You have seen them in a variety of location those inflatable amusement devices (inflatables) i.e. air filled structures designed to allow users to bounce, slide or climb on them. They have been noted at private parties, corporate events and yes even staff picnics but like everything else they need safety considerations to ensure everyone including the adults are safe.
An inflatable amusement device is “an amusement ride or device designed for use that may include, but not be limited to, bounce, climb, slide, or interactive play. They are made of flexible fabric, kept inflated by continuous air flow by one or more blowers, and rely upon air pressure to maintain their shape.”
They are made from flexible fabric, kept inflated by one or more ‘blowers’ and rely on air pressure to maintain their shape. The range of designs continues to increase with simple bouncing devices now joined by climbing frames and obstacle courses, crazy golf, slides and mazes, bungee runs and “barfly” type devices on which people wear special suits fitted with hook and loop fabric. In addition the use of inflatables as “art” has increased with air filled structures being used provide enclosed spaces for light shows etc.
There have been a number of instances where users of inflatables have suffered injury through inappropriate use e.g. mixed ages or over energetic activities. There have also been cases of inflatables breaking free, which have resulted in injury and even death of users.
There are three main designs for the most common type of inflatable, the “bouncy castle”:
- Open-sided, often referred to as flat beds (distinguished by their lack of walls)
- Open-fronted, often referred to as ‘castles’ (these have walls on all sides except one)
- Totally enclosed e.g., disco bouncers (all sides enclosed by an inflatable dome)
There are a number of hazards associated with the use and operation of inflatables:
- Wind distorting or blowing over the whole inflatable
- Failure of seams or splitting of the fabric under pressure
- Air loss due to blower disconnection or failure or interruption of power supply
- Zip failure
- Accidental injury to users caused;
– by themselves or others e.g. overcrowding
– by spilling or falling from the inflatable
– during mounting and dismounting i.e. entry or exit
– by disregard of large users for little users
- Tripping (particularly over anchorages)
- Access to unguarded or inadequately protected parts of equipment e.g. blower units
- Electrical hazards (e.g. shocks and burns)
- Inadequate means of escape in case of fire
- Dangerous siting of equipment.
But the most significant risks are those associated with the risk of injury to users and/or the escape of the inflatable due to high winds.
Use and Operation of Inflatables
In the majority of circumstances an inflatable is hired from an Operator. The Operator will generally deliver the inflatable and may erect it – that is – inflate it. Operators may supply Attendants whose role/function is to supervise users and ensure safe operation and use of the inflatable.
Set-Up Guidance: • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for proper layout, set up, and inflation. • Use every anchor point, each time the device is set up, and follow the anchoring methods recommended by the manufacturer. • Check the product and all of its anchorage points before and during every use; and re-secure the product, as appropriate, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. • Check to ensure that the unit is properly inflated before each use. Sagging walls or pillars are an indication that the unit has not been inflated properly. • Stop using the device if there are signs of air loss. • To prevent slip and fall incidents, keep the area around the product clean and clear of objects. Make sure that the inflatable’s blower has a built-in ground fault circuit interrupter (“GFCI”). Operational Guidance: • Active adult supervision of children and other young users is necessary at all times. • Do not use the product if wind speeds exceed 20 mph. Use great care when operating and wind speeds begin to rise, or when wind gusts may suddenly exceed 20 mph. Know the warning signs. See “Wind Speed Estimation” attachment. • Review all warning labels before using the product. • Instruct children on proper use of the product. • At any given time, all participants should be similar in size (e.g., Do not mix toddlers with 8 year olds). • Shoes and glasses should be removed before playing on any inflatable amusement device. Additionally, make sure there are no sharp objects in pockets or on clothing because these items may puncture the bouncing surface. • Toys and other objects should never be allowed inside the bouncer, unless provided by the manufacturer. • DO NOT exceed the manufacturer’s requirements for maximum loads, and adhere to occupancy limits.
However, the contract may make the Hirer responsible for supervision of the inflatable whilst it is in use. If so it is essential that the Operator supplies clear guidance and instructions for safe use. In such circumstances the Hirer should appoint a sufficient number of suitable i.e. mature and responsible persons, to act as Attendants.
Where necessary, the Hirer should provide training for the attendants
Set-Up Guidance: • Follow the owner/operator’s manual for site layout with proximity to overhead wires and/or objects, inflation procedures, ropes, tethers, tie-downs, anchors, use temperature range, maximum number of riders, size of riders, electrical codes, daily operation, daily inspection, disinfecting repair, deflation, drying, storage, and transportation. o ALWAYS anchor rides per manufacturer’s requirements and instructions, including the number and type of anchors to be used for both indoor and outdoor use. In the absence of manufacturer’s instructions, see the section for Anchoring Guidance below. These anchors can be straight stakes, screw stakes, ground weights, sandbags, ballasts, ground anchors, depending on the manufacturer. o When manufacturer’s instructions permit the use of sand bags or ballasts in place of stakes, ensure that the proper weight stated in the manufacturer’s instructions is used. • Identify and use the number and location of tie-downs specified by the manufacturer. Anchor ropes, tethers, or tiedowns should be attached to an appropriate anchor device or permanent structure and attached so that they cannot slip off the top of their stake during use. DO NOT attach anchors to motor vehicles or other nonstationary objects and DO NOT use non-load-bearing positioning loops as tie-downs or anchor points. Ropes, tethers, and tie-downs should be sufficiently strong to resist breaking during use. In the absence of manufacturer provided tie-downs, P BAR Y SAFETY staff recommends that the owner/operator use ½-inch diameter solid-braided polypropylene rope with a minimum tensile strength of 3,700 lbs. or 370 lbs. working load. Operational Guidance: • Minimum number of operators on a large inflatable slide (over 15 feet tall) is two (2). Operators should maintain a direct line of sight for all riders; there should be no blind spots (this may require additional operators). • Minimum number of operators on an inflatable bounce or small slide (under 15 feet tall), is one (1). Operators should maintain a direct line of sight for all users, and there should be no blind spots (this may require additional operators). • Minimum number of operators on inflatables designed for younger children is two─one attendant to monitor the capacity of the ride─and one to actively monitor riders. P BAR Y SAFETY staff recommends using multiple operators if there are blind spots on the device, or if there is a high volume of participants. • DO NOT exceed manufacturer’s requirements for maximum loads (e.g. number of participants or weight of individual participants); • Adhere to manufacturer’s recommended maximum weight per passenger; • DO NOT use the inflatable ride when wind speeds exceed the manufacturer’s recommendation. Various manufacturers recommend maximum wind speeds from 15 to 25 mph, depending on the ride. However, when wind speeds (including the speed of gusts) exceed 25 mph, it is dangerous to operate any inflatable ride. Unload and deflate the device immediately. For more information on estimating wind speed, see “Wind Speed Estimation” attachment.
Anchoring Guidance In the absence of manufacturer’s instructions on anchors, owner/operators should use every anchor point, every time the ride is set up. Generally, there are two types of anchors commonly used; stakes and weights. Stakes use a rod driven into the ground, and weights use the weight of sand, water, or other materials to anchor the device. When selecting the proper stakes to use, stakes with a larger surface area have greater holding power. Therefore, longer stakes with a wider diameter, set deeper into the ground, will have a much greater holding power than smaller versions. • Stakes o Traditional straight stakes should: § range from a minimum of 18 inches (for use in hard or compact soil conditions, and the stake should be fully driven into the ground) to 42 inches in length, with at least 75 percent or more of the length in the ground after it is installed; § be installed in the vertical position; § if installed in sandy or loose soils, a longer stake is required to generate the same holding power as shorter stakes installed in hard or compact soil. Wet soil also reduces friction, and therefore, a longer stake may be required; and § have exposed ends of the anchors covered after installation to prevent a tripping hazard. o Auger style stakes provide extra holding power in sandy or loose soil conditions; • Weights o Sandbags or ballasts should not be used if manufacturer’s instructions do not permit their use, or if no manufacturer’s instructions are available; and • Anchor ropes, tethers, or tie-downs should be attached to a properly installed stake, weight, or permanent structure, and be attached so that they cannot slip off the top of their stake during use. DO NOT anchor an inflatable to any vehicle or motor vehicle equipment (e.g., motor vehicle, ATV, ROV, trailer, recreational vehicle, tractor).
Controlling Risk – Injury to Users
With outdoor events, where the inflatable is the only or the main attraction and where crowds are present, a perimeter fence should be positioned around the inflatable. Such a crowd control barrier should be at least one metre high, should surround the device and have an access gateway, the barrier may need to have an alternative means of exit or escape for use in an emergency.
The operating area at the front of the step/front apron should be kept clear of onlookers so that the Attendant has a clear field of vision and can ensure that persons can mount and dismount safely. This is also essential in order to permit a clear view of the interior of the inflatable.
Non inflatable gym mats or similar soft landing material (minimum 25 mm to maximum 125 mm thickness) should be provided to cover hard surfaces which are adjacent to open sides and entrances/exits for a distance of at least 1.2 metres. Safety mats should be fire resistant when used indoors.
The ‘blower’ should also be located at least 1.2m away from the inflatable.
The Operator may identify the minimum number of Attendants needed to ensure the safe operation of the device or this may need to be done by the Hirer. This number must be available at all times. If there are insufficient Attendants the inflatable should be taken out of use. Entrance and exit points should be covered by an adequate number of attendants.
Attendants must know and understand the rules outlining the safe operation of the inflatable and know the maximum number of users permitted at one time. In particular Attendants must:
• Ensure that users:
– remove their footwear and any other hard, sharp or dangerous object
– do not consume food/drink or chew gum
– do not bounce on the step/front apron of the device
– do not climb or hang on the outside walls
• Not allow persons who are taller than the outside walls (when standing on the device) to use the device
• Ensure that the entrance/exit is not obstructed
Attendants must posses sufficient maturity to enforce safe use and to stop horseplay or
inappropriate use. They must constantly monitor the activity on the inflatable, discouraging any horseplay. The first sign of any misbehaviour should be corrected by the use of a whistle or similar means of attracting attention. Attendants should not allow overloading of the inflatable.
Boisterous and larger children should be separated from smaller ones and numbers on the inflatable should be restricted to allow the users enough room to play safely.
Never deflate the equipment whilst it is still in use. Should the ‘blower’ fail the attendants should clear the inflatable as quickly as possible.
Controlling Risk – Effects of High Winds
When used outdoors inflatables must be securely anchored to the ground at all times.
Anchoring to vehicles (or similar method) should be used on hard standings or impenetrable ground where pegs of pins can not be used.
It is the responsibility of the Operator to identify the extent to which an inflatable needs anchoring. The Operator should ensure that a sufficient number of suitable anchor points are used if they erect the inflatable. Alternatively they should supply the Hirer with information about anchoring. It may be necessary to carry out an assessment of ground conditions to determine the suitability of anchor points e.g. more may be required in soft or sandy ground.
Information about weather conditions for the duration of the event should be obtained. When high winds are expected it may be necessary to stop use of the inflatable or even deflate it.
Inflatables must not be used during periods of high or gusty wind.
It will not be possible to anchor the inflatable with stakes when used indoors. However, whilst there may be no risk of overturning due to high winds it may be necessary to secure the inflatable to ensure that it does not “creep” during use.
Key Action Steps
- Hirers should only select suitably competent Operators when they wish to use inflatables
- All Hirers should receive full and sufficient training in the working of inflatables if they are responsible for erection and control including:
– method of operation
– safe loading of the inflatable
– safe system of work
– training requirements for Attendants
– safe methods of assembly and dismantling of the device
- Attendants should receive suitable and sufficient training for the work they will be expected to carry out as follows:
– safe anchorage arrangements
– crowd control enclosures
– control of the public
– safe loading of the device
– associated risks and precautions
– defect and breakdown procedures
– emergency procedures
- Rules and procedures for safe operation should be available to Hirers and Attendants and should be adhered to at all times when both erecting/dismantling and using the inflatable
- Each inflatable device should be thoroughly examined at regular intervals and at least annually by a competent person
- The Hirer should ensure that there is an inspection of the inflatable out first use on any day. This should include:
– crowd control measures
– anchorage points
– ropes and stakes
– inspection of the material for defects
– adequate pressure upon inflation
– electric cables
The inflatable should not be used by the public until any defects, adjustments or repairs identified in the daily check have been carried out.
NB This will be carried out by the Operator if there are supplying Attendants
- Use of the inflatable should not be allowed during high winds.
- Operators should ensure:
– Maintenance of the inflatable is carried out in accordance with manufacturers’ guidelines and schedules.
– Records of all examinations and daily inspections are kept either with the device or should be readily available for inspection.