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Glass furniture scrutinized by standard setters and lawmakers

ASTM International officials moved forward on drafting a voluntary standard for glass furniture, a proposal many manufacturers say could hurt an already struggling sector of the industry.

A committee for the West Conshohocken, Pa., standard developer held its first meeting in March, says Don Mays, senior director of product safety for Consumer Reports and driver of the standard.

Mays said he and other Consumer Reports officials began pursuing a standard after learning that an average 15,900 glass-furniture related injuries occur annually, based on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

That number comes from the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database of all consumer-product related injuries treated in U.S. hospitals, based on statistics updated daily from a sample of 100 hospitals. The estimate of injuries only includes those treated in emergency rooms.

Most incidents of the 15,900 are related to glass tables, Mays says.

“Simply by the number of incidents [of injury], it’s almost a no-brainer that a standard needed to be developed,” he says.

To abide by the proposed standard, glass furniture would have to meet certain performance requirements, by either featuring safety glass or thicker glass, Mays says.

However, fabricators that make furniture glass, such as Joe Shanders, shop supervisor for Oakbrook Glass Center in Lombard, Ill., argue that the standards would drive up costs for companies already faced with low-priced overseas competition.

“If a standard says you have to use tempered glass, costs are going to go up,” Shanders says. “People are saying they don’t want to pay for that.”

David Feldman, president of GlassWorks Inc. in Northfield, Ill., also opposes such standardization. He says, however, that if the committee does move forward, it should consider glass thickness. “Generally, on our tables, we use ľ-inch glass, by its very nature strong and durable,” Feldman says. “But if it ever did break, it would break into a chunk.”

To members of the industry who disagree with the proposal, or who have suggestions about the development, Mays says: “They should become part of the process. They should join the committee, or at least come to the meetings and express their concerns.”

The next meeting will be held in September or October, Mays says, but a firm date has not been chosen. ASTM standards can take less than 12 months--or five years or more--to go into effect.

There is a chance the voluntary standard could instead become part of a proposed furniture safety bill, HR 1861, The Elise and Meghan Agnes Act, Mays adds. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., introduced legislation on April 26, 2005, that would require furniture to meet certain overall safety, stability and labeling requirements.

The legislation is “in the very early stages and needs to gain traction,” Mays says. “But it’s possible that glass safety [in furniture] could become part of that.”

 

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