By: Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP
Inflatable bounce houses are definitely a lot of fun for the kids and they are a sure hit for outdoor parties. But are they safe?
Inflatable Bouncer-Related Injuries on the Rise
The study, "Pediatric Inflatable Bouncer-Related Injuries in the United States, 1990-2010" (published in the December 2012 issue of Pediatrics), found that from 1990 to 2010 more than 64,000 children were treated in U.S. emergency departments for inflatable bouncer-related injuries. Also, the rate of those injuries has been significantly on the rise:
From 2008 to 2010, the number of inflatable bouncer-related injuries more than doubled to an average of 31 children injuries per day.
Just like the trampolines, bounce houses are NOT safe. In recent years, there have been a series of reported accidents involving bounce houses. Although the actual rides seem pretty harmless, the accidents usually involve falls and faulty installation. Strong winds and poor anchoring can result in either the sets collapsing or becoming air-borne, which can cause series – sometimes fatal – accidents. Although these bounce houses are manufactured with safety in mind, the installations are not always inspected and well-regulated.
There are standard installation guidelines, proper anchoring methods, weight limits, and safe operating protocols – including instructions on the weather conditions to avoid. Not all states need a certificate of inspection before operating these bounce houses. This allows less than adequate measures during installation, which is a set-up for accidents. Also, as with trampolines, these bounce houses are a perfect setup for injuries from fall such as sprains, fractures, abrasions, and head injuries.
Bounce House Suppliers
Before buying from or hiring a bounce house supplier, there are some obvious precautions to take:
Check the advice given by the supplier on how to operate the equipment. It should contain detailed instructions, weight and operating guidelines. If such advice is not provided, be wary.
Ask the supplier if they have records of accidents/incidents in the past and what measures were taken to prevent them. If you hire a bounce house supplier, you should be asked to report any accidents, even 'silly' ones to them, so that they can improve their advice to others. If they say that they never have accidents, be suspicious. Accidents like bumps, bruises, sprains and even broken bones can be expected in any boisterous activities involving children.
Check if the supplier has their inflatable sets checked annually by a competent person. They should be able to show evidence of any reports.
Bounce House Safety Guide for Parents
Follow all the recommended guidelines for safe installation including anchoring. The bounce house should be situated away from any fences, greenhouses, branches, etc., which would be dangerous should a child fall onto them.
Consider limiting use to children 6 years of age and older.
Kids should take off footwear, eyeglasses, and jewelry before getting on the set.
Take any sharp objects (pens, keys) out of their pockets/hands before playing (they could easily cause puncture injuries).
Do not let children of significantly different sizes onto the bounce house at the same time. Smaller kids are at risk of injury from colliding with or falling under an older child.
Do not allow adults and/or children who are larger than the height/weight that the bounce house is designed for.
Food, drink, bottles, glasses etc. should not be taken onto the bounce house.
Supervision should be maintained all the time. If supervision cannot be maintained, the bounce house should be deflated and moved away. Supervision means watching constantly and not just being in the area!
Children should be informed that they must not push other children off the inflatable. If it is a flatbed, this is especially important so as to avoid broken arms and legs. If the bounce house is of the walled type, then children should not be allowed to bounce against the walls and crash into one another –this can result in collision injuries.
Follow the advice given on the maximum number of children permitted at any one time and let them on and off in a controlled manner.
Children should not be allowed to climb onto the outside walls. Flips and rough play should also not be allowed.
When the weather is nice outside, bounce houses and trampolines sound like a fun addition to many water parks, amusement parks, restaurants, outdoor parties, or even a permanent fixture in the backyard for kids. However, be aware of the risks these play sets can pose and make sure adequate measures are taken to minimize accidents because within seconds or minutes these inflatable sets can go from fun rides to terrifying nightmares.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org:
About Dr. Berchelmann:
Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at Mercy Children's Hospital, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Missouri School of Medicine, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Kathleen and her husband are raising six children.