In this episode, Divyaanshu Makkar sits down with Sean Slack to discuss the Sturdy Act. Sean has extensive experience in the furniture industry, including involvement with ASTM (which writes safety rules for furniture) for over 23 years. He played a role in the initial phases of the Anti-Tip-Over Act, which has now become law as the Sturdy Act.
Here are some key pointers from the podcast:
- Background of the Sturdy Act: The Sturdy Act was passed in November of 2022 and became effective on September 1st, 2023. It was introduced due to increasing incidents of children, particularly those aged five or younger, being injured or killed by furniture tip-overs.
- Details of the Sturdy Act: The Act addresses the issue of furniture tipping over and causing injuries, particularly to children. It applies to any furniture that could be a clothing storage unit, including larger nightstands, chests of drawers, door chests, etc. The Act covers any piece of furniture that is 27 inches or taller and 30 pounds or heavier. It applies to retail sales, meaning manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers must comply with its regulations. The key requirements include third-party testing in a certified lab, clear documentation of passed tests, proper safety labeling inside the drawer, and an anti-restraint device that has also passed testing. Production dates are also crucial.
- Industry Awareness and Compliance: Larger companies and those doing business with major retailers are generally aware of the Act and are taking steps to comply. However, smaller players in the industry, some importers, and distributors may not be as informed or feel the Act doesn't apply to them.
- Consumer Awareness: Consumers, especially younger parents, are likely to be more informed about the Act through various media and online sources. However, the general consumer awareness is not as high as within the industry.
- Product Changes for Compliance: The Act specifies tests for furniture with different drawer mechanisms (e.g., interlock mechanism). Furniture, especially at moderate or promotional price points, may struggle to meet these standards due to construction not being robust enough to handle the required weight for testing.
- Testing and Compliance Challenges: During testing, if there's any failure, the product fails. This includes issues with drawer guides, screws, and overall construction. Manufacturers need to ensure their products can survive and pass these tests.
- Impact on Different Market Segments: Higher-end products are more likely to pass the tests due to better construction and features like interlock mechanisms for drawers. However, even well-constructed high-end furniture might not automatically pass. The struggle is greater for lower-end market segments due to their current construction being far from compliant.
- New Label Requirements and Tracking: The Act requires a new label, specifically placed on the furniture. Manufacturers must track production dates to prove compliance, especially for products produced before the September 1st deadline.
- Ripple Effects on Manufacturing and Costs: Changes in construction to meet compliance will lead to increased costs. This includes using stronger materials, increasing the size of case pieces, and adding weight to the furniture. These changes will impact shipping expenses and potential for shipping damage.
- Design Changes and Cost Increases: Many manufacturers and importers are redesigning products to comply with the Act. Cost increases vary, with promotional price points seeing the most significant increases (up to 12-16%). Better-built products might see a 6-7% increase in costs.
- Advice for Wholesalers with Non-Compliant Products: Wholesalers should test their products to see if they meet the standards. Non-compliant products should be cleared from inventories as soon as possible. If a product passes in-house testing, it's advisable to get third-party certification.
- Anti-Tip Over Devices: Many products include anti-tip over devices, but not all meet the current standards. The device must pass the ASTM test to be compliant.
- Advice for Designers: Designers need to be aware of the center of gravity of the furniture. Contemporary designs with bases set back from the edge can pose challenges in passing tip-over tests. Designers might need to adjust designs to ensure compliance, such as having legs flush with the front of the case. Designers must ensure that furniture legs extend to the back of the case for stability. Taller units may require added weight in the back, which affects internal space and drawer depth.
- Material Choices: Certain construction types, like thin MDF panels over a low-cost wood frame, will struggle to pass the test due to inherent lightweight and distribution issues. The law will likely push for sturdier construction.
- Product Labeling and Usage: There's a gray area in determining what constitutes a clothing storage unit. Products like sideboards in dining environments might not need to comply with the Act, but any unit perceived as suitable for clothing storage by consumers could fall under the Act's rules.
- Fines and Recalls: The CPSC hasn't specified exact fines, but they could start at $10,000 per incident, potentially reaching $100,000. The cost of recalls can be in the millions, including expenses for advertising, replacement parts, and exchanges.
- Source Countries and Compliance: Compliance challenges vary more by factory sophistication than by country. Factories using a lot of particle board or MDF construction might face more difficulties. Indian factories, often using solid wood and heavier bases, might have an advantage.
- Testing and Documentation: Tests are available globally, and manufacturers must keep documentation of passed tests, typically valid for about 12 months. Annual testing is required for ongoing products, and any design or material changes necessitate retesting.
- Design Hacks and Functional Challenges: Some manufacturers consider using shorter drawer guides or varying drawer depths to pass tests. However, these changes might compromise functionality and consumer satisfaction.
- Consumer Usage of Anti-Tip Devices: Even with anti-tip devices included, many consumers don't use them. The Act requires furniture to pass the tip-over test without relying on these devices, with the devices added for extra safety.
- Choosing and Working with Manufacturers: The compliance team in each company must be detail-oriented, ensuring testing reports are verified and no changes to construction occur. Quality control (QC) teams need to be vigilant about receiving what was promised, and domestic inspection processes are recommended for additional safety.
- Testing During Production: Factories should conduct in-house testing once a piece is fully produced. Any change in drawer guide specifications or other components could affect the test results, necessitating diligence to avoid risks.
- Impact on Production and Procurement Teams: These teams must ensure materials and construction meet the standards, maintain documentation, and have systems for easy access to compliance records.
- Sales Team Involvement: Sales teams need to be informed about the rules and the company's efforts to comply, as there's a selling aspect to meeting these safety standards.
- Innovations and Improvements: The industry is exploring more efficient or unique ways to meet these standards, including developing mechanisms that prevent furniture from tipping over.
- Consumer Safety: The Sturdy Act's primary goal is children's safety. The Act addresses the increasing problem of furniture tipping over, which has become more prevalent as TVs have become wall-mounted and lighter.
- Advice for Industry Stakeholders: The key advice is to act immediately and not wait. Ensuring products are in compliance will build confidence in customers and minimize business risks. Meeting safety requirements is a significant selling feature.
The Sturdy Act represents a significant and necessary step forward in the realm of consumer product safety, particularly focusing on the well-being of our most vulnerable population – children. This legislation is not just a set of guidelines for manufacturers and retailers; it is a moral imperative that underscores our collective responsibility to protect young lives.
Compliance with the Sturdy Act is not just a legal requirement; it is an ethical obligation. Manufacturers, designers, retailers, and importers must embrace the spirit of this legislation, recognizing that their role extends beyond commerce. By adhering to the Act's standards, they contribute to creating safer environments for children to live, play, and grow.
Moreover, the Sturdy Act serves as a reminder of the dynamic nature of product safety and the need for continuous improvement and innovation in the industry. As technology and design evolve, so too should our approaches to ensuring product safety. This Act encourages manufacturers to think creatively and responsibly about how they design and construct furniture, prioritizing stability and safety without compromising on aesthetics or functionality.