Perhaps it is no coincidence that on the warmest day of the year so far, and with lock-down restrictions easing and 12 April looming, the HSE decided to issue useful guidance on what is required to ensure the safe supply, operation and inspection of bouncy castle, slides and other kinds of sealed inflatables used for leisure and entertainment.
Inflatables are a common attraction at community, fund raising and school events, outdoor concerts and pub gardens. Health and safety law applies to their supply, hire and use for commercial purposes and concerns itself not just with actual harm but with the risk of harm occurring..
There have been some tragic accidents arising from the use of inflatables, with calls to ban their use given the number of injuries and deaths that have occurred. As the HSE reminds us: “Sealed inflatables can place users and operators at risk of serious harm in circumstances such as the uncontrolled or explosive release of pressurised air or losing the device in high winds.”
One of the many notable cases prosecuted by the HSE resulted in the operators being given custodial sentences after a seven-year-old was crushed to death by a bouncy castle which was not properly secured.
The legal responsibilities to make sure that sealed inflatables are correctly designed, maintained and operated safely are set out in section 3 and section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (1974) and operators need to be very aware of their responsibilities to ensure that an inflatable is safe to use, not just at the beginning of an event but continuously throughout it. The consequences of failing to follow the guidance are likely to be severe given the potential for death and significant injuries that have historically occurred.
The operators’ key responsibilities are to:
- Ensure the inflatable is inflated, tested and operated strictly in accordance with the manufacturers’ manual. Avoid overinflation. Keep a close eye on the pressure to make sure that it remains within the correct operating limits at all times.
- Carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, identify the potential for harm and introduce appropriate control measures.
- Site the inflatable well away from hazards and avoid inflating and operating on wet, oily, muddy, uneven ground or on any debris, particularly objects that could damage the base.
- Make sure there is constant supervision by someone suitably trained.
- Maintain constant control over the number of people using the inflatable at any one time. Check the manufacturers’ instructions on the maximum number. Separate older users from younger ones and ensure that their behaviour is appropriate. Make sure users remove shoes and glasses and empty their pockets of sharp or potentially dangerous objects which could cause damage and injury.
- Continuously check anchor points to make sure they are at all times secure.
- Keep a careful eye on any changes to the weather that may affect the safe operation of the inflatable e.g. an increase in wind speed. Use a suitable hand-held anemometer to measure wind speed. Smart phones are not suitable for this purpose.
You might feel that much of what has been set out is common sense, and it is. But it is a good moment to remind any organiser intending to make use of inflatables as an attraction to look very closely at the guidance and seek advice if necessary. This is a key area of concern for the HSE and is monitored very closely. Make sure you have the safety management systems in place to enable you to reduce the potential for serious harm and run a successful and fun event