Editor’s note: This post has been updated
A three-year-old girl died on July 1 in a bouncy castle incident in Norfolk, U.K.
Ava-May Littleboy was bouncing on the inflatable equipment — a bouncy castle with a trampoline — at the Bounce About play area at Gorleston Beach in Norfolk when the trampoline exploded launching her “30 feet” in the air and causing her to land on the sand.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution and members of the public rushed to her aid, and East of England ambulance service was immediately called to the scene. But despite all their efforts, the young girl later died at James Paget hospital.
“Officers were called to Lower Esplanade around 11:15 a.m. following reports a child had been thrown from a bouncy castle,” a spokeswoman for the Norfolk Constabulary said to The Times. “The young girl was taken to the James Paget Hospital, however, she sadly died.”
“A joint investigation between the Health and Safety Executive, local authority and police has been launched to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident and a police cordon has been put in place.”
Onlookers said they heard a loud pop just before the little girl was launched in the air. Kenna Cracknell, who was on the beach at the time, posted to Facebook about the incident.
Bounce About owner Curt Johnson claimed the equipment exploded “because of the heat.” He was not on the scene at the time of the incident.
“My condolences go out to the family after this horrific accident,” he said.
This tragedy comes just two months after two fairground workers were found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence for failing to properly secure a bouncy castle. Summer Grant, a seven-year-old from Norwich, died when the castle blew away with her inside it in March 2016. William Thurston, 29, and his wife Shelby, 26, are currently serving three years in prison.
According to the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP), there has been a six-fold increase in bounce house-related injuries in the last 20 years. Of them, between 1990 and 2010, over 30 per cent required medical followup after initial treatment in the emergency department. The most common injuries were fractures and sprains.
Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that more than 64,000 children were treated in U.S. emergency departments for inflatable bouncer-related injuries between the years 1990 and 2010. In just the latter two years (2008 – 2010), the number of injuries more than doubled to an average of 31 injured children per day. More than a third of the children studied were under the age of six.
Child Safety Link suggests the following guidelines to ensure safe play in inflatable structures:
- Children should remove shoes, jewelry, and any hard or sharp objects from their pockets
- Children should always be supervised by a responsible adult
- Only allow one child in the bounce house at a time
- If there’s more than one child, group them together according to size to help reduce risk of injury from collision
- Discourage children from doing stunts like flips or somersaults
- Keep them away from exit points while bouncing around inside
- If it begins to lose air, exit immediately
- Do not use a bounce house outside if there are high winds
In the case of trampolines, the government of Canada advises to not allow children under the age of six to play on them, to only allow one child at a time, and to install a safety net or enclosure around the structure.
Jennifer Argentino, a sales manager at Niagara Inflatables, told Global News that it’s unlikely the structure the little girl was playing on was a bouncy castle.
“It was an inflatable trampoline, like the kind you’d see at Sky Zone. An inflatable trampoline doesn’t have a fan motor, and it’s blown up to be very tight and jumpy,” she says.
“Whereas a bouncy castle uses a fan motor to blow air in — you can see the air escaping from the seams — so it can’t explode. When you walk on a bouncy castle, you’ll notice that you press down on the structure because it’s not sealed air.”
She says she has no knowledge of any companies in Canada who rent or sell inflatable trampolines, and that all inflatables in Ontario must conform to strict standards set by the Technical Standards & Safety Authority.