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What is inflatable play equipment?

Inflatable play equipment is "designed to be used by members of the public for entertainment purposes either as a slide or for bouncing upon". Inflatables, such as castles, slides, domes etc can be bought from a number of different manufacturers and suppliers in the UK, both new and second hand. They come in a wide range of sizes and shapes and can be designed for use by adults, children or both. They can also be hired by organisations or members of the public for parties etc.

What you need to know:

The quality construction, maintenance and operation of inflatable play equipment can be extremely variable. Buyers, hirers and users should make sure they know what it is they are paying for; things are generally cheap for good reason! Health and safety law will apply to the supply, hire and use of inflatables for commercial purposes. It does not apply to private, domestic buyers and users.

Are you an Inflatable Controller or User?

Inflatables are great fun but accidents involving broken limbs and necks are not uncommon. There have also been serious incidents where occupied inflatables have blown away due to being improperly secured in windy conditions. A few basic measures can make all the difference to an event:

  1. If you are buying an inflatable for work or renting one for an event, ensure it has been built to the current British Standard (BS EN 14960) and if it has, there will be a label on it saying so. If there is no label you may be taking a risk with the safety of those using it.
  2. The label will tell you when it was made, how many people can use it and what heights they should be.
  3. Every inflatable should have at least 6 anchor points, though bigger ones will need more. The operator manual that should be supplied with the inflatable will tell you how many there should be. BS EN 14960 also provides more information regarding the calculations to be used to work out anchor point requirements.
  4. All the anchor points must be used, preferably with metal ground stakes at least 380mm length and 16mm diameter with a rounded top. Anchor points on the inflatable should have a welded metal '0' or 'D' ring fitted to the end. If ground stakes cannot be used then a system of ballast using water or sand barrels or tying down to vehicles that will give at least the same level of protection should be used. Each anchor point should have the equivalent of 163kgs to give this. Beware of tripping hazards if you secure in this way.
  5. Have a good look at the inflatable when it is blown up and before use. You should check:
    • the site is suitable;
    • all anchorages are secure and in place;
    • ancillary equipment is in position (e.g. impact-absorbing mats);
    • there are no significant holes or rips in the fabric or seams;
    • the correct blower is being used;
    • the internal air pressure is sufficient to give a firm and reliable footing;
    • there are no exposed electrical parts and no wear on cables;
    • plugs, sockets, switches, etc. are not damaged;
    • the connection tube and blower are firmly attached to each other;
    • the outer edges of the front step are in line with the centre of each of the front uprights. Under no circumstances should the width of the step be less than this. The whole unit should look symmetrical and those bits that should upright, should be upright. If it looks misshapen or deformed there may be internal problems which may make bouncing unpredictable.
  6. If there is an electrical blower with the inflatable this must also be tested at regular intervals. The law requires electrical equipment to be maintained to prevent danger. The type and frequency of user checks, inspections and testing needed will depend on the equipment, the environment in which it is used and the results of previous checks.

Making sure that the inflatable is run safely is equally important; the majority of injuries come from misuse. There should be constant supervision when the inflatable is blown up and it is strongly recommended that hirers ask for this to be provided as a condition of hire.

Operating instructions:

Operating instructions must be supplied by the manufacturer or supplier and these should include at least the following:

  1. Restrict the number of users on the inflatable at the same time to the limit in the manual or on the unit label. Don’t exceed the user height limit given in the manual or on the unit label and keep bigger users separated from smaller.
  2. Ensure users can get on and off safely and that there is safety matting at the entrance in case of falls or ejections. These mats should not be more than 2" in depth.
  3. Users should not wear shoes, should take their glasses off if they can and pockets should be emptied of all sharp or dangerous items.
  4. Users should not eat or drink whilst playing or bouncing and anyone obviously intoxicated should not be allowed on; they are a danger to themselves as much as to others.
  5. Don’t let things get too rough and don’t let users climb or hang onto the walls. Don’t let users try to somersault.

If you are using the inflatable outside, be aware of the weather. BS EN 14960 recommends that the maximum windspeed in which inflatable play equipment should be used outdoors is 38 km/h which is Force 5 on the Beaufort Scale (small trees in leaf begin to sway). The best way to measure this is by using an anemometer.

A properly trained supervisor will be aware of all of this and should be able to keep the inflatable running safely and make sure that no one gets hurt.

Annual inspection

After its first year and annually thereafter, the inflatable must be tested by a competent person to make sure it is still safe for use. A new unit should have an ‘initial test’ carried out at the point of manufacture to confirm it complies with BS EN 14960. The HSE supports annual examination by Inspectors registered with PIPA or ADIPS. Hirers should ask to see proof of this test.

The controller shall ensure that an annual inspection is carried out by a competent person and any part of the inflatable and its ancillaries which may affect safe operation of the equipment should be inspected, including:

Inspection of some of these items may need to be done inside the inflatable. The above list is not exhaustive.

If you have any questions about any of this, further help can be found on the PIPA website or in British Standard BS EN 14960 - 'Inflatable play equipment – safety requirements and test methods'

Updated 2016-07-27