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Monday April 17, 2023

Conflicting Furniture Standards Leave Companies in a Quandary

Furniture manufacturers and retailers are currently at a crossroads not knowing which way to turn. They are faced with two conflicting standards designed to address the risk of furniture tip-over. One of the standards was developed by the CPSC, while ASTM International developed the other. One or the other will become mandatory in the near future. The decision is up to the Commission.


This is an independently written opinion piece, unedited by PSL.


PSL welcomes such articles – and responses to them.


Inclusion is not an indication of agreement or disagreement – simply that the contents likely are of interest to readers.


Don Mays is a consultant and founder of Product Safety Insights LLC. He is Chairman of ASTM F15 Committee on Consumer Products, VP of the Society of Product Safety Professionals, and Board member for Kids In Danger. In his last position, Don was Chief Safety and Quality Officer for Samsung Electronics NA.

The CPSC’s Federal Rule 16 CFR 1261 establishes a mandatory safety standard for clothing storage units (CSUs) such as dressers, armoires, and other types of freestanding furniture designed to store clothes. The rule includes requirements that CSUs be tested for stability under a variety of real-world conditions, meet minimum stability requirements, bear labels containing safety and identification information, and display a hang tag providing a stability rating of 1.0 to 2.0. The requirements may become effective with all CSU’s manufactured after May 24, 2023.


ASTM has had a furniture safety standard on the books since 2000. However, that standard and subsequent revisions were inadequate, leading CPSC to develop its own standard. But on February 6, 2023, ASTM published F2057-23 Standard Safety Specification for Clothing Storage Units. This new standard represents a quantum leap forward in raising the bar for furniture stability. Like the Federal Rule, the new ASTM standard sets minimum stability requirements under a variety of test conditions.


The test methods prescribed by each standard are very different. The CPSC’s method requires determination of the fulcrum, the tip-over moment, and the threshold moment, all terms that are perhaps familiar only to engineers. They require precise measurements, which could be subject to error. In addition, because of the natural variability of particleboard used in less expensive furniture, and the way drawer glides are constructed and attached, some test-to-test and sample-to-sample repeatability and reproducibility challenges can be expected.


The ASTM test method is much more straightforward. Without getting into the technical details of the various test conditions, the ASTM F2057-23 is simply a series of pass-fail tests. That makes compliance determinations much easier. Plus, the ASTM standard does not require consumer-facing hang tags to display stability ratings, which may be difficult to ascertain their accuracy. In addition, it is much easier to update an ASTM standard in light of emerging incident data than it is to update a federal rule due to restrictions in the STURDY Act.


The decision that the Commission now faces is whether to promulgate their own Federal Rule or incorporate by reference ASTM F2057-23 into their regulations. The STURDY Act effectively requires the CPSC to first consider the revised ASTM standard. STURDY—Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable Risky Dressers on Youth Act—was signed into law by President Biden on December 29, 2022. The Act has specific requirements for a safety standard to be promulgated by the CPSC including tests that: (1) simulate children weighing up to 60 pounds; (2) are objective, repeatable, reproducible, and measurable to simulate real-world use to account for CSUs placed on carpeting, drawers with a simulated clothing load, and multiple drawers open; and (3) simulate dynamic forces such as when a child climbs up open dresser drawers.


In a briefing package submitted to the Commissioners, CPSC staff agreed that ASTM F2057-23 meets the requirements of the STURDY Act. All stakeholders including furniture manufacturers, consumer groups, parent advocates, and experts in the field agree.


While the Commission kicks the proverbial decision can down the road, it leaves manufacturers and the retailers who sell furniture not knowing what standard to apply to determine compliance. While, presumably, stable furniture should be able to pass both standards, the cost of testing both ways could be significant.


With the May 24th deadline looming, manufacturers and retailers have precious little time to ensure compliance for the products they sell should the Commission decide to stick with their own standard. It’s notable, then, that after lengthy delays, some clarity may be imminent. A decisional meeting of the Commission has been scheduled for May 19th at 10:00 a.m. I, for one, hope that the CPSC adopts the ASTM F2057-23 standard in its entirety so we can put this uncertainty to rest.