Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lawmakers slam regulators on oven tip-over risk

Lawmakers slam regulators on oven tip-over risk
By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers criticized federal safety regulators on Tuesday for not doing more to prevent kitchen range tip-overs that have killed dozens of people, mostly small children, and urged action soon.

Lighter-gauge steel ranges are more affordable and began replacing heavier models in recent years, but they may also tip over when weight is put on an open oven door.

At least 33 people -- 60 percent of them small children -- have been killed since 1980 by free-standing kitchen stoves tipping over on them, said Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak in a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's acting chairman, Nancy Nord. The letter was obtained by Reuters.

Dozens more people, including children and elderly people, have suffered injuries such as severe burns in range tip-overs, said the lawmakers, both Democrats from Michigan.

"Nowhere in the course of this appalling history, however, is there any indication that the commission has seen fit to take action to end these deaths and injuries," they said.

Dingell and Stupak urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to "take immediate action to address this issue" and set a late April deadline for it to say what it plans to do.

CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said the commission pushed for better anti-tip-over standards in the 1980s and got them.

In 1991, the industry adopted a voluntary standard requiring free-standing ranges to be tip-proof if 250 pounds of pressure is applied to the open oven door. Ranges failing this test must be fastened to the floor or wall, under the standard.

But even after the standard was adopted, deaths and injuries caused by tip-overs continued, the lawmakers said, citing the CPSC's own statistics.

Vallese said, "The CPSC staff believes that the upgraded anti-tipping standards for stoves are highly effective."

Even so, she said, the commission understands the lawmakers' concerns and is working to address them.

Dingell chairs the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. Stupak chairs the same panel's oversight and investigations subcommittee.

Last week, consumer groups warned that appliance retailers that sell and install ovens are putting consumers at risk by not installing safety brackets that prevent tipping.

The groups called on sellers, such as Sears Holdings Corp., Lowe's Cos. Inc. and Home Depot Inc., to notify consumers about the design flaw.

The problem could be avoided by installing L-shaped brackets to keep ovens in place, said the groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and Public Citizen.

Dingell and Stupak asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Nord to say whether or not the commission has the authority to require the installation of brackets or other stabilizing devices.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey)