Is your big-screen TV a potential safety hazard for your family?

This is something you may not think about when you're buying a new set, but here's a sobering fact: Every 45 minutes, a child is rushed to an emergency room because of a television tipping over.

It's been a little while since we reported on the rise in injuries and even deaths attributed to a television set falling on a family member, especially a child. But last week, HD Guru questioned whether ever-larger TVs, plus changes to the way TV pedestals are designed, are contributing to the increase.

HD Guru's contention is that new designs—many of which position the legs at the very edges of the TV base—are even more unstable than earlier designs. That's because many of these sets are placed on existing media consoles, TV cabinets, or stands that were designed for TV pedestals with the legs closer to the middle of the stand. When one of these newer-style TV bases is placed on a traditional stand or console, the feet may extend beyond the edges of the stand, making it unstable.

One thing that is certain is that TV-related injuries continue to rise. Though newer LCD TVs tend to be much lighter than their older CRT counterparts, TVs have gotten much larger, with many sets having 55-, 60- and even 70-inch screens. That's increased their weight. (One TV we've tested, a 55-inch Bose, weighs more than 130 pounds.)

As you can see from the chart above, prepared by Safe Kids Worldwide using Consumer Product Safety Commission data, TV tip-over injuries increased by more than 30 percent in the 10-year period ended in 2011. And seven out of the 10 injuries were to kids ages 5 or younger.

Another ongoing concern: Repurposing an older living room or family TV for use in a bedroom or playroom, and placing it on a dresser. Kids will often pull out dresser drawers and use them to climb, which can cause the dresser and TV to topple forward onto the child. CPSC data shows that more than a third of TV-related injuries occur due to climbing, and 45 percent of these accidents occur in a bedroom.

Tip-overs don't have to happen

The encouraging—and perhaps tragic—news is that TV tip-overs are easily preventable. Here are a few recommendations that can help keep your home safe.

  • Wall-mount the TV. A properly installed wall mount—lag-bolted to studs or a hefty crossbeam—will keep the TV not only secure, but high enough off the floor so it can't be grabbed by small children.
  • If wall mounting isn't feasible, secure the TV to a wall (or the back of the stand if it' s substantial enough) using anti-tipping straps (about $8 to $16). Furniture holding the TV can also be anchored to the floor or wall using brackets, screws, or braces. If you're using straps, secure them to a stud in the wall, not just into drywall or plaster, which could give way under pressure.
  • Make sure the stand or furniture is sturdy and appropriate for the size and weight of the TV, and place the set as far back on the stand as possible. If you're putting a new TV on your old TV's stand, make sure that no portion of the pedestal or feet extend over the edge. If you have an older home with irregular floors, make sure the stand or cabinet isn't wobbly, and shim if necessary.
  • Avoid placing TVs on dressers and chests, as children may be tempted to use the drawers to climb on, possibly causing it or the TV to topple. If you're moving an older set to another room—especially a kid's bedroom or playroom—place it on a low TV stand: 30 inches or less. And make sure it's designed specifically to hold a TV of that weight, particularly a heavy older tube TV.
  • Place electrical cords and cables out of a child's reach.
  • Don't place kid-engaging items, such as remote controls or toys, on the top of the TV or TV stand.
  • Consider recycling an older tube TV rather than moving it into a child's room. Small, lightweight TVs are very affordable—there are several 22- and 24-inch models for $150 to $200 in our TV Ratings, and 19-inch sets start at less than $100.

By following these simple, inexpensive steps, you can make your home safer for your family, and maybe help stem the rising tide of TV-related injuries.

—James K. Willcox

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