By Drew Tewksbury
During two months in 2013 alone the media reported at least 10 Bounce House or Inflatable Amusement Rides nationwide that were toppled by wind or collapsed under the weight of too many kids. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission continues to estimate the number of injuries annually at over 6,000. In just one weekend in 2013, 13 people were injured, with one critical injury, when an Inflatable slide went airborne during a soccer tournament on Long Island.
Given these facts, you may think that these devices are inherently dangerous by design and should be outlawed. I too could question the safety of such devices, but fortunately, I don’t. But I do ask how we can prevent these accidents and what the responsible parties can do to ensure that your children and mine are safe.
Safe operating begins with the manufacturers. As an amusement industry insider and voracious advocate for ride safety, I applaud the steps that the major manufacturers have taken to build and design inflatables today. They don’t design these units to hurt kids. They design them to provide safe and affordable fun. And by and large, they accomplish that goal. The designs of today are significantly safer than those of 10 and 20 years ago. However, the manufacturers must maintain their diligence in improving design, communicating safety information and innovating safe inflatable equipment.
Operators bear the brunt of the challenge and responsibility for a change towards safety. As an industry they must adopt a “Zero Tolerance” policy for unsafe operations. Safety and maintenance cannot take a back seat to revenue and profit. I recently received an email from one operator who when asked about the mandating of supervision, stated, “Quite frankly, if we get mandated to supply supervision, it will kill the industry. The kids don’t listen to their own parents, let alone our help.”
What he fails to understand is that accidents and the media coverage that follows will kill the industry quicker than anything. Operators are on the front line, the purveyors of fun and the individuals ultimately responsible for safe operation. They have to recognize that in order to perpetuate this industry safety must be a part of their DNA and must not be sacrificed for any reason.
We as parents also have significant responsibility when it comes to ensuring the safety of our children when using inflatables. The devices are not 600-pound blow-up baby sitters. If you take your child to an amusement park don’t you sit there and watch your child go on the ride? So why would you just let your children run wild and free when it is a bounce house or inflatable slide? They are still amusement devices. Far too often, parents cede their parental responsibility to operators or event staff, assuming that all is safe. This is a bad decision. As parents you must work with ride operators to make sure your child is observing all rules and playing appropriately.
This also holds true for the instances where these devices are “dropped” off for “little Suzy’s” backyard birthday party. If the rental company charges extra for a trained operator, the renter should pay the fee. If the renter chooses not to pay the charge for a trained operator then you must accept the responsibility that comes with that decision, you must supervise the ride at all times. The children, either yours or your guests are then your responsibility. If you are not willing to accept that responsibility, then either pony up for the trained operator or find another responsible adult that is willing to operate the device properly.
Lastly there is the responsibility of industry and the government. Currently 19 states have some form of regulation involving inflatable amusement devices; however, most pin their hopes of safety on simple inspections and annual fees. They miss the true opportunity to promote safety through education. Undoubtedly annual inspections for defects and tears are important, but not nearly as important as making sure the operators know how to properly set up and operate the device.
The most proactive state for Inflatable safety is Pennsylvania. They require inflatables to be inspected by a certified inspector prior to each use. They host annual training for operators and equipment owners on ride safety and operation and empower them with the responsibility for the inspections and safe operation. Inspections are not a form of taxation but rather a method of ensuring safe operations continually throughout the year.
Both the industry as a whole and the states have the ability to change safety now. Who is willing to step up and make that commitment? Our children are safer playing in a bounce house as long as we all do our part and accept the responsibilities that come with enjoying these devices.
(Drew Tewksbury is vice president, program manager, Allegiant Programs Group, Amusement Insurance Resources. For more information, call 440-264-2738 or 440-666-8110, Fax 440-544-1234, email Drew@insureair.com or visit www.insureair.com. You can also access the company on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Insure_AIR and LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/drewtewksbury.)