Inflatable Amusements & Wind - Expert Article

Wind is a recognized hazard for bounce houses and other inflatable amusement devices, and must be considered in the installation, operation, and supervision of these attractions. Failure to properly account for the forces of wind on these devices can result in dangerous conditions affecting ride users, attendants, and passersby. In this article, inflatable amusement expert Lance Miller discusses the standard of care for commercial inflatable amusements.

Inflatable Amusements & Wind - Expert Article

While extreme accounts of airborne inflatables are memorable and newsworthy, these represent only a small portion of the wind related incidents reported each year. The more common scenarios are less dramatic but can result in significant injuries caused by overturned inflatable structures, failed attachment lines, shifting ballasts, and unintended contact with pedestrians, surrounding structures, and utility lines.

There are a number of industry standards that should be followed by inflatable ride operators to protect against wind related hazards. Planning for and protecting against wind-related hazards begins before any inflatable attraction is installed. As it relates to wind and stability, operating instructions for inflatable attractions will typically provide direction regarding site preparation, staking/ballasts, and maximum wind speed for safe operation. Owners and operators of these amusements must become familiar with the operating instructions and specifications for each ride. In addition to following the manual and operating instructions, ride owners/operators must also prepare and have available a fact sheet for each ride, to serve as a reference guide for attendants or other workers.

Installation of Inflatable Amusements

Site selection is an important factor for protecting against wind related hazards. Based on the specifications of the individual attraction, the manufacturer will provide guidelines on topics such as necessary space, maximum slope of the terrain, and clearance requirements from trees and utility lines. Inflatable amusements should not be anchored to any vehicle or motor vehicle equipment (e.g., motor vehicle, ATV, ROV, trailer, recreational vehicle, tractor).

Before installing the inflatable device at the selected location, the installer should inspect all elements of the device and ancillary equipment. Once in place, the installer should conduct a documented daily inspection. The inspection will look for signs of wear and tear, particularly at attachment points, securement lines, proper inflation, and any unsafe conditions identified by the manufacturer.

Many wind related mishaps are caused by inadequate tie down connections. Owners/operators should always anchor rides according to the manufacturer’s requirements and instructions, including the number and type of anchors to be used for both indoor and outdoor use. When manufacturer’s instructions permit the use of sandbags or ballasts in place of stakes, owners/operators must ensure that they are using the proper weight as stated in the manufacturer’s instructions.

In the absence of manufacturer’s instructions, ASTM and other standards organizations provide guidance on inflatable tie-downs. It may be necessary to engage a qualified engineer to develop a securement plan that accounts for the specific dimensions of the amusement.

Operation & Supervision of Inflatable Amusements

There are many operational and supervision considerations relevant to inflatable amusement safety, but within the context of wind related hazards, monitoring the weather and having a plan for adverse weather conditions are the most relevant.

Operating instructions for each ride will specify the maximum sustained wind conditions in which the ride can be used. If the maximum wind speed was not specified by the manufacturer or that information is not available, 15 miles per hour is the industry standard value. A qualified engineer may be engaged to arrive at an alternate value specific to each amusement.

Installers and operators/attendants must be trained on how to monitor and assess wind speed using a reliable system. A variety of inexpensive methods exist for monitoring wind speed, ranging from a Beaufort Scale to smart phone enabled apps or standalone hand-held digital anemometers.

From an operational standpoint, it is crucially important that high wind scenario planning is established to recognize changing weather conditions and put the appropriate safety measures into motion. Operational procedures should dictate the process for shutting down inflatables and safe evacuation before a dangerous condition exists.

Forensic Investigations Involving Inflatable Amusements & Wind

Robson Forensic is well positioned to investigate the many issues related to inflatable amusement mishaps. In addition to experts who specialize in the management and operations of inflatable amusements, we also have structural engineers who specialize in wind engineering, and meteorologists who can reconstruct weather conditions at the time and location of specific incidents.

For more information, submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article.