.

To raise awareness of the hazard of furniture tip-over, IKEA says it is running a safety awareness campaign called “Safer Homes together- Secure it!”

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