If you’re like most parents nowadays, you’re looking every year for something to make your child’s birthday party special. Pin the Tail on the Donkey gave way long ago to more adventurous activities, things like the increasingly popular bounce house, set up in your own backyard by one of thousands of party rental companies. Kids think they’re loads of fun, and parents assume they’re safe… that is, until an accident happens and a child is injured or killed. You should be aware that injuries on inflatable amusement structures are not uncommon.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than 4,000 emergency room visits a year in the United States are linked to inflatables. Bounce houses (also known as moon-bounces) cause the vast majority of injuries, but they’re not the only inflatable amusement attractions. Slides, obstacle courses, climbing walls and interactive (such as boxing or jousting) inflatables also feature in the accident statistics.
Nor are inflatables found only at birthday parties. They’re popular attractions at church and school events, fairs, festivals, grand openings and athletic competitions. As their popularity has increased over the last decade, so have injuries and fatalities. A report from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says that in 2010 alone, 30 children a day were treated for these injuries in hospital emergency departments. The number of injuries increased from 702 in 1995 to 11,311 in 2010.
Injuries sustained in inflatables include concussions, neck injuries, broken bones, and cuts and bruises. By far, the most dangerous inflatable attractions are bounce houses. The largest number of injuries in these occur to children between the ages of 3 and 11 years old. Just last month there were two such accidents in the news:
- On May 12, 2014, in South Glen Falls, N.Y., two boys, 5 and 6 years old, were seriously injured when they fell out of a privately owned 10-by-10 bouncy castle. The structure was staked to the ground, but strong winds lifted it at least 50 feet in the air. One boy landed on a parked car and the other fell to the asphalt. They were airlifted to a medical center with head injuries and broken bones.
- On May 31, 2014, a bounce house in Littleton, Colo., was picked up by a gust of wind, tumbling 300 feet across an athletic field during a lacrosse tournament. It was “like a bag in the wind,” according to one observer. Two 10-year-olds were injured, one hospitalized. This accident was similar to one in 2011 during a soccer tournament in Oceanside, N.Y., when 13 children were injured in a bounce house.
Even worse than serious injuries are the fatalities suffered on inflatable structures. Since 2002, the CPSC has documented 4 U.S. deaths involving different inflatable attractions:
- In 2002, a 21-year-old man in Florida broke his neck and died while jumping in an inflatable bounce.
- In 2003, a 15-year-old boy in Illinois died four days after he fell off an inflatable obstacle course slide and sustained a traumatic brain injury.
- In 2004, an 18-year-old Minnesota male died from a head injury suffered in a fall from an inflatable slide.
- In 2005, a 25-year-old woman in Massachusetts died after falling from a 28-foot inflatable climbing wall and striking her head on pavement.
You’ll note that those killed were between the ages of 15 and 25, whereas most nonfatal injuries occur in children aged 3 to 11.
What are the causes of inflatable ride injuries? Environmental conditions (wind, rain), operator error (inattentive, untrained), equipment failure (worn cables, faulty patches, sudden deflation due to blower failure), overcrowding, rough housing, and mixing of age groups.
Who is responsible for the safety of inflatable amusements? The CPSC regulates how amusement rides are manufactured, but there is no federal oversight as to how they are set up, maintained or operated. That is left up to the states, and the rules vary widely. In South Carolina, the regulation and inspection of amusement rides is done by the Office of Elevators and Amusement Rides – but they do not regulate or inspect air-supported structures.
So how can you protect your children, and maybe even yourself, from injury on an inflatable?
- Avoid use during high winds.
- Make sure there is a tarp on the ground to protect the bottom of the unit.
- Check to see that the inflatable is moored to the ground using every anchor point provided plus sandbags or weights.
- There should be no visible rips or tears.
- The unit should be fully inflated and not saggy.
- A responsible adult must supervise the inflatable amusement ride at all times.
- Before being allowed to enter an inflatable unit, people should remove shoes, jewelry, eyeglasses, hair clips, and other sharp objects that may injure others.
- No food, drink or gum allowed in the unit.
- No flips or rough play allowed in a bounce house.
- Do not let children sit or lie down while others bounce.
- If winds pick up or you see rain or lightning, get everyone out of the inflatable and turn off the blower motor.