It’s a given that IKEA, the world’s largest home furnishings retailer, has announced more than a few recalls in its 73-year history.
In just the past couple of years in the United States, the Swedish flat-pack heavyweight has recalled everything from toy drumsticks (potential choking hazard) to glass mugs (laceration hazard), crib mattresses (risk of entrapment) to elk-shaped whole wheat pasta (non-declared soy content). The recall of the GOTHEM line of table lamps (risk of electrical shock) earlier this year was a biggie.
And then there was 2013, a year of unappetizing infamy for the affordable home design emporium as it pulled feces-laced almond cakes, horsemeat-contaminated meatballs and pork-infused moose lasagna from the shelves of in-store food marts in numerous European countries.
Yet none of these summons compare in both size and scope to the recently announced recall of 29 million chests and dressers. This includes 8 million chests and dressers in IKEA's perennially popular MALM collection sold between 2002 and June 2016 along with 21 million additional chests and dressers for adults and children.
The recall — the largest in IKEA history — began in the U.S. but has since expanded into Canada.
The massive voluntary recall was initiated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) following a tragic incident in February of this year in which a Minnesota toddler was crushed and killed when a six-drawer MALM unit fell on top of him. MALM claimed the lives of two additional youngsters, in Pennsylvania and in Washington, in 2014. Additionally, there have been at least three other deaths, all involving children under the age of three, associated with toppling IKEA dressers since 1989.
What's more 41 non-fatal tip-over incidents in the U.S. have also been reported in recent years. All of the incidents, 17 of them resulting in injuries, have involved MALM units and children under the age of 10.
However saddening the deaths, the recall helps to draw much-needed attention to a crucial aspect of furniture installation that doesn’t seem to be all that widely practiced in the United States: wall anchoring.
None of the pieces of furniture — pieces of furniture IKEA has claimed were never meant to be freestanding — responsible for the three most recent deaths were securely affixed to a wall.
“I never heard of that before," Jackie Collas of West Chester, Pennsylvania, tells NBC News of wall anchoring as a safety measure against potentially toppling furniture. Collas’ 2-year-old son, Curren, was killed by a six-drawer MALM dresser in February 2014. Since losing her son, one of Collas’ “main goals right now is to just spread the word about anchoring anything that could fall.”
IKEA, in conjunction with the CPSC, began offering free wall anchoring repair kits to customers last summer as part of the Secure It! public awareness campaign. The campaign was prompted by the deaths of Curren Collas and Camden Ellis, a 23-month-old killed by a toppled three-drawer unit in his Snohomish, Washington, home in June 2014.
According to CPSC estimates, a child dies in an accident involving toppling furniture and home electronics every two weeks on average.
Speaking to the New York Times, Lars Peterson, president of IKEA US, refers to wall anchoring as “an integral part of the assembly instructions.” He notes: “If you are assembling correctly, the product is actually a very safe product.”
So, how just widespread is the practice of affixing furniture, IKEA or not, to walls?
Not as widespread as one would think although parents do seem more keen on the practice than non-parents. For many, it’s just one of those things along with securing windows, installing corner guards and tamper-resistant outlet covers and moving potential hazardous items to much higher shelves.
Yet for parents like Collas, wall anchoring wasn’t just not something practiced in her home — she had never even heard of it.
Many folks neglect to secure furniture to walls because they assume that, unless there’s a catastrophic earthquake or poltergeist infestation, weighty pieces of furniture just don’t come tumbling down by themselves. Why would a massive wooden dresser just suddenly throw itself to the ground?
Easy — because a young child has yanked open the drawers and is clumsily attempt to mount it. Here's a video that shows what horrific things can happen when a child (not a real one) scrambles up an unachored dresser.
You see, the danger here doesn't necessarily involve a child falling off a dresser and landing on the floor before completing their ascent. It’s the fact that a top-heavy dresser, or any scalable piece of furniture really, itself could become unsteady and fall forward on top of them.
Installing drawer latches and removing child-alluring objects are two methods of preventing a child from climbing a chest of drawers. However, securely fastening it to a wall using easy-to-install hardware like wall straps is the best safeguard against furniture-scaling toddlers. Anti-tip devices can be found at most hardware and home improvement stores along with retailers like Toys “R” Us. The cost for such crucial safety accoutrement, if not already included with the furniture, are inexpensive. Even simple drywall anchors should do the trick.
As for the IKEA recall, the retailer is offering full refunds to any customers who purchased the affected furniture, which, as mentioned, is believed to be perfectly safe if assembled and anchored properly, as recommended. As before, IKEA shoppers can also receive free anchoring kits if they chose to keep their units. In any event, customers in possession of a dresser or chest under recall who have not yet secured it and don't plan to in the immediate future are urged by both IKEA and the CPSC to move it to a safe area away from children.
Again, the recall only applies to the U.S. and Canada.
Looking around my own apartment, none of my own furniture, including several non-MALM IKEA items, is secured. I don’t have kids or pets and, frankly, it never occurred to me to affix large items to the walls. (I’m also a renter although that shouldn’t stop parents with young children from drilling away for wall-anchoring safety reasons.) But considering that I have slanted floors, top-heavy bookshelves and an uncanny knack at inadvertently harming myself with shelving units (I spent this morning with an ice pack pressed to my head), it might be a wise idea. And then there’s the fact that my building was built atop infill on the Brooklyn waterfront and shudders violently every time that a large truck rolls by.
That being said, I think I'll be stopping by my local hardware store tonight. I suggest that anyone with large and unsecured furniture, IKEA or not, do the same, particularly if you have young children romping around the house.