Bill Kitzes Product Safety Management

Kitzes on Safety

Trampolines - Not in My Backyard

Originally published in the CCH Consumer Product Safety Guide, 2003.

I watched the Olympics last month. Trampoline may be a great Olympic sport, but it should stay in the Olympics and out of the backyard.

In 1977, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement calling for a ban on the use of trampolines in all schools, homes and recreational settings. In 1981, the Academy modified that statement to allow a limited use in schools under the supervision of qualified coaches in controlled settings. But they absolutely continued their call for a ban on trampolines outside schools, stating “The trampoline should never be used in home or recreational settings.” Other researchers such as George Rapp (1978) and Joseph Torg (1984) have called for the unconditional ban of home trampolines, calling them “dangerous devices” with no place in recreational settings, and never for use as a “backyard toy.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) estimate of hospital emergency room treated injuries associated with trampolines has risen ten fold in the past 15 years, from just under 9000 in 1985 to nearly 100,000 in 1999. Fractures and sprains to the leg were reported most often, and compound fractures are not uncommon. Twenty percent of all hospital emergency room treatments are injuries to the head, face and neck area, and four percent of all injuries result in hospitalization. Nearly 75 percent of all trampoline injuries involve kids under 15.

Catastrophic injuries are infrequent, but do occur. The former president of a major trampoline manufacturer has stated that over the years he was aware of nearly 40 incidents of trampoline related quadrapalegia. Between 1990 and 1999, CPSC was aware of 11 deaths. There are an estimated 3 million backyard trampolines in use today.

Most trampoline injuries occur when the trampoline user lands imperfectly on the mat, or while performing stunts. Other injuries occur upon hitting the springs or frame, and some are caused by leaving the trampoline surface completely and landing on the ground. Multiple jumpers increase the chance for all types of injuries, as one child can bounce into another or literally bounce them off the trampoline surface causing them to land improperly on the mat or send them crashing to the ground.

For years, the manual of one major manufacturer of trampolines required that a “qualified instructor” be present in the backyard (this instruction has subsequently been removed for reasons known only to the manufacturer). In an article in International Gymnast Magazine in 1977, the United States Gymnastics Safety Association (USGSA) required qualified instructors to, among other things, complete a two day certification clinic sponsored by the USGSA. To believe a parent could qualify, or that such an instructor would be available in a suburban backyard is absurd.

Other requirements of the owner’s manual included:

This last item would require at least five people to be present before any use of the trampoline. Such rules are clearly impossible to follow in virtually any backyard settings and makes the trampoline unreasonably dangerous during foreseeable conditions of use.

The manufacturers do admit and now label the trampoline with pictograms stating that “paralysis or death can result” from landing on your head or neck even in the middle of the mat, and that multiple jumpers can increase injury. But the manual tends to associate these injuries with misuse or abuse. Is the absence of a qualified instructor and four spotters misuse?

Yes, warnings have increased and are better presented than they were in the early 1990’s. The CPSC has pushed the industry to upgrade voluntary standards, especially concerning protective padding on the springs and frame. Yet injuries continue to climb at a staggering rate. One cannot expect parents to become competent instructors in trampoline skills, to be present at all times, and to always insure there is only one child on the trampoline. Jumping with friends is unfortunately where much of the fun is, and the manufacturers must know it. Such activity increases the danger of trampoline use.

And what of the risks and benefits. Developing the allowable skill set includes the fundamental bounce, the knee drop, the seat drop, and the back drop, among others. None of these skills seem useful for most people for very long.

I don’t believe in comparative safety. Comparing injuries associated with other products to justify rising injuries is not relevant to protecting kids from injuries on trampolines. Defenders of trampolines, however, have pointed to products such as bicycles or swimming pools to justify the number of trampoline injuries. Yet these other products provide skills and benefits that can last for a lifetime. Swimming provide non-impact aerobic exercise and can be life saving under emergency conditions. Bicycles provide transportation and exercise to millions of people. The physiological benefits of trampolines in unstructured backyard settings is questionable. The use of backyard trampolines under the strict conditions set forth by the manufacturers is doubtful. The risks are great, the benefits are few. Trampolines have no place in the backyard.

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