By Kristen Levine, Reporter
Sixteen years after the death of her daughter Meghan, Sterling mom Kimberly Amato has made it a mission to protect other families from preventable tragedies. On December 18, 2004, three-year-old Meghan Beck was trapped under a dresser she had been trying to climb while her family slept: an accident that occurs more frequently than commonly thought. Death and injury due to furniture tip-overs are not rare or freak accidents, but have a documented statistic of an incident every 45 minutes.
“The more I learned the more dumbfounded I got,” Amato said. “I really thought that if I just told people that this had happened, that everybody would do everything in their power to fix it.”
Amato’s advocacy for tip-over awareness and change has brought together enough interest from affected families to form the coalition Parents Against Tip-Overs, or PAT. Amato herself is a founding member of the organization.
“We connected with other child advocacy groups, Consumer Reports, and Kids In Danger; it helped us understand how to navigate with the Voluntary Standards Committee,” Amato said. “PAT as a whole got very involved with the Voluntary Standards Committee…they’ll engage in conversation with us.”
Amato noted that the Committee, while open to consumer feedback, is slow to implement change.
“I became very actively involved in late 2017,” she said. “I participate in meetings, task groups, and I’m a voting member. It’s infuriating because it’s very contentious; the industry seems to stall every opportunity they get. They will say ‘oh, well, we need to wait for more data.’ We say, ‘our kids are your data.’”
Beyond direct conversation with manufacturers, political aid has been sought out. A bill called the Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act of 2021, or STURDY Act, has been in the works for three years, introduced in 2018 to Congress. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) put the bill forward with the intention of holding manufacturers to account, as stated on the Congresswoman’s mission statement: “The STURDY Act directs the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt a stronger, mandatory stability standard for clothing storage units within one year of enactment, following the streamlined rulemaking process that it has used for numerous children’s products.”
Despite the Act being killed in-committee in its first run to approval, with the re-introduction of the Act going through the House of Representatives and Senate, Amato is hopeful for its second attempt.
“We are optimistic and very hopeful that the STURDY Act will pass,” she said. “The voluntary standard is not working and isn’t strong enough. Dressers are still falling on kids, and there are still kids dying every two weeks. The voluntary standard in the past 20 years has only been addressed two or three times.”
With the STURDY Act addressing national standards, there is a state-wide bill in the works with Representative Kim Ferguson (R-MA) at the helm. Informally called Meggie’s Bill in honor of Amato’s daughter, the bill will formally be introduced to the Massachusetts State House for approval, with formal legislative naming and language incoming.
“People have asked me, the STURDY Act does something federally, why do something in Massachusetts?” Amato said. “I’ve been doing [activist work] for 16 years, this is the fourth version of STURDY in Congress….as much as I’m encouraged by the support we’re generating now, there’s no guarantees. Citizens of every state deserve to be protected. Massachusetts legislation is a little different; [Meggie’s Bill] would require that retailers selling furniture of any kind promote tip-over awareness, prominently display on the product floor and checkout…information about prevention, selling anchors. That way it’s another layer of protection for consumers in Massachusetts.”
As Meggie’s Bill and the STURDY Act bring the danger of furniture tip-overs into public attention, Massachusetts went a step further on June 2, declaring the day Tip-Over Awareness Day.
“We worked with Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito for Tip-Over Awareness Day,” Amato said. “It means a lot to me, it tells me that leadership in this state values the safety of our kids. It’s providing awareness to a problem that injures and kills kids…it really meant a lot to me that they were supportive of it and cared enough to issue the proclamation.”
By Kristen Levine, Reporter