Inflatable Play Structure

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Kids love to play and they really love to bounce. It’s no wonder that inflatable play structures (aka bounce houses) and similar attractions pop up during camp and special events. Whether the design is a slide, an enclosed bouncer, or a climber, several things should be considered to ensure that the kids’ fun time is also safe.

The attraction is generally rented from a vendor who may supply it with or without set-up and oversight. Selecting the most appropriate vendor should ask the following:

  • How experienced are they in inflatable play structure operations? Will they train you? If you will be the operator do they provide written instructions?
  • What safety measures are provided? Are any optional? If so, why?
  • Do they have adequate insurance limits? Will they provide a certificate of insurance? If you are operating instead of them will their insurance also protect you?
  • Are state inspections required? Who is responsible, the owner or the operator? Are fees involved?

Whether you or the vendor will operate the attraction, consider the unit and where it will be placed; verify that the following are all true before use:

  • the area is clear and level – no slope, no nearby objects or buildings
  • it is set on a soft surface – grass is great; concrete, asphalt, and gym floors are generally unacceptable (though some are specifically designed for hard surfaces)
  • it is staked to the ground or is specifically designed to be weighted with heavy sandbags or the like so that it is immovable;
  • the blower is located where a child cannot land on it
  • power to the blower cannot be shut off except by authorized individuals and cannot be interrupted by someone tripping on the cord or some other accident
  • any netted walls have mesh-holes small enough that a finger cannot be caught in them
  • it is fully inflated and there are no tears, rips, or holes

Once activities have begun, no matter who operates the attraction; see that the following are diligently enforced:

  • All manufacturer’s guidelines – e.g., weight limit, capacity, inflation (don’t under or over inflate), etc.
  • Parents should not be allowed inside – children who need that level of parental involvement (e.g., under age three) should not be allowed to participate.
  • Children should be grouped by size and age; a larger person can virtually launch smaller ones; some may consider that to be fun, but it is not safe.
  • Have participants remove shoes, glasses, and any sharp objects before entering.
  • Access and behavior should be closely supervised; staff outside are to control access (the four points above) and staff inside are to control behavior – the staff inside the unit should move about as little as possible and should not participate in the play.
  • If the weather gets windy or otherwise inclement activities should be discontinued immediately.

Redwoods’ customers have only had about 20 incidents from the use of inflatable play structures over the last several years, mostly minor. The inflatable play structure industry, however, has seen at least seven deaths from the use of these attractions, five involving people from ages 15-24. The structures have a history of collapsing and being tossed about by wind – all too frequently with tragic results (three instances with 12 injured, 10 with five or more hurt). Please follow this link for details of approximately 30 significant incidents encompassing about 140 injuries.

Electing to own your own unit instead of renting one for special events brings additional considerations, besides placing all the burden of safety on you. You will have to contend with cleanliness and sanitation, deflation and storage, inspection and inflation, etc. You may be tempted to rent an owned unit to others – that choice greatly increases both the opportunity for a significant event (which will involve you as the owner) and possibility that the unit will be damaged.

Only you can decide if use or ownership of an inflatable play structure is wise for your camp. The very real possibility of serious injury or death should be weighed against the fun and excitement that may be generated. The decision should be considered by upper management and possibly governing boards, not just programming staff.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about JCC risk management issues.

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