Aug. 10, 2022 – No parent expects their child’s life to be at risk when they climb into a bouncy castle, but windy days and poor regulations can quickly turn glee into terror.
In the past 2 decades, researchers found almost 500 injuries and nearly 30 deaths not only from high-wind-related bounce house incidents, but also slip-ups in setting up the popular toys. In one tragic incident, six children in Australia died at school last year after plunging over 30 feet out of a bounce house that was whisked into the air by a sudden gust of wind.
“Year after year, all over the world, inflatable houses are being carried away by the wind and causing unforeseen injuries and accidents,” says Thomas Gill, PhD, a professor of environmental science at the University of Texas at El Paso, who helped with a recent study on wind-related bounce house events. “Probably most of these incidents could have been prevented by careful planning, watching the weather, or being more diligent about securing the bounce house to the ground.”
Gill and his colleagues cataloged at least 28 deaths and 479 injuries from more than 130 weather-related bounce house incidents worldwide – figures they say likely underestimate the problem. Between 2000 and 2021, bounce houses were linked to nearly 10,000 trips to the emergency room in the U.S. alone for injuries like concussions, broken bones, and muscle sprains.
The American Society for Testing and Materials, which regulates the use of inflatables and bounce houses in the U.S., discourages the use of bounce houses in winds higher than 25 mph unless they’re anchored by a professional engineer.
But 25 mph winds “are nowhere close to the winds required for a severe thunderstorm warning [58 mph] or a high wind warning [40 mph] in the United States from the National Weather Service,” says John Knox, PhD, a geography professor at Franklin College of Arts and Sciences in Athens, GA, who led the research. “Bounce houses can and do tip over, roll over, or get lofted in the air in non-severe winds, and it often happens during what most people would call ‘good weather.’"
Most of the injuries – more than 70% – happened during the passing of cold fronts, dust devils, or winds from thunderstorms. But at least one-third of the incidents occurred with winds below 20 mph, and some happened during clear skies, Knox says.
Bounce houses must always be anchored to the ground with sandbags or stakes, and always monitored by an adult, according to the researchers.
Only 19 states have regulations that specify what windspeeds are safe for inflatable houses, according to the study. The researchers created a website to document weather-related bounce house injuries, as well as provide safety tips for the public.
“It's important for parents to pay careful attention to how bounce houses should be used and operated, whether at their homes for birthday parties, or at a school carnival, or wherever,” Knox says. “Also, be weather-wise, it doesn't take bad weather to cause a problem.”