Safety Failure: 5-year-old Boy Dies at Inflatable Center

Brian Avery provides safety consulting and expert services for inflatables

I am following a recent incident concerning the death of a 5-year-old boy at an inflatable center in Wichita, Kansas. I read a recent article titled: Inflatables’ owner says misuse had role in death. I recognize I am not privy to all the facts of the matter; however, based on what I read I felt compelled to write. I’m witnessing a disturbing trend within the indoor inflatable industry concerning a lack of employee training and ensuring a proper presence at each inflatable device.

To say the least, I was disappointed by the claim made by the owner/operator in this matter. How does a 5-year-old misuse an amusement ride/device? Does a 5-year-old fully understand the situation and the potential ill-effects from participating in an activity such as this? I don’t know any 5-year-old that could fully appreciate the potential for death while at play; especially in what appears to be a controlled and inviting environment. For that matter, I don’t know many adults that do either given these parameters.

5-year-old-dies-at-inflatable-ride-centerInflatable devices are a form of interactive play equipment and are highly participative in nature due to the requirements of the patron to interact with the environment to initiate a desired outcome. As a result, inflatable devices provide a unique and real opportunity for injury. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2001 issued a safety bulletin citing a rise in incidents relating to improper operation, anchoring and set-up concerning inflatable amusement devices. Could this 5-year-old have understood the inherent danger associated with an amusement device of this type? No. Was it the child’s responsibility to learn and self-impose the rules and requirements of the inflatable center? No. Whose responsibility was it then? First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to properly design and build an inflatable device that is free of any defects. In this instance, the device, at a minimum, should have contained the user. Unfortunately, many of the devices are not designed to meet exacting standards and do not adequately address issues of user safety – more and more of them are being bought on the cheap from overseas suppliers.

When design alone cannot eliminate the hazard the next best solution is to educate the user on the proper use of the device. This information should be supplied by the manufacturer to the owner/operator and predominantly posted at the facility and on each device. Furthermore, the information should be shared with each user and the guest should acknowledge that they understand the content. If a child is too young to comprehend or retain the information then it should be the responsibility of a parent to ensure that the child complies.

The final phase is to enforce the established safety policies and practices of the facility. This is done by complying with the recommendations of the manufacturer concerning the required number of attendants at each device. The CPSC also established a set number of attendants in 2001 (1 operator for devices under 15 feet and 2 for those over). A properly trained attendant(s) at the device in question could have allowed for the attendant to intervene and address the 5-year-old’s behavior. A properly trained attendant could have used enforcement tactics established by manufacturer provided guidelines and could have potentially averted any ill-effects from his supposed misuse. Inflatable device manufactures are required to use ASTM International standards in the design and development of inflatable devices.

It is my understanding that Kansas only has insurance requirements for inflatable amusement devices. ASTM F 24 on amusement rides and devices is the only standards-writing body with exacting safety standards on amusement rides and devices. As of February 2010, Forty-four states have adopted ASTM F 24 amusement ride and device standards either completely or in part. Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah are the six states that do not have any state ride/device safety laws. Over time, ASTM F 24 standards have become considered common industry practice within the industry.

In the article Mr. Zogleman (owner/operator) stated “it’s been a one-sided thing.” In my opinion he is correct. He and his staff had an obligation to ensure that the guests are properly warned and watched. I get personal responsibility – I just don’t understand how it applies to a 5-year-old boy at a “FUN” center.


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Brian D. Avery has over twenty five years of experience in the events, tourism and attractions industry. His background is comprised of three areas of expertise: risk and safety management, event design and execution, and education. Brian routinely is asked to speak on the topic of event and attraction safety and provide expert testimony.
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