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Falling Cafeteria Table Kills Five-Year-Old Boy

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Philadelphia officials and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are investigating the death of a five-year-old boy crushed by a cafeteria table. Investigation of the school district's tables reveals 500 faulty tables. Included: Advice from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

What began as a routine lunch break for a Philadelphia kindergarten class ended in tragedy when a cafeteria table folded up for storage fell on a five-year-old boy.

The kindergartener, Jonathan Cozzolino, died of head trauma. The table fell on him as he was leaving the Disston Elementary School gymnasium after lunch on February 1.

The tragedy serves as a reminder of the dangers associated with portable cafeteria tables. Over the past 20 years, nine deaths and 14 injuries caused by cafeteria tables tipping over on school children have been reported, said Ken Giles, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Furniture that tips over also causes problems at home; about six deaths and 10,000 injuries are reported annually. Accidents in the home are generally caused by televisions on carts or stands, bureaus, and bookcases, Giles said.

"In schools, these accidents are relatively rare but when they happen, they create a potentially deadly hazard," said Giles.

In 1989, the commission issued a warning about cafeteria tables, identifying six table manufacturers at that time. Every school district in the nation received an order form for a free supply of warning labels. The label stated "Warning: Tip-Over Hazard! Do Not Let Children Move or Play with Mobile Folding Tables." Schools were urged to keep children away from tables being moved and to keep children from playing with the tables.

"This [home and school furniture tipping over] is an issue we've been dealing with for years," Giles told Education World. "The bottom-line recommendation is -- for schools -- when tables are folded up, you've got to restrict children from that area. Kids should not be around folded tables at all. Only adults should be around when a table is in the up, folded position."

Giles said he was unable to comment specifically about the Philadelphia accident because the details need to be clarified. Philadelphia police officers are still investigating the accident "It's pretty clear that children should not be within reach of these tables," Giles warned.

The type of cafeteria table involved in the Philadelphia accident can weigh up to 350 pounds and stand 6 feet when folded. The table involved in the kindergartner's death folds in the middle and has wheels at its base, said Paul Hanson, a spokesman for the Philadelphia School District.

Hanson said that the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission alert specifically warned against children's folding or moving the tables. There was no warning about any hazard for children who stand near folded tables, Hanson told Education World.

Hanson said he was unable to comment further, pending a lawsuit filed by the child's mother, nor was he able to confirm the number of cafeteria tables district staff removed from the school following inspections. The day after Jonathan's death, Philadelphia School District chief executive officer Philip R. Goldsmith ordered the inspection of all cafeteria tables in the district's schools to ensure they are in safe working condition. According to local newspaper reports, approximately 500 tables were discovered to be faulty for a variety of reasons.