Is That Bounce House Supposed To Be Flying? What To Look For When You’re At Someone Else’s Event.

  They’re seemingly innocuous. How dangerous can they be? I mean they’re filled with air and made for children, right?
It’s true. Every year millions of children and adults enjoy bounce castles and other inflatable amusements without incident. After all, they are built for the express purpose of facilitating fun. It’s in their DNA and truth be told they aren’t really that dangerous if set up and operated properly.

However, from 2003 to 2013 there were over 100,000 emergency room injuries attributed to inflatable amusements. Out of those, most were likely caused by poor operations. Here’s what you need to look for before letting your child jump on a bounce house.

If you guessed that that squirrly looking teenager who is supposed to be running the bounce house but is too busy texting is the first thing that you need to be concerned about, your instincts aren’t far off. However, while an A1 operator is key to the safety of your children there are more foundational concerns to first take into account. Chief among them are anchor points.  Every commercial inflatable is manufactured with multiple anchor, or tether points, sewn into it at strategic locations. The manufacturer also provides the amusement company with documentation that clearly states the amount of weight (or if staking relative weight) necessary for each anchor point. In some cases it can be several hundreds of pounds per each point. If you are at an event with a bounce house, obstacle course, or something similar and you don’t see several sand or water bags firmly attached to the ride, walk away. If the inflatable company has opted to use stakes instead make certain that they aren’t the cheap plastic stakes that come with most tents. Those wouldn’t come close to holding down a 600 lbs. hot air balloon, which is exactly what these rides and games become once the air inside has reached a few degrees higher than the air outside. I wouldn’t let my kids on one unless it was being held down by some serious weight or two foot long inch thick circus tent stakes.

While we are talking about stakes, there’s some debate within the industry concerning the proper technique for hammering stakes. One school of thought is to pound them in at a 45 degree angle.  The problem with this method is that it reduces the soil compression (the amount of soil that keeps the stake immobile) by half.  Most companies agree that a 45 degree angle is too severe and, while some manufacturers endorse it, I wouldn’t let any of my children on an inflatable that was anchored like this.  In my opinion, you should look for a vertically, or nearly vertically, driven stake with only a few inches left visible above ground.

One final note about anchoring. Never, ever, ever let your child go on an inflatable ride that is tied off to anything that is meant to be used for a purpose other than anchoring.  There have been occasions when inflatables that were tied off to basketball nets, fences, and even vehicles have blown away while dragging the aforementioned.  Just remember that if the inflatable rental company doesn’t care enough to do it right, they probably don’t care about a lot of important things.

Blowers are next on our list.  Blowers are just that, special fans that blow a constant stream of air into the bounce house, slide, et al. to keep them inflated.  Things to look out for are busted intake grates, frayed or exposed wires, and inspection plates.  The fans of these blowers spin at several thousand revolutions per minute and, if they are exposed due to a broken intake grate, can easily remove a child’s fingers, or toes.  Frayed and exposed wires are pretty obvious concerns. Inspection plates, on the other hand, are something that most people would never think to look for. Ohio and West Virginia both require that state certified inspectors annually scrutinize each inflatable and mechanical ride that a party rental company plans on using in said state to make certain that it is in good working order.  In Ohio, each ride gets a metal plate like the one pictured here.  Bounce houses and other inflatables are supposed to have these plates mounted to their blowers.  If you are in Ohio at an event and you don’t see one of these plates on the blower, you should be very circumspect about the amusement company.  While they may do everything else right and may even be insured, insurance companies can use the amusement company‘s lack of certification as a way to back out of paying damages.  West Virginia and Pennsylvania are a little more challenging. West Virginia issue these little tags that must clipped onto the inflatable.  They’re so small that we sometimes have a difficult time finding them on our own inflatables; but worry not.  There is a website that you can go to see if the inflatable company conforms to state standards.  For Pennsylvania, you will have to contact the Department of Agriculture: Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards and ask them.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the next topic because it’s so self explanatory. I’m talking, of course, about visible damage: tears, holes, missing pieces, etc.  Don’t take a chance, if the ride doesn’t look safe, it probably isn’t.

Finally, we reached the moment that we’ve all been waiting for: we are now going to talk about ride operators. A properly trained operator can be the difference between your child walking away from a ride wearing a smile, or being carted away on a stretcher.  That’s not an exaggeration.  Let us not forget the aforementioned statistic concerning the number of emergency room injuries attributed to inflatable amusements alone.  The ride operator has two real duties, and neither are to ensure that everyone has a good time. The inflatable will take care of that.  The ride operator’s primary duties are to educate riders about the rules and then enforce them.  A good operator does it in such a way that no one thinks about it.  If you are in line with your little one and the operator is looking everywhere but inside the bounce house, you need to be cautious.  Remember, this is most likely the same person who set the ride up in the first place and if they don’t care enough to do things right when operating it, who’s to say that they cared enough to set it up properly in the first place?

Well, I hope this helps keep you and your’s safe the next time that you are out and find yourselves with the opportunity to enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Don’t let this article scare you to much.  There are a huge number of quality bounce house rental companies out there.  Now that you know what to look for, you and yours should be just fine.  As always, we welcome your feedback.


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