CLEVELAND - They're a popular amusement at parks, festivals, fairs and in backyards. But a NewsChannel5 investigation uncovered inflatable bouncers come with serious safety risks.
NewsChannel5 investigators found there are no federal safety regulations and operators can easily evade state inspections for inflatable bouncers, in spite of a 1,500-percent increase in injuries to U.S. children.
"The only part I remember is when I was laying in the car. I couldn't even move it hurt so bad," Hannah Ducas, 13, told Investigator Sarah Buduson. Hannah was ejected over the side of an inflatable bouncer she was playing in at a school fundraiser in 2011.
"I flew over the side and... just hit my head really hard and, like, landed on my neck," she said. Ducas spent two nights in the hospital. "I had a lot of like strains and contusions in my neck and I had a severe concussion," she said.
NewsChannel5 investigators found Hannah's injury is not unusual. The number of inflatable bouncer injuries increased 1,500 percent between 1995 and 2010, according to Tracy Mehan, the manager of translational research at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The center's study found 62,159 children were treated for inflatable bouncer-related injuries between 1995 and 2012.
In 2010 alone, more than 30 children per day received treatment in hospital emergency departments for injuries associated with inflatable bouncers.
"That's an injury epidemic by any definition," said Mehan.
"The scary thing about the injuries is that almost one fourth of the injuries are fractures and one in five are injuries to the head and neck so these are pretty serious injuries that are happening," she said.
NewsChannel5 investigators found inflatable bouncer injuries are occasionally deadly. They are blamed for several deaths around the U.S.
State records show inflatable bouncers have been blamed for two deaths in Ohio. Pittsburgh area resident Doug Johnson was killed in June 2010 when an inflatable slide toppled on top of him outside a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field.
"They are much more available now than they used to be. People can buy them and use them in their homes. There are now indoor parks that have them available so we think that's part of the problem," said Mehan.
But in spite of the increase in availability and injuries, NewsChannel5 investigators found there are no federal regulations for inflatable bouncers.
Mehan said national guidelines could help keep kids safer. "Parents and manufacturers and operators are not aware of the potential injury risks unless the warning labels and signs and training are in place," she said.
NewsChannel5 investigators found Ohio does regulate the industry. The state's 1,757 licensed inflatable bouncer operators are each inspected at least once a year.
However, Tony Colanni, who owns Amazing Bouncers in North Ridgeville, told us he notified the state when he started his business.
He said anyone could buy an inflatable bouncer online and rent it out, without being licensed or inspected.
"That is one of the problems out there. A lot of these people you see on craigslist... they won't have a commercial grade bouncer, they'll have one that's meant for the backyard," he said.
"I think the bounce house industry has a lot of people who are extremely passionate about safety," said Jim Seay, the chairman of the ASTM Committee F24 on Amusement Rides and Devices. ASTM International is an organization that sets standards to improve safety for about 12,000 products, including inflatable bouncers.
Seay said current regulations are adequate. Though voluntary, he said manufacturers and operators usually follow ASTM International's standards.
Ohio inspectors conducted 2,085 inflatable bouncer inspections in 2012 and found only nine violations.
"If they're used widely, then people who go to these facilities that have these products can be confident that they're being operated safely," said Seay.