Many people don’t realize there are certain appliances in their homes that can create real hazards. This is because appliances, such as ovens that are unsecure, can tip over. At least 34 people have been killed in tip-over accidents in homes across the country since 1980. The accidents are frustrating for safety advocates, who have tried for years to get both the manufacturers and consumers to recognize the risk. For example, the installation of a simple bracket can secure an appliance to a wall and that will solve the problem.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission counted 107 incidents resulting in injury or death from 1980 through 2006. Those included 33 fatalities — nearly half involving children under age two — and 84 injuries. Regardless of age, most injuries were burns from hot liquids spilled from pots or pans when a range tipped. Of course, the real danger is when a stove or other appliance tips over and falls on a person.
Pressure put on an open over door, as from a climbing child, may result in enough leverage for a stove to pitch forward. For example, Raven Holbert, age three, of Sedalia, Missouri, died in December 2001 after she opened the stove door in her family’s kitchen while reaching for cookies on a countertop. She died two days later from the blow to her chest. In 2009, a Modesto, California, toddler died two days before his second birthday when he climbed onto an oven door causing the over to tip over. Investigators said he opened the oven to use the door as a step.
The problem dates to the 1980s, when appliance manufacturers began making stoves lighter. Eventually, the industry agreed to a voluntarily fix and it began providing anti-tip brackets beginning in 1991. Every new stove is supposed to include warnings and instructions on installing the brackets. Now, the challenge is getting homeowners and appliance installers to use them. In 2007, consumer experts estimated that as many as 45 million American homes had stoves without an anti-tip device. Many communities require a bracket as a condition of getting an occupancy permit. In those areas, enforcement inspectors are not supposed to pass a property unless the oven is installed to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Joan Claybrook, former president of the Public Citizen advocacy group in Washington, pressed policymakers for years about this issue. “We tried to lobby Congress to ask for a recall,” she said. “They wouldn’t do it.” Claybrook said the industry should redesign stoves to remain stable without a bracket. Manufacturers claim their products are already safe, if installed properly. But safety principles require certain things to protect the public.
When designing a product, the first obligation is to design out the danger. There have been lots of lawsuits against manufacturers, home builders and installers due to this safety hazard. In 2008, Sears settled a class action lawsuit, agreeing to fix at least 3.9 million stoves that it sold and installed from July 2, 2000, through September 18, 2007. The company agreed to install anti-tip devices for free, or pay $100 to anyone who has paid Sears or a third party to install the device. More information is available from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers online at http://www.aham.org/consumer/ht/d/sp/i/2319.
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