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Advocates Call For Use of Straps to Prevent TV Tip-Overs

2 Chicago-area children in 3 weeks have been killed by televisions

By Duaa Eldeib | 11/15/2011

When parents buy a new TV they're unlikely to find in the box a simple tool that could save their child's life — safety straps or anchors to keep the television from tipping over — because manufacturers aren't required to include them.

And parents who look to purchase the straps after the fact may have to hunt them down, because a number of stores that sell TVs don't offer the straps.

Safety experts are calling for the inclusion of such devices in light of disquieting statistics: More kids were killed in accidents involving falling TVs between 2000 and 2010 than by all other unstable furniture or appliances combined, according to a September report released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"It's a very serious problem that is not going away," said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "These are young children taken too soon."

Nearly 70 percent of fatal tip-overs between 2000 and 2010 involved TVs, accounting for the deaths of 169 children, the commission reports. TVs are also the chief culprit in tipover-related emergency room visits, with an annual average of 13,700 injuries, the report states.

The responsibility is a joint one, shared by parents, the safety commission and those who make and sell TVs, Wolfson said.

"We want the industry to get engaged in this process," he said. "We want companies to be as active as we are. If the manufacturer doesn't provide (straps), we want the retailers to sell (them) and to do so in a prominent place that's easily accessible to parents."

Northbrook, Ill.-based Underwriters Laboratories, which tests the majority of TVs on the market, sets voluntary safety standards for TVs and stands. Raising awareness on the perils of falling TVs has been a priority, said UL's consumer safety director, John Drengenberg.

Among the UL's current safety standards — last revised in 2004 — is that a TV can withstand a 10-degree tilt and a force of 20 pounds or 20 percent of its weight without tipping over.

Some safety advocates, researchers and parents said that's not enough. They want consumers to be able to leave a store with safety straps in hand when they purchase a new TV. Some advocates have also urged modifications in TV designs to make them more tip-over resistant and a warning label informing consumers of the tip-over risk.

"I don't even want to speculate what the mortality rates would be if the UL standards weren't there," said Drengenberg, noting that often the problem comes when a TV is placed on furniture that's rickety or otherwise not intended to hold a large appliance.

Even if UL required companies to include safety straps, there's nothing to ensure consumers will use them, Drengenberg added.

But Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, a coalition of nonprofit consumer groups, said she thinks more parents would use safety straps if they were readily available.

"I think if consumers know that it could potentially save the life of someone in their homes, I think they're going to be more likely to do it," she said.

Sylvia Santiago wishes she had known about the straps in 2008, when her 2-year-old daughter was killed by a falling TV.

Like many parents, Santiago was alerted by a loud crash and rushed to her child. It was early on a July morning, and the last thing her daughter said the night before, Santiago recalled, was, "Mommy, I love you. I'm going night-night now."

"At first I didn't know she was underneath, then I saw her legs," said Santiago, of West Haven, Conn. "She just whimpered. Her (pacifier) fell out of her mouth. I kept telling her, 'Stay with me, baby. Stay with me.'"

In the few days her daughter spent in the hospital before her death, Santiago felt compelled to walk up to strangers, ask if they had small children and warn them about how something as ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous as a TV set could kill.

Santiago has since made it her mission to educate people on the hazards of TV tip-overs and is working to make safety straps a staple in homes. The straps aren't easy to find, Santiago said, so she makes a habit of giving them as gifts at every child birthday party or baby shower she attends.

"Companies need to provide safety straps at point-of-sale, and people, especially with all the big flat-screens out there, need to know this can happen," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association said some TV manufacturers include safety straps with their sets but did not provide specific examples.

Even so, employees at some electronics retailers are versed on tips to offer customers to prevent accidents involving TVs. Abt recommends hanging flat-screen TVs on the wall for optimal safety. Barring that, customers are encouraged to buy stands that are compatible with the size of the TV, not just the space in the room.

Russell Griffin, an epidemiologist with the Center for Injury Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, co-authored a 2009 study looking at the onset of flat-panel TVs and increased injury rates among children.

Because the available data on TV tip-over deaths and injuries do not indicate whether the TV was a flat-panel or of the older, bulkier variety, there is no way to discern if one poses more risk than the other, he said.

Tube TVs are heavier and have a center of gravity in the front, meaning even a small amount of force can cause them to tip over. Yet flat-panel TVs aren't necessarily safer, Griffin said, noting that their lightness and thinness make them easier for children to grasp and potentially tip over.

Many of the older-model TVs make their way into children's rooms or basements — and often onto makeshift or unstable stands — when families replace them with flat-panel TVs, Griffin said.

That's one reason why it's crucial to anchor the TVs and their stands, said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Stands should be low and wide, he said, and parents should avoid placing remote controls or other objects on top of or near TVs so children aren't encouraged to climb on to stands.

"We need to educate, but they also need to make (TVs) more stable so they don't tip over in the first place," Smith said.

Consumers should be aware of what they can do, whether that means buying straps, mounting a TV or ensuring the TV rests on a proper stand, said Megan Pollock, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents manufacturers and retailers.

"Our stance on this has always been a pure stance of education," she said. "It's not a factor of the TV sort of flying out of place, but that people aren't educated on the proper placement."

The association has fliers online that discuss the dangers of tip-overs for both older and flat-screen TVs and outline tips and proper installation methods.

As for stores that sell TVs, big-box retailer Best Buy does not carry the straps, a company spokeswoman confirmed. Representatives for Wal-Mart and Sears did not respond to inquiries. A Target representative said the store does sell the straps. And though they're not in the TV business, some hardware and baby stores have safety straps in stock.

"If every television came with a tip restraint, even attached to it, so that all that a consumer would have to do is to attach it to the wall, I would feel much more comfortable," said Don Mays, product safety director at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. "It's going to cost manufacturers only a few extra cents."

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