Consumer Watch: Parents, carers urged to be aware of the risks of toppling furniture

Candice EvansGeraldton Guardian
The family of toddler Reef Kite, who was tragically crushed to death by a chest of drawers at his family's rented home.
Camera IconThe family of toddler Reef Kite, who was tragically crushed to death by a chest of drawers at his family's rented home. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The Sunday Times

Furniture can look like a playground to young eyes, which is why it is so important for parents and carers to be aware of the dangers and take steps to minimise the risks.

Toppling furniture and appliances kill an average of one child every year in Australia, with many others also suffering injuries, including brain damage and broken bones. Here in WA, a one-year-old girl tragically died when a chest of drawers fell on her late last year.

The risk occurs when children try to climb furniture such as a chest of drawers, wardrobes, bookcases and tables, or try to reach electronic appliances such as large TVs. If these items are unsecured, the child’s weight can cause it to topple, which may trap and crush them underneath.

That’s why we recommend families secure these items to the wall and give some thought to the type of furniture they are putting into their homes.

When buying furniture, it is best to choose low-set pieces or those with sturdy, stable and broad bases that are less likely to tip if a small child climbs on to them.

If you must buy lightweight furniture, be sure to restrain it from tipping by attaching, mounting or bolting it to the walls. Equipment to anchor furniture is not expensive and readily available from hardware stores.

When securing items, check that the fixings are appropriate for the item’s size and weight and seek professional help to affix furniture to avoid any injury, damage or electrical wires/water pipes in the wall cavity.

If the home is a rental, tenants are allowed to fix furniture and appliances to walls with the permission of the landlord or their agent. Permission can only be refused in very limited circumstances, such as the home being heritage-listed or if the walls contain asbestos.

Fixing furniture to walls only involves a small amount of money and effort, but the result will have an enormous effect in preventing child injuries and deaths.

Changes to the laws to allow tenants to fix furniture without their landlord’s permission were introduced in 2018 in the wake of the tragic death of Perth toddler Reef Kite, who was crushed by a chest of drawers that toppled on top of him at his family’s rented home in 2015.

More information on furniture stability is available on the Consumer Protection website. Enquiries can be made by email to consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or by calling 1300 30 40 54.

Candice Evans is senior regional officer for Consumer Protection in the Mid West and Murchison.

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