Ikea still selling Hemnes dresser linked to child's death
Why hasn't company recalled 8-drawer dresser?
The footage, recorded on the video monitor in the bedroom of Brock and Bowdy Shoff, is terrifying and dramatic.
The twin brothers, just 2 years old, are climbing onto an Ikea dresser when it tips over, pinning Brock below. After some effort, Bowdy manages to nudge the heavy piece of furniture just enough to let Brock slide out, crying but unharmed. (Watch the video, below.)
The boys’ parents, Kayli and Ricky Shoff of Orem, Utah, shared the video online, where it has been viewed more than 17 million times.
“We wanted to warn other parents to secure their furniture to the wall,” said Kayli, adding that neither she nor Ricky heard the dresser tip over that morning shortly after the boys woke up.
But about five months later -- on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017 -- the same kind of Ikea dresser, a Hemnes eight-drawer model, fell on another 2-year-old boy in his bedroom just after he woke up, according to public documents filed in a lawsuit against Ikea.
The boy, Conner, did not survive. His mother, Meghan DeLong of Lakeland, Florida, found him trapped and unresponsive under the dresser, according to the police report. The lawsuit was recently settled between DeLong and Ikea.
Despite the tragedy, Ikea still has not recalled the dresser.
When asked why not, Ikea U.S. spokesperson Leticia Bradley said that the dresser meets the furniture industry’s voluntary stability standard, and so was not included in the recall of other Ikea furniture that the company launched in 2016.
“When assembled and used according to the instructions provided, all Ikea chests of drawers, including Hemnes eight-drawer, are safe to use,” Bradley said.
But parents and safety advocates say these tip-over incidents reveal flaws with both the test used by the industry to determine when a piece of furniture is safe, and with the recall process itself.
Test and Recall Problems
The voluntary safety standard for dressers (and for thousands of other consumer products) is established through ASTM International, an independent organization that includes industry, government agencies, and consumer groups (including Consumer Reports). The stability test for dressers involves hanging a 50-pound weight on each drawer while it is opened and the rest are closed, and seeing whether the dresser tips over.
Ikea says that because the Hemnes eight-drawer dresser passes that test, it doesn’t need to be recalled.
But safety advocates say that the decision to recall a product should also be based on its safety in the real world.
“The Hemnes eight-drawer dresser has been linked to tip-overs and a child’s death, and there’s no excuse for Ikea’s failure to recall it,” says William Wallace, senior policy analyst at CR. “Ikea should immediately stop selling the dresser, contact existing owners, and offer them a refund in exchange for getting the dresser out of their homes. If Ikea won’t take this action on its own, the government should intervene.”
(CR has not tested this particular dresser but has looked at some others, including some dressers that are 30 inches tall and under. Several Ikea dressers passed even our most rigorous evaluations.)
DeLong, who declined to discuss the specifics of the dresser manufacturer or model involved in her son’s death due to the terms of her legal settlement, recently spoke at an ASTM meeting, where she addressed what she sees as shortcomings in the dresser standard. She pointed out that her son was just 30 pounds, less than the weight used in the test, and that children don’t necessarily open just one drawer at a time.
“What that says to me is that this standard is not good enough,” she said.
The concerns highlighted by DeLong are shared by Dr. James Dickerson, CR’s chief scientific officer.
“Right now, furniture stability testing is a static test, not a dynamic one. That means the weight and the drawers are not in motion during the test. We believe this issue should be addressed to help the testing more accurately reflect real-world scenarios," Dickerson said.
In the meantime, with only a voluntary standard in place, it’s up to the company -- not advocates, parents, or the government -- to determine that a product needs to be recalled, said Elliot Kaye, commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government agency that oversees product safety.
With a voluntary standard, the government does not have the authority to require a recall solely because a product fails to meet the standard. Even if a dresser is involved in injuries or death, “there is no easy mechanism to take a dresser off the market,” Kaye said.
When CR asked the CPSC if the agency was investigating the Hemnes eight-drawer dresser, a spokeswoman said confidentiality laws bar the agency from commenting. Ikea confirmed to CR that the CPSC is aware of both incidents involving this dresser.
CPSC can sue a manufacturer to force a recall if the agency determines that a product poses a substantial safety hazard. But that approach often requires long, complicated negotiations, and the threat of a lawsuit which -- if filed -- starts a process that can take years.
Ikea’s History of Tip-Overs
The lengthy process of recalling products covered by a voluntary standard unfolded with a different set of Ikea dressers more than two years ago. In June 2016, the company recalled several types of dressers -- including all those in its Malm line -- many of which had been linked to tip-overs. It took years of negotiations between the CPSC and Ikea, consumer lawsuits, and negative media attention before Ikea recalled those dressers.
As of November 2017, Ikea had received at least 299 reports of tip-overs involving various models of chests and dressers. The tip-over incidents include the deaths of at least eight children and injuries to 144 more.
At the time those dressers were recalled, Ikea said it was because the products didn’t meet the industry’s voluntary stability standard, and were a “serious tip-over hazard.”
Included in the 2016 recall list were Hemnes dressers with two, three, five and six drawers. Since then, Ikea has redesigned those dressers and several others and has resumed selling them. But, Ikea said, because the Hemnes eight-drawer dresser did not fail the industry’s stability test, the company maintains that the product is safe and has still not recalled it.
Anchors: An Imperfect Solution
Ikea said the best way to prevent furniture tip-overs is to attach the products to the wall using anti-tip restraints (often called furniture anchors), which are included with its dressers.
Furniture safety experts also emphasize the importance of anchoring. But they note that most people don’t take that step. Only about a quarter of Americans have secured furniture to the wall in their homes, according to a recent nationally representative CR survey of 1,502 U.S. adults.
Anchoring “didn’t even cross our minds,” said Kayli Shoff, the mother of twins Brock and Bowdy.
DeLong says it didn’t cross her mind either. Nor, she said, was it brought to her attention by representatives from the Florida Department of Children and Families, who visited and vetted her house several times before she adopted Conner and his brother Kaleb.
As part of the adoption process, the state agency does multiple home study reports where “they go through your home with a fine-tooth comb,” and, DeLong said, they didn’t mention anything about anchoring furniture.
The Florida Department of Children and Families didn't comment specifically on the DeLong case, but told CR that its home studies are designed to ensure child safety, such as advising parents to secure "furniture as appropriate, as needed."
Consumer Reports safety experts said that if you have a Hemnes eight-drawer dresser, make sure you anchor it (and any other dresser in your home) securely to the wall. If you don’t have the anchors that came with your dresser, you can purchase anti-tip restraints online and at many hardware and big-box stores. Or place the dresser in a room that children can’t access.
Crystal Ellis, whose son Camden died in 2014 after an Ikea Malm dresser fell on him, said that families should be able to trust that manufacturers are producing stable furniture, without having to rely on wall anchors.
“We pick out these dressers that match our cribs or the design of our nursery,” Ellis said at the recent ASTM meeting. “And we trust you when we go into your store that you’re bringing us a product that’s going to keep our children safe. We trust that when they go to bed at night and I go to bed in my room, that they’re going to be alive in the morning. The expectation is that they’re going to be safe.”
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