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Is Ikea doing enough to make sure its furniture stops killing kids?

The company recently agreed to a $46 million settlement, after one of its Malm dressers toppled over and killed a toddler. The story doesn’t end there.

Is Ikea doing enough to make sure its furniture stops killing kids?
[Source Images: Ikea]

Ikea has agreed to a $46 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit brought against the Swedish furniture company by Joleen and Craig Dudeck, parents of a toddler who was killed after an Ikea dresser from the recalled Malm line tipped over and pinned him underneath it in 2017.

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The Malm line was recalled in 2016 following revelations of a fatal design flaw, which made the dressers prone to tipping over and killed at least eight children, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an independent U.S. regulatory agency tasked with protecting the public from hazardous consumer products. Since then, 1.4 million dressers have been either returned or supplemented with wall attachment kits—8% of the total 17.3 million recalled in the U.S. Ikea reached a $50 million settlement with three families in 2016, after their children were killed by the same unsafe line of furniture.

In the wake of the recall and deaths, Ikea has issued new safety protocols, including a Safer Homes app, which offers “room-by-room” safety tips based on a child’s age; in-store safety workshops; and mandatory Safer Homes training for employees. All of this is part of Ikea’s effort to “take strong measures to communicate the chest of drawers recall and to educate consumers on the dangers of furniture tip overs and how to prevent them,” an Ikea spokesperson said in a statement to Fast Company.

But is the company really doing enough? Last summer, Ikea announced a new series of dressers with “increased stability features,” Glesvär, for a limited time. There are three different designs in the Glesvär line; one dresser has an interlocking system to prevent multiple drawers from opening at the same time until the dresser is secured to a wall; one prevents any drawers from opening until the dresser is secured to a wall; the final design has only two front legs, and so must be wall-secure to even be functional. While the announcement indicated that the line would be available in stores starting December 2019, a quick search on Ikea.com for the product line produced zero matching product results. (A spokesperson clarified that the designs would be delayed until spring.)

“While no settlement can alter the tragic events that brought us here, for the sake of the family and all involved, we’re grateful that this litigation has reached a resolution,” the Ikea spokesperson continued. “We remain committed to working proactively and collaboratively to address this very important home safety issue. Again, we offer our deepest condolences.”

Alan M. Feldman, a lawyer for the Dudeck family, could not be reached for comment by press time. Ikea has stated its commitment to “helping move the entire industry ahead when it comes to product safety,” but with so many recalled Malm dressers still on the market, consumers should remain skeptical. After all, much of the recall process—and even product safety standard adherence—is voluntary. Recalls are negotiated between the company that offers the hazardous product and the CPSC; if a company doesn’t comply, the CPSC has little legal recourse except to sue, which can take years. (In fact, Ikea initially did not plan to recall the product back in 2016.) And ASTM F2057-14, the standard often used to determine whether a freestanding dresser is safe and tests whether a dresser tips when a 50-pound weight is hung from a drawer, is set by ASTM International, not the government. Again, it’s voluntary—although avoiding customers’ death, and bad press, should be objectives of any company.

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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