Every teen or pre-teen party seems to offer the opportunity to bounce on some form of inflatable game. Inflatables come in all shapes and sizes with names like moonwalker and bounce house. They’re big and bouncy and irresistible to kids.
Unfortunately, the fun can end quickly. Kids pile on top of other kids, breaking bones, chipping teeth or worse, or when the structures deflate unexpectedly, trapping children inside. In the case of one Ohio boy in June, a gust of wind caught the poorly anchored slide and lifted it 40 feet into air with the child still aboard. He was brought to safety when some adults punctured the inflatable and it returned to earth.
Other children suffered bumps and scrapes when the ride flipped several times.
In 2007, a 3-year-old died when he was crushed by two adults. Last fall, a young girl died after she broke her neck doing somersaults down an inflatable ride in Festus, MO. And last month, a 17-year-old Texas boy attempted a back flip on an inflatable ride, fell on his neck, and is now partially paralyzed.
A Massachusetts-based company has been charged with manslaughter in the death of a woman who fell from an inflatable climbing wall and died from her injuries several days later. The company, Just for Fun Rentals, operated the device at a festival in May, 2005.
Such accidents are on the rise as the popularity of inflatables grows, according to the Web site, Ride Accidents.com, which tracks incidents. The newest numbers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which were last updated in 2005, report four fatalities in inflatable-related accidents from 2002 to 2005. In 2004, inflatable rides, such as inflatable slides and bouncers, accounted for an estimated 4,900 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms, according to the agency. That was up sharply from 1997, when the CPSC estimated only 1,300 such injuries — a whopping 277 percent increase in just eight years.
In 2007, the CPSC issued one of its first recalls of inflatable amusement ride devices in several years: Some 2,600 bounce houses made by Sportcraft were recalled after the company received a handful of reports of fans and the surrounding plastic breaking apart during use, causing the inflatables to lose air.
One of the first states to get tough on inflatables was New Jersey, which requires inspections and mandates that inflatables meet wind-anchorage and combustibility requirements. ASTM International, a voluntary-standards development organization, has developed a standard for inflatables. While ASTM standards don’t carry the weight of law, they may be referenced in laws or contracts.
Before letting your child use an inflatable at a carnival or festival, check with the operator to see if it is properly anchored and that users are supervised. If you are renting one for a backyard event, follow these safety tips:
- Limit the number of users on the device;
- Make sure the inflatable isn’t overloaded or unstable;
- Securely anchor the inflatable to the ground with pegs;
- Place the blower so it can’t accidentally be unplugged, causing the inflatable to collapse