Thursday, August 18th 2022, 4:37 pm - A ubiquitous staple of childhood birthday parties is prone to tragedy with a simple gust of wind, according to a new and sobering report.
A ubiquitous staple of childhood birthday parties is prone to tragedy with a simple gust of wind, according to a sobering report recently released by researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA).
Inflatable bounce houses, often called bouncy castles, are an affordable and entertaining way to spice up a kid’s birthday party. Anyone with enough room in the yard can rent a bounce house for the day and let the neighbourhood kids celebrate in style.
But bounce houses are often a danger lying in wait.
Bounce houses catch even light breezes like a sail
Bounce houses can be as dangerous as they are fun. Thousands of children and adults around the world wind up seeking medical attention every year as a result of injuries sustained in bounce houses.
A report in 2013’s issue of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada found that bounce house injuries increased dramatically between 1990 and 2009, with nearly 700 cases across the country during that 20-year period.
Broken bones and bonks on the head aren’t the only hazard people face in bounce houses. These lightweight, air-filled structures can catch a modest gust of wind and take flight, sending the entire castle hurtling skyward with the unsecured occupants still inside.
UGA’s researchers documented more than 100 incidents worldwide since 2000 where gusty winds resulted in injuries or fatalities to occupants trapped in runaway bounce houses. The researchers were able to identify nearly 500 injuries and more than two-dozen deaths as a result of wind-blown bounce houses.
One particularly gruesome accident took place in Tasmania, Australia, on December 16, 2021. A bounce house at a celebration took flight in strong winds with multiple children inside. The structure flew more than 10 metres in the air before crashing back to the ground, killing six children and injuring several more.
Three weather events responsible for most bounce house disasters
Researchers found that people caught inside the bounce houses aren’t the only ones at risk. Folks on the ground can be struck or dragged by the tumbling structures, and various incidents have caused car crashes, downed power lines, and even fires.
A review of meteorological data found that 70 percent of identified bounce house incidents were the direct result of three specific weather events: thunderstorms, cold front passages, and dust devils.
Gusty winds blowing ahead of an approaching thunderstorm can catch partygoers off-guard if they’re not paying attention to the weather. Blustery conditions that stir with the arrival of a cold front can also come on suddenly.
While dust devils are typically on the weaker side, these fair-weather whirlwinds can easily launch lawn furniture, canopies, and bounce houses in the air when they sweep through an outdoor event.
WATCH: Lightning bolts pack a serious punch; following these rules can save your life
Bounce house accidents are preventable on multiple fronts
Broader, more consistent regulations could help keep bounce house users safe when threatening weather approaches.
Researchers combed through laws in the United States and discovered that “fewer than half of U.S. states have explicit statutes and regulations for bounce house use,” according to the study. They added that among the states that did regulate bounce houses, “most do not explicitly state weather and wind conditions required for bounce house use.”
Safety and prevention also requires some basic weather observation and forecast monitoring. While some small-scale wind events, such as dust devils, are difficult to predict in advance, many high wind events like thunderstorms and frontal passages are usually well-communicated in weather forecasts.
Several previous studies in the past couple of decades revealed that nearly half of all children who’ve broken or fractured bones in bounce houses did so while under no or minimal adult supervision.
While it won’t always prevent injuries, constant adult supervision of a bounce house can go a long way toward mitigating the risk to those inside and around these vulnerable structures.
The authors of the study created a website, WeatherToBounce.com, that provides safety tips, regulatory information for the United States, and a database of all known weather-related bounce house incidents around the world since 2000.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Lukas via Pexels.