Bouncy castles and other play inflatables: safety advice
Serious incidents have occurred where inflatables have collapsed or blown away in windy conditions.
These simple precautions can help you avoid serious incidents, whether you supply or buy bouncy castles and inflatables, are hiring one for an event, or operate them.
Health and safety law applies to the supply, hire and use of inflatables for commercial purposes. It does not apply to private, domestic buyers and users.
This guidance applies to inflatables devices that are covered by BS EN 14960, and that can be used both outside and inside.
Before you buy or hire
HSE supports two industry inspection schemes for inflatables run by PIPA and ADiPs. Most play inflatables will therefore display either a numbered PIPA tag or an ADiPs declaration of compliance (DoC) to show they comply with British Standard BS EN 14960.
You can use their websites to check safety tests have been carried out and to find out what to do if the equipment has no PIPA tag or ADiPs DoC (you may be risking people's safety if the inflatable doesn't have one of these).
The PIPA scheme specifically covers inflatables devices that fall within the scope of the BS EN 14960, and they have guidance on the equipment PIPA inspect.
The ADiPs scheme covers a wider range of inflatable play equipment as well as more traditional fairground rides.
If you're buying or hiring any inflatable for private or public use you should make sure it also has instructions on how to operate it safely.
Setting up safely
When setting up, carry out the following safety checks in line with the inflatable's operator manual:
- No inflatable should be used in winds above 24 mph (38 kmph), which is Force 5 on the Beaufort Scale (small trees in leaf begin to sway)
- Certain inflatables may have a lower maximum wind speed for operation. Always check the manufacturer's operating manual to confirm the maximum wind speed for the safe operation of the inflatable
- When the inflatable is being operated outside, use an anemometer to measure the wind speed at regular intervals. If one of these is not available, the inflatable should not be operated outside. These measurements should be recorded
- Do not use smartphone weather applications to measure wind speed as they do not take localised wind conditions into account
- No inflatable should be used when internal inflation pressure is below the minimum, or above the maximum specified by the manufacturer, in the operations manual
- Regular measurements of the internal pressure of the inflatable should be taken using a suitable pressure measuring device, such as a manometer. If one of these is not available, the inflatable should not be operated. These measurements should be recorded.
- The blowers should be checked daily to ensure that the fan blades are clear of debris and the non-return flap on the blower outlet is fully functional.
- When using the inflatable outside, all the anchor points must be used, with metal ground stakes at least 380 mm long and 16 mm wide, with a rounded top. They should have a welded metal 'O' or 'D' ring fitted to the end
- All inflatables must have at least 6 anchor points. The operator manual will tell you how many there should be, and you should check to ensure they are all still in place and have not been removed
- The ropes used to secure the inflatable should be in good condition and not stretched, frayed or rotten. Never use improvised tow ropes, eg bungee cord
- If ground stakes cannot be used because of the surface (eg tarmac) use ballast with anchor points each weighing at least 163 kg and with suitable fixings to attach the guy ropes. The inflatable should be tightly secured to the ground so that the wind cannot get under it and lift it up
- Alternatively, ground anchor bolts with a load rating of 1600N can be used with suitable fixings to attach the guy ropes. The ground anchor bolts must be installed in line with the manufacturer’s installation instructions by a competent person and checked at regular intervals
- If an inflatable is being used indoors, refer to the operator's manual which will provide instruction on what anchorage is necessary to maintain the shape of the device and prevent overturn
- Where an inflatable is used on either hard standing or any ground that would cause injury should the user fall from the device, suitable impact attenuating material should be provided, but is not required if the device is securely and permanently covered so as to contain the user.
- All other associated equipment must be safe, including the blower
Before anyone uses it
Have a good look at the inflatable when it is blown up and before use. You should check:
- the correct blower is being used (the blower specification, including output, will be given in the operating manual)
- there are no obvious signs of over-tension or sagging of the structure. Also check if the anchor points have been pulled out during inflation
- the connection tube and blower are firmly attached to each other
- impact-absorbing mats are in position
- there are no holes or rips in the fabric or seams
- it looks symmetrical – if it looks misshapen or deformed there could be internal problems that make bouncing unpredictable and it should therefore not be used
- to ensure the safety of an inflatable in the event of a sudden loss of power, the deflation rate of the inflatable should be tested before each use by switching the blowers off and observing the inflatable deflate.
- the inflatable should deflate at a rate that allows sufficient time for users to be safely evacuated, whilst retaining its shape and rigidity so that users do not fall from the inflatable.
- if the inflatable deflates at a such a rate, that it becomes mishappen or deformed and prevents either safe escape or cannot prevent users from falling, the inflatable should not be operated.
Safe use, supervision and monitoring
There should be constant supervision by at least one suitably trained person.
Operating instructions must be supplied and should include the following:
- Restrict the number of users on the inflatable at the same time to the limit in the operator manual or on the unit label. Don't exceed the user height limit and keep bigger users separated from smaller ones
- Make sure users can get on and off safely, with safety matting at the entrance that is no more than 2 inches deep
- People should not wear shoes or glasses, and should empty their pockets of all sharp or dangerous items
- Anyone obviously intoxicated should not be allowed on
- Don't allow users to climb or hang on the walls
- Regularly check that anchor points are still secure
- When operating the inflatable outside, use an anemometer to measure wind conditions at regular intervals, and visually check for changes in wind direction (such as looking at how the trees are swaying). Make sure you take readings in the direction of the wind.
Tests and inspections
As an owner or the person making it available for use, you are responsible for making sure the following tests are carried out.
A new inflatable should have an 'initial test' to confirm it complies with BS EN 14960.
Make sure an annual inspection is carried out by a competent person. They should identify the inflatable and blower by their serial numbers and look at any previous inspection reports and certificates. They should also inspect any part of the inflatable and its equipment that may affect its safe operation.