Boys' Injuries Raise Questions About Safety of Bounce Houses

By now, you've heard about the two little boys from upstate New York who were hospitalized on Monday after falling almost 20 feet when the bounce house they were playing in was swept away by a gust of wind, throwing them from the structure. While this particular incident was unusual, bounce house injuries aren't.

According to local newspaper The Post Star, the boys, ages 5 and 6, were admitted to Albany Medical Center for serious injuries, including broken arms and facial and head trauma. One boy landed on a parked car, the other on asphalt. A 10-year-old girl was also inside the bounce house and suffered minor scrapes from her fall. A neighbor who witnessed the accident told The Post Star that the wind was like a “small tornado,” throwing one boy 30 or 40 feet, the other 20 feet. The empty bounce house was found on the property of a nearby middle school. A report published Tuesday by NBC News says the boys are in stable condition.

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Bounce houses (aka “moonwalks”) are inflatable structures often featured at carnivals, fairs, or birthday parties for kids to bounce around inside. They typically have an open front for entry and exit and are supported by inflatable columns with netting, so parents can stand outside and look in. And while there are no national safety standards in place, a federal agency called the Consumer Product Safety Commission, does review bounce house products, issuing recalls when necessary. The last recall was issued in 2007 for a bounce house distributed by a company called Sportscraft. Although there were no reported injuries, the fan and plastic housing surrounding it had potential to break apart.

The bounce house involved in the recent accident was a Little Tikes brand (Yahoo Shine could not reach a company rep for comment) that measures 10-by-10-feet. Police say that according to witness accounts, the structure wasn’t enclosed at the top but was surrounded by netting to prevent kids from bouncing off it altogether. A neighbor in the boys’ apartment complex had provided the house.

Injuries stemming from the inflatable structures have been on the rise for decades. After pediatric emergency physician Gary A. Smith, M.D. at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio began treating children hurt from playing on the structures in droves, he co-authored the first study on bounce house injuries in the United States, which gathered data on injuries that took place between 1990 and 2010. His findings, which were published in the journal Pediatrics in 2012, were shocking.

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“Inflatable bouncer injuries increased 1,500 percent between 1995 and 2010,” Smith tells Yahoo Shine. “In 2010 alone, 31 kids were taken to the emergency room daily — that’s one child every 45 minutes.” What’s more, between 2008 and 2010, the number of injuries doubled. More than 50 percent of injured kids were between the ages of 6 and 12; more than one-third were younger than 5 years old. “We speculate that the sudden spike in injuries is related to bounce houses becoming a fad during this time,” says Smith.

And while it’s rare for the wind to cause a bounce house to go airborne, as it did in the upstate New York accident, it can happen, especially if a professional didn’t secure the house to the ground. And the weight of small children will do little to ground it.

According to Smith, typical bounce house injuries result in broken and fractured bones. His study showed that 43.7 percent of cases occur outside the home, and 37.5 percent occur in someone’s backyard.

“Accidents can happen when big kids bounce with little kids and collide with each other,” he says. “If parents want their children to play on bounce houses, it’s best if kids of the same age and size do so at once.” Also, Smith advises that parents prevent children under the age of 6 to use bounce houses and to always provide supervision no matter who is playing. "Flips and somersaults are also never a good idea," he says. "In the worst cases, the risk of injury can even be paralysis."

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