Over the last 10 years or so the inflatable industry has experienced a growth explosion. Prior to that, you could mention the word inflatable and people would give you a puzzled look. You would follow-up by giving a description and provide some additional terms such as moon-bounce or spacewalk and a light bulb would go off; oh, I get it! Wow! How things have changed.
Today, indoor inflatable locations and outdoor rentals are a staple for many events. An inflatable device can be many things. To be clear, we are discussing inflatable amusement devices. The kind that you can bounce on, climb over, slide down and crawl through. They can be dry, wet or a combination of the two. Inflatable devices used for amusement purposes generally are classified under the broad heading of amusement rides and devices. Standards exist that address the operation, design and inspection of inflatable amusement devices for both indoor and outdoor applications.
The popularity of these devices can be attributed to the several things. They are portable, mechanically simplistic and require very limited investment. They are the exact opposite of a typical amusement ride or device, allowing an inexperienced entrepreneur an opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of operating an amusement device. Ah ha! Danger starts to present itself. What we must realize as event producers and goers is the operation of an inflatable device presents challenges that meet or exceed that of some fixed-site amusement rides.
Case in point, inflatable devices are considered a form of interactive play equipment. These devices are highly participative in nature due to the requirements of the patron to interact with the environment to initiate a desired outcome. Most fixed-site amusement rides only require that the patron sit-down and be strapped-in for the ride. As a result, inflatable devices provide a unique and real opportunity for injury. Event producers must be diligent and should understand that there are inherent risks associated with the use of inflatable devices.
Event producers should investigate inflatable event rental companies prior to utilizing their services. Request that they provide policies, procedures, insurance documents, and training manuals. Additionally, you should ensure that they comply with ASTM F-24 on amusement rides and devices. It is also important to recognize that certain inflatable devices are more prone to incidents than others. The key is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK — please understand the basics.
MINIMUM SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
- Structure must be properly erected, operated and maintained during its use
- Fall zones must be correctly padded
- Manufacturer’s recommendations, operating instructions, safety inspections and maintenance procedures must be followed
- The device must be supervised and monitored at all times by properly trained personnel that understand and enforce the required safe practices for the unit
- Applicable laws, standards and industry safe practices must be followed
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.
Inflatable 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.