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A Professional's Perspective

"Bouncy Castle Safety: Essential Tips and Checks to Avoid Rogue Traders"

01/July/2024
people enjoying inflatables at an event

Ensuring Safety with Inflatable Equipment: Tips and Checks to Avoid Rogue Traders

We thought we'd bring attention to some of the checks you can do to safeguard against rogue traders.

Inflatables are no more dangerous than any other activity you or your children enjoy. However, some media outlets have irresponsibly reported incidents involving inflatables as being more dangerous than they are, leading to unnecessary scaremongering. This type of reporting not only misinforms the public but also affects legitimate operators who run their businesses responsibly.

Bouncy castles, inflatable slides, and other inflatables provide great fun and are used globally in various climates. Most accidents and incidents stem from substandard equipment, often imported cheaply from China, or from negligent operators. This article aims to help you identify rogue operators and perform safety checks yourself to stay safe while having fun.

Given the increased focus on inflatable apparatus safety from the public, media, and government, it’s crucial to know the checks you can do to avoid rogue traders. Here are a few steps to ensure the operator is genuine, helping you make an informed decision about the equipment you, your company, or your family will be using.

Whether at events or hiring equipment for home use, it’s important to ensure you’re hiring from a reputable source. Most bouncy castle operators are responsible and prioritize safety, but a few may cut corners and risk safety for profit. Here’s how to distinguish good operators from bad ones and what checks you can conduct yourself.

How to Spot a Fake Insurance Certificate/Cover Note

It can be challenging to spot a fake insurance certificate. However, you can verify the insurance by contacting the broker or insurer named on the cover note directly. Brokers and insurers keep detailed records and can confirm if the person or company is insured. It’s better to find contact information online rather than using the details on the document itself.

Look out for irregularities such as incorrect FSA/FCA references or wrong contact details. You can also check directly with the FCA to ensure the broker or firm is authorised to transact insurance. Unfortunately, ‘Ghost Broking’ is not uncommon, and the Insurance Fraud Register can be used to report insurance fraud.

It is not currently a legal requirement to have public liability insurance for bouncy castles or any other leisure equipment. However, it is strongly advised to have this insurance, as obtaining compensation after a loss may be difficult without it. Note that insurance or association membership alone does not guarantee safety; no amount of insurance can prevent an accident.

How to Check Safety Certificates

Never use inflatable equipment or bouncy castles without a safety inspection certificate. Rogue traders often purchase cheap inflatables from China that do not comply with British/European Standard (BS EN 14960). Safety inspection tags should be visible and easily seen by anyone wishing to use the equipment.

I would suggest that only 15% of manufacturers have RPII in-house as it’s such a small part of most businesses.

I spoke with Lee Scott, Director of Betterbounce Direct, a UK supplier of inflatable equipment and bouncy castles. Lee, who also sits on the board of PIPA and the PIPA leadership and expansion committee, informed us about inspection certificates:

"RPII & PIPA registered inspectors are qualified to test and certify inflatables designed for bouncing and sliding for children under 14. Some testers and manufacturers also test inflatables outside the scope of EN14960. The PIPA scheme does not currently cover other types of inflatables."

Inflatables falling outside the scope include:

  • Gladiator duels
  • Bungees
  • Bulls
  • Quad tracks
  • Nightclubs
  • Knockout sections
  • Foam pits
  • Sumo surrounds
  • Arenas
  • Zorb tracks
  • Stages
  • Buildings
  • Booths
  • Fairground games
  • Darts
  • Football shootouts
  • Bars
  • Golf courses
  • Nerf arenas
  • Mazes
  • Arches
  • Other structures

The HSE states that all inflatables must be tested from new by the manufacturer for a period of 12 months and annually thereafter by a competent person, suggesting all testing be done to the nearest available standard, which is EN14960.

"Only about 15% of manufacturers have RPII in-house, as it’s a small part of most businesses. The RPII & PIPA are brands; the legal test requirement is EN14960, and all test reports are identical regardless of the brand. Most manufacturers have more experience outside the scope of testers, but there are plans for PIPA to expand the scheme within the next 12 months, and hopefully, RPII will follow suit with appropriate tester training."

What do the Numbers Mean on the Safety Tag?

Inflatable equipment inspection certificate
Always check for a certificate like this on any inflatable equipment you wish to use

Inspection certificates contain a lot of information. Let's break down each item one by one, starting at the top. Note that some tags may have a slightly different layout but will contain similar information, as seen from the PIPA tag below.

  • Product: This states the type of equipment issued for, such as a bouncy castle, inflatable slide, or bungee run.
  • Number of anchors required: This tells you how many ground anchor points the equipment needs, which you can check to ensure they are secured correctly.
  • Type of blower required: This specifies the type of blower used to inflate the equipment. If it's not the correct size, the equipment won't inflate properly.
  • Maximum height of user: This indicates the maximum height of users. For example, if the maximum height is 1.25 metres, an adult of 1.7 metres should not use the equipment.
  • Maximum number of users: This is crucial for safety. Overloading the equipment can be dangerous for various reasons.
  • Serial Number: Each piece of equipment has a unique serial number that can be used to identify it and verify the inspection certificate.
  • Date of Manufacture: The date the equipment was made.

Below that, there is a height and user chart indicating how many people of a certain height can use the equipment simultaneously. Users should not mix heights, and the number of users should never be exceeded.

PIPA Certificate Example
PIPA certificate with a slightly different layout

Do Inflatables Have to Have Regular Tests, and Is It the Law?

While having a PIPA certificate isn’t mandatory, it is legally required for all leisure apparatus used for commercial purposes to be tested annually. PIPA is the most recognised body for providing RPII-approved inspectors in the UK inflatable industry.

For more information, visit PIPA FAQ.

Some Checks You Should Always Undertake Yourself

  • Does the equipment look fit for purpose?
  • Is it in good condition?
  • Are there safety mats around the entry and exit points?
  • Does it appear to be inflated correctly?
  • Is it securely tied down and anchored?
  • Does the operator avoid answering questions about insurance?
  • Check the weather. If it’s windy or gusty, consult the Met Office. If winds exceed 25mph, do not use any bouncy castle.
  • Is the operator paying attention and supervising?
  • Are there more users than recommended on the castle?

If any of these checks raise doubts, it’s best to avoid using the equipment. Remember, accidents can happen with any activity. For instance, there are around 40,000 playground accidents each year. Use common sense and judgement to ensure safety.

If you have any questions about leisure insurance or need to verify an operator’s insurance documents issued by Primo Insurance, please call us on 01702 225 440.

Referenced Information URLs:

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Cover for high-value homes, art, antiques, jewellery & collections. Protect your assets and financial security | Primo
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Protect Your Property & Belongings with Quality Insurance Providing Complete Peace of Mind and Security | Primo
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Three or more vehicles? Own cars, bikes, camper or a combination? Insure them all on one simple-to-manage policy | Primo

    Bouncy Castle Safety Guide: Top 10 FAQs Answered

    Ensuring the safety of your inflatable equipment, especially bouncy castles, is paramount. This definitive FAQ guide aims to provide you with essential information and practical tips to safeguard against potential hazards and rogue operators. Always trust your best judgement when evaluating the safety of inflatable equipment, and remember that vigilance and proactive checks are key to a safe and enjoyable experience.
    1. What should I check before hiring a bouncy castle? - (click to expand)
    A detailed checklist on a clipboard showing items like "Insurance Certificate," "Safety Mats," "Anchors Secured," and "Supervision." In the background, a person is inspecting a bouncy castle.

    Insurance and Certificates: Ensure the operator has valid public liability insurance and safety certificates for their equipment. Ask to see these documents and verify their authenticity.

    Equipment Condition: Inspect the bouncy castle for any visible wear and tear, such as tears, holes, or weak seams. The castle should be clean and well-maintained.

    Safety Measures: Check if the operator provides safety mats around entry and exit points, and ensure the bouncy castle is securely anchored.

    Supervision: Confirm that the operator provides trained staff to supervise the equipment during use. Proper supervision is crucial to prevent accidents and manage the number of users.

    2. How can I spot a fake insurance certificate? - (click to expand)
    A comparison image showing a legitimate insurance certificate and a fake one side by side. Highlighting irregularities such as spelling mistakes and incorrect logos.

    Irregularities: Look for spelling mistakes, incorrect FSA (Financial Services Authority) instead of FCA (Financial Conduct Authority), or outdated information.

    Verification: Use the broker or insurer's official contact details found online, not those provided on the document, to verify the insurance. Most brokers and insurers can confirm whether a policy is valid without divulging personal information.

    Contact FCA: Check directly with the FCA to ensure the broker or firm is authorised to transact insurance. This can be done through the FCA's official website.

    3. Is public liability insurance required for bouncy castles? - (click to expand)
    An illustration of a family enjoying a bouncy castle, with a shield icon representing insurance coverage. A caption saying "Public Liability Insurance Recommended."

    Legal Requirement: Public liability insurance is not legally required for bouncy castles, but it is strongly advised. This insurance protects against claims of injury or damage resulting from the use of the bouncy castle.

    Compensation: Without public liability insurance, obtaining compensation after an incident can be difficult. Insurance ensures that medical costs, legal fees, and other damages are covered.

    4. What safety standards should inflatable equipment comply with? - (click to expand)
    A close-up of a safety inspection tag on a bouncy castle, clearly showing compliance with BS EN 14960. The tag should be prominently visible and legible.

    BS EN 14960: This is the British/European Standard for inflatable play equipment, ensuring it meets specific safety requirements regarding materials, design, and manufacturing.

    Inspection Tag: Ensure the equipment has a visible safety inspection tag indicating it has been tested and complies with BS EN 14960. The tag should be up to date, as equipment needs annual inspection.

    5. What are the most common causes of bouncy castle accidents? - (click to expand)
    An image showing common hazards such as an overloaded bouncy castle, high winds, and unsupervised children. Use warning signs to highlight each hazard.

    Substandard Equipment: Cheap inflatables from unregulated manufacturers often fail to meet safety standards, leading to accidents.

    Poor Supervision: Lack of proper supervision can result in overloading, rough play, and children not following safety rules.

    Weather Conditions: Using inflatables in high winds or bad weather increases the risk of the equipment becoming unstable or airborne.

    Overloading: Exceeding the maximum number of users can cause structural failure or collisions between users.

    6. How often should bouncy castles be inspected? - (click to expand)
    A calendar marked with inspection dates, showing an initial inspection and annual inspections. A mechanic or inspector is examining a bouncy castle.

    Initial Inspection: Inflatables must be inspected by the manufacturer when new for a period of 12 months.

    Annual Inspection: After the initial inspection, inflatables should be inspected annually by a competent person to ensure ongoing safety and compliance with BS EN 14960.

    Regular Checks: Operators should also perform regular checks before each use to identify any immediate issues.

    7. What information should be on the safety tag of a bouncy castle? - (click to expand)
    A zoomed-in view of a bouncy castle safety tag with annotations pointing to each key piece of information: Product Type, Number of Anchors, Blower Type, Max Height, Users, Serial Number, and Manufacture Date.

    Product Type: Specifies whether it's a bouncy castle, slide, or other inflatable.

    Number of Anchors Required: Indicates how many ground anchor points are needed and their placement.

    Type of Blower Required: Details the appropriate blower size and power needed to properly inflate the equipment.

    Maximum Height and Number of Users: Lists the maximum height of users and the maximum number of users allowed simultaneously to prevent overloading.

    Serial Number: A unique identifier for tracking and verifying the equipment.

    Date of Manufacture: Shows when the equipment was made, useful for tracking the age and inspection history.

    8. Can inflatables be used in windy conditions? - (click to expand)
    A weather forecast showing high winds with a bouncy castle in the background. A red warning sign indicating "Do Not Use in Wind Speeds Over 25 mph."

    Safety Limits: Inflatables should not be used if wind speeds exceed 25 mph. High winds can cause the equipment to become unstable or airborne.

    Weather Checks: Always check the weather forecast before using an inflatable. The Met Office provides reliable information on wind speeds and weather conditions.

    Precautionary Measures: If unexpected winds arise, evacuate the bouncy castle immediately and deflate it until conditions improve.

    9. What should I do if the operator avoids answering questions about safety and insurance? - (click to expand)
     A concerned parent questioning a bouncy castle operator, with the operator looking evasive. A thought bubble showing red flags like "Avoid!" and "Check Another Operator."

    Red Flags: Evasiveness about safety measures or insurance coverage is a significant red flag. Responsible operators should be transparent and willing to provide information.

    Alternative Options: If you encounter an evasive operator, it's best to avoid their services. Choose another operator with clear, verifiable safety practices.

    Verification: Always verify the provided information independently, especially for insurance and safety certificates.

    10. Are all types of inflatables covered by the same safety standards? - (click to expand)
    A variety of inflatable types such as a bouncy castle, gladiator duel, and foam pit with labels. An overlay of different safety standard icons indicating the need for varied compliance.

    Scope of Standards: BS EN 14960 covers inflatables designed for bouncing and sliding for children under 14. This includes bouncy castles, slides, and similar equipment.

    Other Inflatables: Inflatables like gladiator duels, bungees, foam pits, and obstacle courses may not be covered under the same standards. These require additional scrutiny and possibly different safety certifications.

    Manufacturer and Tester Experience: Ensure that manufacturers and testers have experience with the specific type of inflatable in use. PIPA and RPII inspectors may not cover all types, so verify their qualifications for non-standard inflatables.

    While this FAQ provides valuable insights and guidance on bouncy castle safety, it is no substitute for professional advice. For the most up-to-date information and expertise, always consult with a professional broker. They can offer tailored advice and ensure that you have the best protection and knowledge to keep your inflatable fun safe and secure.
    Stan Byford
    Web Developer, SEO and Content

    Stan Byford is an accomplished web developer and SEO/AEO expert based in Southend on Sea, UK. With a robust background in insurance, Stan combines his technical skills and content creation expertise to enhance his employer’s online presence. Passionate about gaming and technology, he is developing a survival game using Unreal Engine. Stan's goal is to lead an SEO team, leveraging his knowledge to drive success in the digital space. An advocate for understanding autism and ADHD, Stan is dedicated to continuous learning and growth.