At least 479 people have been injured and 28 have died from wind-related bouncing castle incidents in the past two decades a global study has found.
Researchers from the University of Georgia, United States collated data on 132 reported incidents involving inflatable amusement devices and wind between 2000 and 2021. Their findings are published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
Lead author of the study, professor John Knox, says in Australia there were ten wind-related bouncing castle incidents and three in New Zealand. Australia ranked fourth in terms of the number of injuries, and second in fatalities.
“Of course, the latter statistic is largely because of the Devonport tragedy last December. Devonport is the single deadliest incident in the world among the 132 cases in our database,” Knox says.
In Australia, seven fatalities related to two incidents. In December last year, six children died in northern Tasmania after a jumping castle and inflatable balls became airborne. The other death was an eight-year-old girl in Kapunda, South Australia in 2001.
Incidents involving bouncy castles and wind are only a small subset of the injuries which can occur with these inflatable amusement devices. For example, there are an estimated 10,000 visits to emergency rooms in the United States each year because of bouncing castle accidents involving injuries like broken bones, muscle sprains and concussions.
“The statistics we saw doing our research, looking at the literature from the paediatric medicine community, is that bounce houses are about as dangerous as trampolines,” Knox says.
Portable inflatable amusement devices – variously known as jumping or bouncy castles, bounce houses, magic castles, and moon walks – were invented by engineer John Spurlock in 1958. They are a common feature at events involving children such as birthday parties, school fetes and carnivals. Usually made of polyvinyl chloride, nylon and vinyl, they are inflated by air from motorised blowers and anchored to the ground using sandbags, stakes or pegs.
The research was undertaken over the course of ten years. It involved three key elements – the incidents, the wind or meteorological conditions at the time, and the relevant regulatory frameworks in the United States.
In around 70% of the incidents where a specific meteorological cause could be identified, cold frontal passages, dust devils, or thunderstorm-related winds were the most likely to be occurring at the time of the event.
Read more: Where does wind come from?
Of the 132 incidents recorded, more than 20 percent occurred with wind speeds lower than those deemed unsafe by the American Society for Testing and Materials standards (the requirements cited by relevant regulations in 19 US states).
Over a third of the accidents occurred with observed wind speeds between 0 and 20 miles per hour (up to 30 kilometres per hour). Knox says this shows that incidents can occur in situations that people might not consider as bad weather.
The researchers have created a website to document their findings and provide information for consumers.
In Australia, there are standards and occupational health and safety rules which relate to the design, set up, operation and monitoring of inflatable amusement devices, including monitoring wind speeds.
Petra Stock has a degree in environmental engineering and a Masters in Journalism from University of Melbourne. She has previously worked as a climate and energy analyst.
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