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Children's furniture

Regulations for items intended for youths 12 and under

For years the furniture industry has developed standards that apply to children's furniture, and those standards have greatly improved the safety of this furniture. For example the Consumer Product Safety Commission has adopted the industry standard for cribs...

The industry was willing and able to comply with these standards, and recall (replace or repair) furniture that failed to meet these standards in actual use. So far, no big deal - no problem.

The CPSIA - 2008

In 2007 there were some high volume recalls of domestic products and large numbers of toys imported from China with lead-based paint and other problems. In the wake of these events, congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) which became law on August 14, 2008. The CPSIA imposes mandatory third party testing for all consumer products primarily intended for children 12 years of age or under. The independent lab has to certify that the item conforms to all Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations. Sounds good - so what's the problem?

  1. The law basically required the CPSC to publish new standards. But the tight economy cut the funding for the CPSC, so the law is in place that the regulations have to be followed, but the regulations have not been completely and clearly defined.
  2. The law did not reserve these safety regulations to the federal government, so many states have their own regulations - this may be good, but it requires different standards and testing in each state where the product might be sold.
  3. There was no grandfather clause... Some people say that items that were manufactured and had met voluntary standards before the law was passed may not be sold, since they haven't been tested. This may drive many manufacturers (and possibly stores) out of business. Note that this means it is also illegal to sell used items, since the testing is not known, and the item may have been modified (painted) since it was tested.
  4. Some interpretation of the law is that each "batch" of furniture must be tested. Fine if you are taking one item off a shipload of cribs (outside of the cost of storing the rest of the cribs while the testing takes place), but many domestic items are manufactured in small batches - so even though the design is great, and the wood and finish comes from the same trusted vendors, a complete unit from each batch (not just samples of the materials) has to be tested again.
  5. The testing is destructive... the finish must be scraped off the furniture to be tested - it is not sufficient to supply a sample of the finish used, since the lab must test the item, not just the material used. Perhaps the wood will need to be tested for toxicity and strength, etc. Lab testing of products is expensive - I don't have a quote for testing children's furniture (in part because the regulations for which the tests are being done aren't known yet), but similar testing for other items typically costs $10,000 each and takes many weeks or months.
  6. There is no exception or loophole for custom items.

As much as I would love to build a custom crib or youth bed for you, I don't have the legal staff to check the latest version of the regulations, nor would you want me to build two of everything, and pay an independent lab to destroy one of them. That's the law. Ugh.

Breaking news

In January 2010 the requirement for testing was deferred for a year (but the liability if it doesn't later pass the tests remains). Sorry, but if I am still liable for the results of the testing that I can't afford to do, that doesn't help me.

At the same time it appears that the CPSC is looking into component testing. Huh? It means that if I make something from wood, that natural material may be exempt from testing. If I apply finish, today the entire piece must be destructively tested, but if they allow component testing, maybe testing by the finish manufacturer will allow me to produce a toy or bed (or whatever), out of wood, with a tested and approved finish, without having the entire piece submitted for destructive testing. Maybe someday I will be able to provide this service again.

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