Keep kids safe from TV tipovers
by Paul F. P. Pogue
Heeding warnings from family and friends about the dangers of television tipovers, Angie's List member Brandy Goldberg of Chicago says she knew she needed to take action as soon as her son started crawling.
"My son was very curious about the TVs, and we knew that one playful touch could cause it to fall on him," Goldberg says. "We tried placing a fence in front of the TV, but that lasted a few months before he figured out how to shake the fence."
She hired highly rated Acoustical Vision of Cicero, Ill., to mount her televisions to the walls in the living room and bedroom and run wires through the wall. She says she feels much safer as a result: "The televisions are out of reach completely."
Childproofing experts and the Consumer Product Safety Commission say Goldberg was wise to be concerned. Televisions, dressers and other heavy pieces of furniture pose a serious threat to children. According to the CPSC, television and furniture tipovers sent 16,000 children nationwide to the emergency room in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That's four times as many injuries as those caused by exposed electrical outlets.
"Parents take a lot of safety measures when they have children in their homes, but they're often not thinking about this particular problem," says CPSC spokeswoman Arlene Flecha.
Dr. Alison Tothy, medical director of the pediatric emergency room at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago, says she frequently treats children with tipover injuries.
"We most often see crush injuries and internal organ bruising from these dressers falling over onto children," she says. "Crush injuries to the head can be fatal. We've seen horrible injuries from TVs falling off unstable dressers."
Parents often don't recognize the danger of dressers, says Arvey Levinsohn, owner of highly rated A & H Child Proofers in Northbrook, Ill.
"They think it's so heavy, a child can't tip it," he says. "But when a child pulls the drawers forward, you're redistributing that weight from the middle to the front. Children look at dressers as a ladder. They pull the drawer open and start to climb. Any dresser will flip when that happens."
Levinsohn says he once childproofed a house after a large dresser had already fallen onto a child. "It was so heavy it took three of us to move it, but the child had managed to get it to tip," he says. "He required 17 stitches to his back."
Angie's List member Lana Gwinn of Chicago took Levinsohn's advice when he recommended that she secure the bookcase in her 2-year-old daughter Sasha's room.
"The bookcase could be tempting to climb, and we want her room to be a safe zone," Gwinn says. "Children are unpredictable. Even if you think your child is calm, you still need to take precautions."
Childproofers recommend securing televisions and furniture to walls with straps attached to each side of the item. The work tends to cost about $20 per item, plus materials, which can range from a few dollars to nearly $40, depending on the grade of straps, according to Josh Berliant, owner of Baby Solutions in Chicago. He childproofed a home for a client after their 3-year-old tipped over the TV and broke his foot.
"They got very lucky; that was the best-case scenario," Berliant says. "We strapped the TV to the piece of furniture and the furniture to the wall, and they haven't had a problem since."
Berliant says this work can be done yourself if you're handy and can find a wall stud, but suggests using a professional to do it with minimal damage to the wall or furniture.
In addition to children's rooms, parents should also make sure TVs in the master bedroom are secure, says Larry Stone, owner of Safety Matters in Deerfield, Ill.
"The TV will be too big for the stand, or it's on a piece of furniture that's not very sturdy," he says of what he finds in many homes. He agrees that the ideal way to make a TV safe is via wall mount.
"It's just as safe if it's attached to furniture, but I'd rather see it out of a child's reach," he says.
The TV itself isn't the only danger to consider, says Brent J. Metz, owner of Hooked Up Installs Inc. in Lincolnshire, Ill. Children are also attracted to wires, DVD players and other components attached to the TV.
"In most applications, we'll hide the components behind closed doors," Metz says. "With a universal remote, viewers are able to control all the equipment behind closed [glass] doors to ensure children can't be tangled in the cabling."
Metz says this work generally costs between $300 and $350 per television. He also notes that today's lighter LED and LCD TVs tend to weigh less than the plasma TVs for which most mounts were designed. Nonetheless, he recommends checking the mount's rating to ensure it has sufficient strength to hold the TV you're attaching to it.
Experts say education and parent awareness are keys to keeping children safe.
"People learn these things over time," Stone says. "Hopefully, they don't learn about it from injuries."
How to protect your kids from tipovers
- Any piece of furniture taller than it is wide is at risk of tipping.
- Attach a TV mount to studs, rather than just drywall.
- If your TV sits on a stand, make sure it is sturdy enough to hold the weight. Secure the TV to the stand and the stand to the wall.
- Don't rely on just one mounting point. A secure mount requires two straps, one on each side.
- Store heavier items in lower dresser drawers and lighter items in higher drawers.
- No safety measure can replace vigilance. "You need to supervise your children," Dr. Tothy says. "At a young age, they shouldn't be left alone."