For many young kids, bounce houses are magical places where you can vault through the air, land on a pillow and take flight again. They've become a very hot item for kid's parties and backyard play areas. Many clubs, schools and organizations use them for fundraising.
While they can be great fun under the right circumstances, the rise in injuries to young children has increased an astonishing 1500 percent from 1995 to 2010. In 2012, a team led by the Center for Injury Research and Policy published the first comprehensive study of such injuries in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers found that 31 children per day were seen in emergency departments for "an inflatable bouncer-related injury."
On average, they found that the patient was about seven years old, and most commonly sustained some kind of fracture or sprain to a leg or an arm. Almost 20% of the cases involved head and neck injuries. Kids usually got hurt while falling inside the bouncer—rather than out of it—often into another kid of a different size.
Bounce houses and moonwalks have grown in popularity over the last two decades and can now be purchased at stores like Costco and Sam's. These DYI items are typically not as well made as commercial houses and do not come with anchors that are long and strong enough to withstand robust winds.
Because bounce houses have become so popular, there are a lot more amusement rental companies sprouting up. Drew Tewksbury, a senior vice president at insurance broker Britton Gallagher, developed an insurance program for amusement rentals like bounce houses. He says that trying to set up such playthings without professional operators and attendants is a "recipe for disaster." He also says that the question of liability is always determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on where the bouncy house is, who set it up, whether waivers were signed and whether instructions were followed.
Currently there are voluntary guidelines for how to set up and operate a bounce house set out by ASTM International. Nearly 20 states, Tewksbury says, have passed legislation making those guidelines mandatory, rules that cover everything from the number of attendants one must have present to how deeply stakes must be pounded into the ground and how strong winds can be before all children are forced to get out.
If you're considering renting or purchasing a bounce house for your child, there are safety guidelines set by the Child Injury Prevention Alliance that should be applied.
Injury prevention tips:
- Limit bouncer use to children 6 years of age and older.
- Only allow a bouncer to be used when an adult trained on safe bouncer use is present.
- The safest way to use a bouncer is to have only one child on it at a time.
- If more than one child will be on the bouncer at the same time, make sure that the children are about the same age and size (weight).
- Take off shoes, eyeglasses and jewelry and remove all sharp objects from your pockets before entering the bouncer.
- No rough play, tumbling, wrestling or flips. Stay away from the entrance or exit and the sides or walls of the bouncer while you are inside of it.
- If the bouncer begins to lose air, stop play and carefully exit the bouncer.
Two recent bounce house events have brought home how quickly fun can turn into tragedy. In mid-May, New York kindergartners playing inside a bounce house, were suddenly tossed 15 feet into the air when the bounce house was picked up by a strong gust of wind. Three children were injured, two seriously. A similar incident occurred in Colorado where two children were also injured.
Despite what may seem like a new rash of freak accidents, children with bounce-house injuries have been regular customers in the nation's emergency rooms for years—and they're only getting more frequent. Safety experts have been arguing for years that tougher safety guidelines need to be in place.
When the weather turns warm and school is out, bounce houses and moonwalk rentals and purchases increase. If you're thinking about one of these for your kids this summer, make sure that there is a well trained attendant on site and follow the Child Injury Prevention Alliance's guidelines. If the wind picks while your child is in a bounce house, have them get out. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Sources: Kate Steinmetz, http://time.com/2811240/bounce-house-injuries-become-an-epidemic/