How (and why) we reported on child safety hazards involving tipping TV sets

The story, at its most basic level, was tragic.

A young boy died after a TV toppled over and crushed his tiny frame.

In reporting the story of the Arlington Heights boy, we spoke to experts who said that as awful as his death was, the circumstances weren't uncommon. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission had just released a report on the staggering statistics.

The numbers we found

More kids were killed in accidents involving falling TVs between 2000 and 2010 than by unstable furniture or appliances combined. Nearly 70 percent — 169 children — of tip-over deaths between 2000 and 2010 involved TVs, the commission reported. TVs are also the chief culprit when it comes to tip-over-related emergency room visits, with an annual average of 13,700 TV-related injuries, the report states.

Understanding a second tragedy

We were in the middle of researching a story dissecting why this was happening and what consumers could do about it when a second child from the Chicago area was killed by a TV tipping over.

We do a lot of consumer watchdog reporting at the Chicago Tribune. This story was staring us in the face. As much as the pair of incidents troubled us, it underscored the reporting we were doing.

We reached out to more experts and read additional academic studies. We heard the same thing again and again – simple safety straps could greatly reduce the risk of a TV tipping over and killing a child. But manufacturers aren’t required to include the straps with the TVs, and a number of electronic stores that sell TVs don’t always carry the straps. Advocates called for the straps to be included at the time people walk out of the store with their TVs.

We took this back to Underwriters Laboratories, the group that sets the voluntary standards for TVs and their stands, and they said the standards in place have proven themselves. A panel of experts, ranging from engineers, safety advocates and manufacturers  came up with the standards. They also noted that there are many factors that can cause TV tip-overs, including placing the TV on a rickety stand or a dresser that wasn’t designed for it.

The devastating human impact

In reviewing the data and talking to experts, we could not forget the people this most impacted – the families of the children killed in such accidents. Neither of the local families, with tragedies so recent, were ready to speak to us. So we spoke to Sylvia Santiago, a Connecticut mother whose daughter was killed in 2008 when a TV fell on her.

“At first I didn’t know she was underneath, then I saw her legs,” she said. “She just whimpered. Her (pacifier) fell out of her mouth. I kept telling her, ‘Stay with me, baby. Stay with me.’”

Such stories must be told, told well, and told correctly.

-- Duaa Eldeib

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