WDAY: The News Leader

Published February 12, 2012, 04:51 PM

U.S. safety agency renews warning about tipping TV sets

CHICAGO _ The alert was inventive, if not romantic: "Give the gift of life for Valentine's Day. Anchor (your TV) and protect a child."

CHICAGO _ The alert was inventive, if not romantic: "Give the gift of life for Valentine's Day. Anchor (your TV) and protect a child."

Thus the Consumer Product Safety Commission sought last week to put yet another spin on a message that seems stubbornly elusive to some parents. Citing a recent rash of TV tip-over accidents in the Chicago area, the federal safety agency is again reminding parents to anchor their TVs and furniture and to help spread the word through social media.

The commission also plans to discuss safety tips during a Twitter conversation on Thursday.

After falling TVs injured or killed five children in the Chicago area in less than four months _ the most recent, a 2-year-old girl who was struck by a TV and dresser last Wednesday, was the only one to survive _ experts and advocates are renewing calls for public education and added safety measures.

"I think there's a role for everyone in trying to prevent this," said Andrea Gielen, professor and director of Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy in Baltimore. "People tend to think these are freak accidents. But they're all too common, unfortunately."

Gielen and a number of safety experts say TVs should come with straps or anchors to prevent them from tipping over. In addition, stores that sell TVs should sell the straps for consumers to use on their older TVs, she said.

"We have bike helmets where we sell bikes," Gielen said. "It's a strategy that we know works."

But manufacturers aren't required to include the straps, and representatives of big-box stores like Best Buy and Walmart have said they do not sell them.

Underwriters Laboratories, which sets voluntary safety standards for the TV industry, could update those standards to specify that safety straps be included when TVs are sold.

But John Drengenberg, UL's consumer safety director, said that wouldn't address the issue at hand. He pointed out that most of the recent Chicago-area cases appeared to involve older TV sets "in secondary locations."

The federal safety commission has reported that, from 2000 to 2010, 169 children died after TVs fell on them. Most of the research, though, doesn't specify whether the TVs were older models or newer, flat-screen varieties that, while lighter, can tip over more easily and still weigh enough to crush a child.

"I don't really take any comfort right now in saying that, 'Oh, it's probably just the older TVs.' I haven't seen anything that says that statement is true," said Gary Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that all TVs, old and new, be anchored.

"It's across the board," said Scott Wolfson, commission spokesman. "We believe it is important for parents to be aware of the tip-over risk of both."

Smith said TVs need to be designed so that they are more stable.

Drengenberg was quick to note that any changes to standards would only affect future TVs, not those currently in people's homes. He stressed that UL has safety standards, and discussions on TV safety are ongoing. The standards were most recently revised in 2004, and the last time the panel overseeing those standards met was in 2006. UL's priority is raising awareness, he said.

Despite anchors, experts recommend that TV sets be placed on low, stable stands, not on dressers or chests, particularly those with drawers. Parents should avoid placing remote controls, toys or anything that may entice a child to climb on or near the TV.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's Twitter conversation (@OnSafety) will held Thursday at 7 p.m. EST.