Inflatable Guidance from Health and Safety Executive
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.
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.
Inflatables are great fun but accidents involving broken limbs and necks or the entire inflatable blowing away with people in it are not unheard of. A few basic measures can make all the difference to an event:
- 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. Buyers should ensure they get an invoice stating that the inflatable has been manufactured to this standard.
- The label will tell you when it was made, how many people can use it and what heights they should be.
- 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.
- 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. If there is no manual you cannot be sure how many tie down points there should be for safe use.
- 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.
- Have a good look at the inflatable when it is blown up. The outer edges of the front step should at least line up 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.
- If there is an electrical blower with the inflatable this should be tested like any other portable electrical appliance. The tube that connects the blower to the bag should be at least 1.4m in length.
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 should be supplied by the manufacturer or supplier and these should include at least the following:
- 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.
- 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.
- Users should not wear shoes, should take their glasses off if they can and pockets should be emptied of all sharp or dangerous items.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
I am grateful to The Inflatable Play Enterprise (TIPE) for their help with this advice.
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’.