Tipping Point

By Elia Petzierides
Do you check on your sleeping children before you go to bed? James and his wife did. What they found changed their lives forever.
Two hours after tucking their two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son into bed James (a pseudonym) and his wife were about to go bed themselves. On their way they checked on their children. Their first stop was their daughter’s bedroom. They quietly opened the door and saw the chest of drawers at the foot of her bed leaning over against the bed. They turned on the light and saw that their daughter was stuck between the foot of the bed and the chest of drawers which had apparently tipped over onto her. 
They placed their daughter on the floor and without any signs of life commenced resuscitation which the paramedics continued when they arrived soon after. Forty minutes later resuscitation was ceased and their daughter was pronounced deceased, two months short of her third birthday.
It is believed the toddler (whose identity was not released) climbed up the chest of drawers to reach some ornaments she liked holding. This caused the chest of drawers to overbalance and tip over, pinning her against the foot of the bed and suffocating her. Confirming this belief, the forensic pathologist listed the cause of death as traumatic asphyxiation. 
The identity of the family was not released by the Victorian coroner who investigated this death which occurred during February, 2010 on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia.
Furniture tip-overs caused 13 deaths of children under 16 years of age in Australia over a 12 year period from January 2000 according to the Coroners Prevention Unit. The median age was one year and 11 months and the most common activity being undertaken by the children was climbing on or playing near the furniture. The most common items of furniture or appliances were chests of drawers, followed by televisions and cupboards.
Australian data capture for injuries from furniture tip-overs is yet to be standardised and as such reliable figures are unable to be sourced. A 2014 report by the USA Consumer Product Safety Commission on the other hand revealed a national average of 38,000 injuries per year from furniture, appliance and television tip-overs. During the three year report period (2011-2013) there were 121 deaths from tip-overs.
Over a 14 year period (2000-2013) the same report revealed there were 430 deaths (360 children, 19 adults, 51 older adults aged >60) caused by:
  • televisions 65%,
  • furniture (most often chests of drawers) 28%, 
  • appliances (most often over stove/oven) 7%.
While furniture standards are an important and evolving aspect of preventing furniture tip-overs, community awareness is seen to be crucial and forms the basis for this article.
A brochure published by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission lists 5 simple strategies for prevention.
  • Always discourage children from climbing on furniture. 
  • Move unstable furniture from where children play. 
  • Remember that to a child, a chest of drawers or shelves may be used as a ladder. 
  • Secure all tall furniture to a wall using angle braces or anchors (available from hardware stores). 
  • Put locking devices on all drawers to prevent children opening them and using them as steps. 
This website has age specific safety tips and this video introduces the topic of furniture tip-overs while listing the following preventative strategies.
  • Select furniture with broad and stable bases.
  • Test the furniture in the shop to make sure it’s stable.
  • Secure potentially unstable items such as bookcases and TV cabinets to the wall, using appropriate anchors.
  • Keep power cords out of reach.
  • Place any heavy appliances particularly televisions, as far back as possible on the furniture.
  • Choose tables that won’t tip if a child climbs onto them.
  • Use child resistant locks on drawers to prevent your child opening them and using them as steps.
  • Place an open play pen around your TV as a temporary barrier.
  • Don’t place any tempting items such as toys on top of the furniture because it will only encourage your child to climb up for them.
Furniture tip-overs can have disastrous consequences and have caused immeasurable grief. If you have furniture in your house that is a tipping time-bomb, the time to make it safe is now. It only takes a few dollars and few minutes of your time. We’re tipping you won’t regret it. 
The author Elia Petzierides is a Victorian based Advanced Life Support Paramedic and a Registered Nurse with a Graduate Diploma in Advanced Clinical Nursing.

Interesting article on furniture tip-overs.

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