How safe are bouncy castles?

With several serious incidents involving the inflatable occurring in recent weeks, here are the safety signs to look for

Kate Ng
Thursday 06 January 2022 16:46
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Bouncy castles are a staple at children’s parties, but the large inflatables have recently made the news for several serious incidents resulting in injury and death.

On Tuesday, an eight-year-old girl died after a bouncy castle in Spain was lifted several feet into the air by strong winds at a fairground. Eight other children were injured during the incident in Mislata, near Valencia.

Spanish police have launched an investigation to see if the bouncy castle was properly anchored to the ground before the high winds. According to a local newspaper, the inflatable had passed an annual inspection and another check by a qualified engineer.

In another incident in December, six children died in Australia after a bouncy castle was also lifted by strong winds, causing nine children who were inside to fall from 32ft in the air.

The last time a similar fatal tragedy took place in the UK was in 2018, when three-year-old Ava-May Littleboy was thrown from an inflatable trampoline on a beach in Norfolk and died from a head injury.

At the time, Conservative MP Robert Halfon called for the inflatables to be temporarily banned in public areas, following his call for a review into regulations around bouncy castles.

Here is everything you need to know about keeping bouncy castles safe and fun:

What are the rules around bouncy castles?

According to health and safety law, bouncy castles and other play inflatables should have annual tests carried out on them to check their integrity.

These tests must be carried out by a qualified person who has issued the inflatable with a PIPA or ADIPS certificate.

PIPA is an inspection scheme set up by the inflatable play industry to ensure such equipment conforms to recognised safety standards, while ADIPS stands for Amusement Device Inspection Procedures Scheme, which ensures fairground and amusement park rides or devices comply with British Standard BS EN 14960.

Either a tag (PIPA) or a Declaration of Operational Compliance (DoC) will be issued for any inflatable that has passed the inspection. These are registered on both schemes’ databases.

All inflatables must have at least six anchor points, says the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and should not be used in winds above 24mph.

What should I do if I want to hire a bouncy castle?

Advice from HSE urges anyone looking to hire a bouncy castle to ask for proof of its annual test.

You can also check if the tests have been carried out by checking the PIPA or ADIPS websites. HSE warns that if the inflatable does not have one of the two certifications, “you may be risking people’s safety”.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), firms hiring out bouncy castles should also provide stakes measuring at least a foot long to anchor the castle.

“Never hire one without means of anchorage if the inflatable is for outdoor use,” the organisation warns.

Reputable hiring firms should also be able to provide you with detailed guidance that includes information on what to do in the event of wet or windy weather, how to perform an inspection of the castle, and how many children can be safely accommodated on the castle at any one time.

What safety signs should I look for in a bouncy castle?

Phil Pike, of the Amusement Device Safety Council, recommends having a look around the inflatable before allowing anyone on it.

“Does it look right? Is it clean? Look for tears or worn stitching, and check that its shape looks right,” he writes in a blog post on the ADIPS website. “If the shape looks wrong, it may be that some of the internal stitching has come undone.”

He also emphasised the importance of making sure the bouncy castle is supervised at all times by someone with a whistle to gain the attention of any children playing inside.

“Do not let children climb on castle walls or somersault,” he said. “Unless otherwise stated, shoes should be removed to prevent people accidentally being kicked by others. Glasses may need to be removed and pockets should be emptied.”

Pike added that throughout any event, someone should continue to check on the castle to make sure its anchor points haven’t been dislodged, its inflation tube is secure and that any rips or tears haven’t occurred.

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