Flat-screen dangers: The summer safety risk and what parents should know

For many families, summer vacation means children will spend more hours at home than they do during the school year. Extra time at home may expose children to unexpected risks from surprising sources – such as an unstable television.

“American children are needlessly suffering from unintentional injuries at an alarming rate,” says a 2009 SafeKids report. “The risks that children face go far beyond a sprained ankle or a skinned knee. Every 101 minutes, a child in the United States dies from unintentional injury … .”

Accidental injury is the top killer of children younger than 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the overall number of accidental injuries to children has declined, the CDC reports, certain types of injury – like those caused by unstable TVs – have increased.

Between 2000 and 2010, 176 people died as a result of TVs tipping over on them, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) report “Instability of Televisions, Furniture and Appliances: Estimated Injuries and Reported Fatalities.” Ninety-six percent of those deaths were children younger than 18. In 2010, the report estimates 20,000 emergency room visits were the result of tipping TVs – a 25 percent increase since 2006.

“We view (the instability of televisions) as one of the most dangerous hidden hazards in the home,” says Scott Wolfson of the CPSC.

“Children like to climb on furniture,” says Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the CPSC. “Placing TVs on furniture not intended for them or having furniture that is not secured can have tragic consequences. These tragedies can be prevented by taking low-cost steps.”

“Fortunately, consumers have many resources for making their TVs, and especially their flat screens, as secure as possible,” says Ryan Hagberg, director of consumer marketing of Sanus, makers of entertainment furniture and TV wall mounts.

First, Hagberg advises consumers, be aware of the real weight of your flat-screen TV. A 32-inch flat screen can easily weigh 50 pounds, and larger ones may weigh more. Even ultra-thin models that are less than 1 1/2 inches thick may still weigh more than 40 pounds.

“That’s more than enough weight to cause injury if it falls on someone, especially if it tips or falls on a small child,” Hagberg says.

To minimize the risk of a TV tipping or falling, always properly secure it to appropriate furniture or mount it on the wall. TVs, especially flat screens, should never be placed atop dressers, bureaus, benches, boxes or folding tray tables. Instead, choose stable furniture made for displaying a TV, and always secure the top edge of the TV to the back of the furniture. The furniture itself should be secured to the wall, following the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Even properly constructed, appropriate furniture will be top heavy with a TV on it, so correctly securing it is essential. Look for products like Sanus’ Anti-Tip Strap that safely holds the flat screen in place by attaching the TV to the furniture and the wall behind it.

Wall mounting a flat screen is the safest option, and one that not only places the TV out of reach for little hands, but looks good, too. “When done properly with a high-quality mounting device, wall mounting a TV is much safer than placing the TV atop a piece of furniture,” Hagberg says.

Look for a product, like Sanus’ VisionMount series, which incorporates a wall plate that secures into the studs behind the wall, and attaches to the TV with mounting brackets. All mounts within the Sanus offering lock securely to the wall and all are listed by Underwriters Laboratories, an independent organization that subjects products to rigorous safety testing.

“The safest, most practical mode of displaying a flat-screen TV and all its components (DVR, video game, cable or satellite receiver, etc.) is to mount the TV on the wall and place the components beneath it on a piece of furniture specifically designed for that purpose,” Hagberg says. To learn more about options for safely mounting your TV, visit www.Sanus.com.