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Moonwalks, bounce houses and inflatable slides are a fixture at carnivals, festivals and fairs. With their enticing shapes castles, ships or even tidal waves they're a magnet for kids. But are they safe?
Utah parents might be wondering after a June 6 mishap in New York, when three inflatables were picked up by a gust of wind and blown through the air, leaving 13 people injured, one of them critically.
According to RideAccidents.com, a website that reports amusement ride accidents, at least 10 inflatables have either blown over or collapsed under too much weight this year.
Charles Pruitt, an emergency room physician at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, said injuries from inflatables are common, and poor supervision is the main reason. Most injuries he has seen have occurred when the inflatable's capacity is exceeded and bodies collide.
"They are rented without any experienced supervision and parents are left having to make good decisions," Pruitt said.
He said the most common injuries are broken bones, mostly legs and arms, as well as head trauma. The most serious injury Pruitt has seen was a broken femur.
"Collisions are part of the problem. Serious head trauma can have long-term results and can cause learning problems later on," he said.
Rory Maclennan, who owns Jumptown Inflatables, with locations in West Jordan, Provo and Sandy, said the New York accident likely happened because the inflatables were not set up properly. Most companies rent inflatables to private individuals, but set them up before leaving the renters in charge with an instruction manual.
"The setup is the most important, and the anchoring is the biggest concern," he said.
Utah does not regulate companies that rent inflatables, according to Maclennan. Nor is there any requirement that such companies carry insurance, though he said most do.
Few states have any regulations concerning inflatables, according to Mark Matthew, who owns a rental company in Michigan and founded Safe Inflatable Operators Training Organization seven years ago.
"Inflatables have grown beyond the regular moonwalk and need to be inspected as strictly as carnival rides," he said. "People are dying here. It's time states buckle down. They need to take a step back and look closely at what is going on."
Among recent serious incidents cited by RideAccidents.com:
• A 5-year-old girl was injured in Jacksonville, Fla., in January 2010 after an inflatable blew into a pond while she was in it.
• In June 2010, a Pennsylvania man was killed after an inflatable slide collapsed and pinned him at a Cleveland Indians game.
• In March 2010, a 5-year-old boy in Wichita, Kan., died after he fell from the top of an inflatable slide onto concrete.
• That same month, three children were seriously injured in El Paso, Texas, when an inflatable was thrown hundreds of feet into the air with them inside.
But Jim Morgan, who owns Jump-N-Jim's Bounce Houses in West Jordan, said state regulation would not prevent accidents.
"Regulation doesn't keep people from doing stupid things," Morgan said. "You can pass a driver's test and still do stupid things on the road."
Pruitt reinforced the importance of parental supervision and said inflatables are safe as long as they are used correctly. "Parents need to rely on common sense. If a situation seems unsafe, use your intuition."
Operator should be with the unit at all times.
Do not allow children 3 years and younger inside.
Organize users of the inflatable by size.
Don't exceed maximum capacity.
Perform frequent safety checks.
Turn off inflatables during inclement weather or high winds.
Source: Safe Inflatable Operators Training Organization