Free-Range Kids

Ikea Is Recalling Dressers Deemed Safe Enough to Sell in Europe

Is one death per 10,000,000 a truly reckless safety record?


Udra11 / Dreamstime

This week, Ikea made a sweeping recall of its 29,000,000 dressers sold in America and Canada:

After the deaths of three toddlers, Ikea has agreed to immediately stop selling dressers that too easily tip over, and to offer full refunds to millions of customers who bought them.

The recall applies to 29 million dressers, some sold more than a decade ago, including the company's popular, low-cost Malm line. By Monday, Ikea's website no longer carried the Malm models blamed in the deaths, which fail industry stability tests.

Details of the agreement, which a federal agency source briefed on the matter called "unprecedented," are scheduled to be made public Tuesday.

The accompanying photo of the bureau with all of its drawers pulled out was scary—it looked like it could easily tip over. And I vividly recall me making my husband bracket our bookshelves to the wall when our kids were young—it was just too easy for me to imagine them being crushed. And Ikea did tell consumers to secure its dressers to the wall—as should every furniture and TV manufacturer,  I guess. The units were sold with bracket kits and instructions. (Though whether Ikea instructions help or hurt consumers is up for debate.)

All that being said, I also wonder if any item not nailed down is ever safe enough. The pictures of the kids who died after the chests fell on them are heartbreaking, as are the quotes from their parents. And yet, 3 out of 29,000,000 is about 1 in 10,000,000. Is one death per ten million a truly reckless safety record?

I ask not out of any knee-jerk distrust of recalls, but out of real interest. An anonymous source from the Consumer Products Safety Commission was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday saying:

"It's truly remarkable," said the commission source. "A scope that we haven't seen from the agency. It's total capitulation by Ikea."

"Total capitulation" strikes me as an odd phrase. As if Ikea believed in its product but had to capitulate to our particular culture.

And now Reuters is reporting that Ikea will actually recall 36,000,000 dressers, responsible for a total of six children's deaths since 1989—that is, in the past 27 years.

Six deaths in 27 years. That's about one every four years from an item that is incredibly popular. In Europe and the U.K., Ikea will not recall its dressers, saying that, "The recall in North America is an outcome of a dialogue between IKEA in US and Canada and the local consumer authorities."

In other words, our country's regulators insist on recalling millions of units that other countries consider safe enough.

I've heard from readers saying that the Ikea dressers were particularly "tippy," and those saying they were not. Either way, obviously no one is in favor of any child ever getting hurt, especially due to a shoddy product. But the question remains of whether we must react to any and every child's death—including one every four years—with a massive recall.