HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- They’re known as bounce houses and moonwalks, but the seemingly safe children's entertainment could be a jumping danger. If your child is hurt, you may find yourself footing the entire hospital bill.
The authors of a study published in Pediatrics investigated dangers associated with inflatables that are rented for parties and found in carnivals and recreation complexes.
Looking at more than two decades of data, researchers tracked an alarming number of head injuries: seven percent of which resulted in a concussion.
The vast majority of injuries were fractures, strains or sprains, many caused by falls, collisions, failed stunts, deflations and even kids being bounced out of the structures. In other cases, bounce houses were improperly anchored outdoors and blown over by strong winds, causing harm.
The problems usually start when there are too many children inside because sometimes the bounce house deflates. Even if it slightly deflates, a large crevice forms in the center and children end up piling on each other. Others could get caught in the netting.
On average, 31 children a day are transported to U.S. emergency departments for treatment of bounce-house injuries, including fractured bones and muscle damage, the study found.
"If this was an infectious disease, we'd call it an epidemic and it would be on the front pages all over the country," said study co-author Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
"Our message is that we want children to get up off the couch and be active, but we also like to inform parents of the risks of those activities," Smith said.
As the popularity of inflatable bouncers has ballooned, so have reports of hurt children. Between 1995 and 2010, the rate of injuries jumped 15-fold, with the most rapid boost seen in the last few years of the study.
WHNT News 19 investigated what Alabama regulators are doing to keep watch over the inflatable industry. Unlike other states, Alabama does not currently have any special regulations for operators of these types of rental businesses.
The owners of the North Alabama branch of Space Walk Interactive, a nationwide inflatable rental company, say a few bad apples have hurt the entire industry's reputation.
"When individuals are not looking out for the safety of kids in moon bounces it does not only hurt that person's business, but the whole industry," Kevin Hawkins told WHNT News 19.
Hawkins says currently in Alabama anyone can purchase an inflatable and then start renting it out to unsuspecting families which could lead to tragedy.
"Not all of these bounce houses are constructed the same, our models have netting all around the sides and on the top, others are solid plastic and if these deflate kids could be get stuck inside and not be able to breathe," Hawkins added.
There are comprehensive safety courses offered to inflatable rental owners that goes over everything from the electrical requirements of the blowers to how to roll up and take down an inflatable. The Safe Inflatable Training Organization course offers basic and advanced certification, and you can verify if the company that you and renting from is certified from their website.
TIPS BEFORE YOU RENT:
* Are they insured and will they supply a copy of the insurance certificate?
* Are they trained/experienced in inflatable operations?
* What safety measures do they provide YOU with?
* Price should not even be a consideration!
* After the operator arrives, they should do the following and it is your job to pay attention to help make sure its done properly.
* A tarp should be placed on the ground to protect the bottom of the unit.
* The unit should be staked down or heavily weighted down with ground weights or sandbags.
* When the unit is inflated make sure there are no rips or holes visible.
* Make sure the unit is fully inflated and not sagging anywhere.
* The operator MUST cover all operating and safety procedures verbally, and should leave printed instructions as well.
* It is your responsibility to ask questions if you do not understand anything particular.
After the operator leaves, you should always:
* Attend the unit at all times.
* Keep children age 3 and under OUT of the unit.
* Make sure all children are grouped according to SIZE.
* DO NOT exceed the maximum ride capacity at any time.
* Perform safety checks of the equipment frequently. Operators will show you how.
* Turn the unit off during inclement weather or high winds.
* Seek medical attention for ALL injuries IF they occur.
* Follow ALL posted safety rules at all times.
(Information provided by the Safe Inflatable Training Organization)