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Of all the things we've worried about when watching our kids gleefully tumble around in an inflatable bouncy castle -- broken bones, the house deflating, the possible risk of lead -- here's one we hadn't panicked about yet: The house flying away.
But that's exactly what happend this weekend in New York: 13 people were injured -- several children and a 36-year-old mom who remains in critical condition -- when a big gust of wind lifted three inflatable bounce houses off their moorings. And it's not the first time that this has happened: Wind is a major factor in bounce house injuries, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
While the county district attorney -- who opened an investigation into the incident -- debates liability and safety laws, one thing remains clear: You'd have to live under a rock to avoid bounce houses and their kin (slides, obstacle courses, water bounces), which have become a staple of church fairs, carnivals and backyard birthday parties.
So the next time your kids are about to dive into one, take a deep breath, a big leap of faith, and follow these smart safety tips from Jennifer Hoekstra, Safe Kids Program Coordinator at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI.
Make sure the inflatable is securely grounded
Walk around any inflatable house and check to see that it's securely staked into the ground and that there’s some kind of weighted material holding it down.
Keep kids out of bounce houses in windy weather
Follow the manufacturers’ guidelines for a particular unit: Some can be used in winds up to 25 mph; others should be deflated when the wind hits 15 mph. The hitch is the inflatables are often unattended – and few adults bother to monitor wind gusts.
Check for an inspection sticker
Only 19 states require inspection of inflatable houses, but if it’s there, it should be located near the fan and is an indicator that at least the operators have put some effort into ensuring the safety of their devices. But many bounces houses have not been inspected, says Hoekstra.
Review the rules with your kids
Kids should follow standard bouncy-safety rules, such as no bumping into other kids, but they also need to know the specifics for each inflatable. Some, for instance, will say "No more than 6 kids at a time." Make sure your kids know the limits – and follow them!
Only let kids jump with similar-sized children
"The majority of injuries are not because of the structure but because of kids hitting kids," Hoekstra says. There’s a big difference between a 3-year-old bumping into your 3-year-old and an 11-year-old
landing on your 3-year-old. Adults and children should never jump together for the same reason; it’s just too dangerous.
Don’t let you kids jump unless there’s adequate supervision
The big problem with backyard rentals, Hoekstra says, is that they don’t come with operators. All too often, host parents set up the bouncy and let kids bounce at will. Make sure that there’s an adult stationed at the door of the bounce house to regulate the age and number of kids in the house.
Watch your kids
If you see your child getting tired (or misbehaving), get him out of the house. Tired kids are more likely to get stepped on by other kids, and if your kid is the one causing trouble, get him out before he can hurt anyone else.
Have kids wash their hands
If you're worried about the possible risk of lead, have kids wash their hands after being inside the castle, especially before eating.