Parents warned of dangers of unregulated bouncy castle firms

Less than 30 per cent of Irish companies comply with the safety standards

Weekend Review May 2011. Bouncy castle. Bouncing castle. Photograph: iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

Weekend Review May 2011. Bouncy castle. Bouncing castle. Photograph: iStockphoto/Thinkstock.


Many Irish companies renting bouncy castles are putting children at risk by failing to adhere to European safety standards, the umbrella body in the sector has warned.

Parents are being urged to take extra care when hiring bouncy castles over the summer and ensure companies have an up-to-date safety certificate following the death of a young girl in Spain over the weekend.

The six-year-old girl died and six other children were injured, two seriously, after an inflatable bouncy castle came free, flew into the air and hurled the children to the ground in the north-eastern town of Caldes de Malavella near Barcelona. Investigating police reportedly found the castle was held down by just two of its six stakes.

Bouncy castle operators are seeing their busiest time of the year in Ireland at the moment as First Communion ceremonies take place.

Irish bouncy castle hirers are strongly encouraged to adhere to the European safety standards and must hold a valid safety certificate for each castle which is renewed annually. However, with no law in place, less than 30 per cent of Irish companies actually comply with the safety standards, according to the Irish Inflatable Hires Federation (IIHF).

Gerry Frawley, a member of the IIHF who runs Bounce Ireland, warns that companies without up-to-date safety certificates may not hold valid insurance in case of an accident.

“Some guy can just buy a bouncy castle second hand which is unsafe, can advertise it online and then hire to you.”

Mr Frawley is calling on parents to hire castles from reputable companies and to always request a copy of the hirer’s safety certificate. The hire company should also carry out the “ten daily checks”, including checking the site of the event, ensuring all anchorages are secure and making sure the blower is positioned safety, before handing control over to the parents, says Mr Frawley.

“A bouncing castle is not a baby sitter,” he says. “You need to supervise at all times as the majority of accidents happen because of lack of supervision.

“Your children are the most important thing in your life so it stands to reason that you should pay attention to some areas regarding safety for your inflatable obstacle course, slide, or bouncy castle.”

Austin Cooney from Dublin Bounce says hiring companies must use solid steel stakes to ensure the large inflatable structure remains solidly fixed to the ground but warns that lack of regulation is encouraging rogue hirers to rent out unsafe castles.

“When you’re in a bouncy castle it’s like an inflated trampoline, there’s not much trouble you can get into. The only problem is if they’re on a hard surface and not properly pegged down. With strong Irish winds, all it takes is a careless moment.”

More than 200 bouncy castles related injuries were treated at VHI Swiftcare clinics during the summer of 2016, while the majority of bounce-related injuries this year have occurred among 8-year-olds at communion celebrations and birthday parties.

Dr Fergal Hickey, consultant in emergency medicine at Sligo University Hospital, says wrist fractures, elbow fractures and collarbone fractures are the most common injuries sustained by children who fall from bouncy castles. Other injuries can include ankle sprains, shoulder and leg injuries, neck injuries and lacerations and in more serious falls, head injuries.

Mixing age groups or adults with children on bouncy castles can also lead to injuries, says Dr Hickey.

“We’ve seen problems at communions and confirmations when parents, after taking a few glasses of wine, decided to get on the castle and end up landing on the children.”

While most bouncy castle-related injuries among children result in green stick fractures which heal quickly, older children and adults are far more likely to break a bone. Dr Hickey adds that “very occasionally” people can be propelled from the castle and land on the ground resulting in a significant head injury.

“If you have a lot of competition on the bouncy castle and people trying to jump higher and further then you have a greater risk of someone being propelled off it or a collision in mid air.”

Dr Michelle de Brun, Group Medical Director of the VHI Swiftcare Clinics, is advising parents to take extra care when bouncy castles become wet and slippery on rainy days.

“May is usually the month that we begin to see these injuries and historically we usually see an increase during the first two weeks of the month. We are calling on parents to take a number of straight-forward precautions with a view to minimising the chance of their child incurring a nasty break or sprain.”

The Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) has advised that people also take care when using trampolines over the summer. The number of trampoline-associated injuries have doubled in the past decade with deaths resulting from head and high spinal cord injuries, according to the IAEM.

Nearly two thirds of falls occur while on the bed of the trampoline and not as the result of a fall, while children injured while trampolining are only supervised by an adult in 40 per cent of cases. The IAEM also recommended that adults avoid using trampolines when drinking alcohol.