Up, up and Away…In Those Beautiful Balloons…

Alright, maybe I am dating myself with the 5th Dimension / Dionne Warwick song reference, but I found it particularly applicable to this month’s topic…inflatables.
Inflatables of all shapes, sizes and configurations have become common attractions on today’s midways.  They are relatively inexpensive, easy to move, set up and kids love them.  For years, the inflatable industry has been pushing the limit on size, theme and configuration and today’s inflatables can be an exciting and profitable piece of any inventory.  But with them comes a level of risk that must be understood, managed and appreciated.  With help from my partners at Specialty Insurance Group (www.specialtyinsurancegroup), I offer the following thoughts.
While these amusements are very popular with children and young adults, they can also cause serious injury and death.  The rates of injuries are increasing at a rate of 15% a year according to a 2012 article in the journal, Pediatrics.  This same article goes on to say that the rate doubled between 2008 and 2010 with 31 children per day treated in emergency rooms.  Other data from the report:
•    The average patient was 7.5 years old
•    Most injuries were fractures (27.5%) and strains or sprains (27.3%), and most injuries occurred to the lower (32.9%) or upper (29.7%) extremities.
•    3.4% of injured children were hospitalized or kept for 24 hours for observation.

Having successfully run a national insurance program for inflatables in the past, I understand first hand just how important it is to safely operate these lovable attractions.  Recent changes in the industry including the adoption of ASTM F2374-10 Standard for Design, Manufacture, Operation, and Maintenance of Inflatable Amusement Devices (www.astm.org) have gone a long way in the efforts to reduce injuries and reign in poor operations.  No matter what the device, the manufacturers don’t make these inflatables to hurt kids.  Kids are hurt when operators fail to do their job properly.  The following are some of the most important actions an operator can take in order to ensure proper setup, usage and maintenance of inflatable devices.

Supervision
Active adult supervision is required.  If the manufacturer specifies that one or more operators or attendants be on hand, this personnel should be provided, and the training recommended by the manufacturer must also be provided.  Training resources are available in ASTM standard F770 Practice for Ownership, Operation, Maintenance and Inspection of Amusement Rides and Devices.

Some operational guidelines
•    Whenever possible, installation should be done by qualified personnel.
•    Anchoring at all points is mandatory, they help maintain structural stability to the unit and secure the unit to the ground surface.
•    All appropriate signage must be present demonstrating operational rules and regulations as set by the manufacturer.
•    The use of a gym mat or equivalent must be in place at all point of ingress or egress.
•    Ensure the inflatables are installed safely away from power lines.
•    Ideally, one child at a time, but this is almost never possible, so the fewer-the-better.  Please observe manufactures recommendations for capacity limitations and grouping suggestions.
•    Enforce no intentional contact, no flips.
•    Clean and sanitize units regularly.
•    Pay close attention to wind velocity and be prepared to evacuate and deflate the device in accordance with manufactures recommendations.
•    When in doubt refer to the manufacturers operational manual and or ASTM F2374-10 for guidance.

A lot of this is common sense, but somehow, sometimes, we lose track of that.  Inflatables can be fun and profitable attractions when properly operated.  Should you have any questions about this topic or another amusement-related safety/insurance topic, feel free to drop me a line.  I am happy to help.  Remember, Safety isn’t expensive…it’s priceless.