Bouncy castles: leave it to the experts

 

The tragic death of an eight-year-old last weekend highlighted the dangers of inflatable castles. But even if some of the risk is unavoidable, there are ways to stay safe

BOUNCY CASTLES have become familiar sights in gardens each summer, whether for birthday parties, celebrations or any other occasion when children gather. Companies across the country offer them for hire, and some are very elaborate. There are castles shaped like dragons and clowns, castles with slides, castles with roofs, Barbie-themed castles and even one called Titanic, in the shape of a sinking ship.

Last weekend Amy Byrne, an eight-year-old from Co Waterford who had just made her First Communion, died from head injuries after falling out of a bouncy castle. It may have been a dreadful freak accident, but anything that involves motion and an inflatable structure will always carry an element of risk.

Garvan Rigby is the owner of Bouncy Bobs, which rents out castles around Dublin. He points out that the industry is unregulated. “You can go out and buy a few cheap units and start renting castles without having any insurance. People in the business have been calling for safety regulation for years,” he says. “Because it’s a part-time business for about five months of the year, and then really only Saturdays and Sundays, it’s not worth some people’s while to get insurance.”

Bouncy Bobs says it does a 20-point safety check on all castles it hires, and all quotes include insurance. “What we ask people is, where are they going to put the castle? It must be staked to the ground, or else held down with weights like sandbags. We’ve had people asking us to put castles on decking, or concrete, or in front gardens that are unsheltered and prone to wind. We won’t put castles in those places.

“Castle hire is price driven, especially now. If people think we’re too expensive, they just go on to the next company, but the problem is they’re going to be cheaper because they’re not insured. I haven’t said it yet, but I’d be interested to hear what parents would have to say to me if I said, ‘I can do it for €30 less if you don’t want insurance for your children.’ I am just amazed so few parents ask us if we are insured.”

All of Rigby’s castles come with netting, which is an additional safety measure. He stresses that a castle needs to be appropriate for the ages of the children. “And adults should not use them. Although we do hear about adults having alcohol and jumping on castles after the kids are gone to bed.”

He does not recommend using castles outdoors that can be bought in toyshops. The Smyths chain currently has a Castle Bouncer for €200. The product comes with a recommendation that it be pegged down at all times.

“We hire out castles for €200,” Rigby says. “They would have cost us about €2,000 to buy . . . Those cheap castles cannot be of the same quality.”

So what should parents looking to hire a castle be asking for? “At the very minimum, castles should have netting and the company should be insured. And let the professionals install them. If they’re not staked down, they’ll blow away: it’s as simple as that.”

Clive Restan is the managing director of Bounce Crazy, a company based in Co Wicklow. “People often ring up and ask how much is a bouncy castle. I say that’s a ridiculous question; it’s like asking what price is a car. It depends on the castle. They range in price from €100 to €600. As with everything else in the marketplace, cost is a driving factor for people.

“It’s very easy for some people to get into the industry by going out and buying very cheap units and renting them out – units, for instance, that have slides but don’t have a safety platform on top, or no netting on the sides.”

Bounce Crazy will leave castles overnight if they are in an enclosed private garden. Some companies do not. Cork Bouncing Castles says on its website: “We do not leave bouncy castles overnight. All bouncy castles must be placed on grass as they must be staked down. We will not place bouncy castles on concrete or stones.”

“We’ve been operating for 10 years now,” Restan says. “The most important thing after that is the unit should be supervised by a responsible adult at all times.”