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Injury Prevention: Amusement Course Safety

Originally Published in Recreation Management. May 2020

By: Laura Miele, PhD, CST-2

Email: Dr. Miele
Telephone: 347-400-0750

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An indoor trampoline park contains wall-to-wall trampolines, bordered either by angled trampoline walls or padding. Recently these parks have added features such as ninja courses, hanging nets, trapeze, wipe out, spider walls, foam obstacles and towers, to name few. All of these features require risk analysis to assist in keeping the public safe. There are so many crossover parks now that even the parks that are all-inclusive and not titled "trampoline park" must adhere to of the safety parameters set forth in the industry.

With the growth in amusement challenge courses (i.e., ninja/obstacle courses), the need for safety parameters in terms of design and operational practices has increased. The American Standards for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) is working on standards to assist in governing minimal safe practices for these types of amusement challenge courses. With injuries on the rise in trampoline parks, the ASTM -2970-17 has to expand and evolve. This new set of standards is currently being worked on by consumer safety-risk management consultants, engineers and manufacturers in the industry.

However, to be clear, since the inception of the ASTM -2970-13,15,17 the standard has stated that a "device analysis or risk assessment shall specifically include an assessment of the suitability of the design of the device for the intended patrons including anthropomorphic factors that relate to actual age and physical size." These standards are there to guide manufacturers and trampoline park owners alike.

Features and Landing Zones

Is the landing material (padding) or equipment proper for the feature's height? Does the landing device match the activity? A risk analysis must be performed to determine the safest landing device to be used in the event there is an equipment failure and to ensure that the device used meets or exceeds the proper attenuating properties that disperse energy to absorb the landing. Although this may not prevent all injuries, it could reduce the number of serious impact injuries throughout the industry.

Foam pits are often incorporated under the features in these challenge courses and have their own safety risks, depending on whether they are of adequate depth and use the appropriate amount and type of foam material. The layout and design of each feature's landing surfaces need to be explored.

With different features, landings are variable.The majority of patrons are untrained and do not understand how to move in space (kinesthetically). What this means is that not everyone can have control of their body while they are bouncing and jumping from area area on a course. This makes the proper landing device even more significant. Owners and operators should make certain that the landing device under the feature includes the proper surface. Differences in height and weight should be taken into consideration as patrons can come in all ages shapes and sizes. The way a person's energy is distributed on the landing device would determine the proper landing device to be used. This can only be done with proper testing from a variety of engineering specialists.

In order to do this, manufacturers need to run tests and analyze the data in order to understand how the body will move in space when jumping or falling from a variety of heights. With this data, safer practices can be incorporated to help determine the proper attenuating landing surface that should be placed around and underneath the feature.

Even though standards have not yet been created, there are manufacturers guidelines and other recreational standards in place. The ASTM standards mandate for the manufacturers to run device risk analysis, and other standards and guidelines within the gymnastic and sport industry assist as well. Owners and operators must do their homework to determine the best landing device surface for each area feature.

It is imperative that owners understand the need for proper attenuating surfaces; it is equally important that manufacturers address the uses of such devices. Manufacturers should provide information to owners and operators so they understand the intended use of the specific features. It is their responsibility to test the equipment so they can recommend what should be used to enhance safety.

Standards for these new features in parks need to be properly analyzed to determine the proper attenuating properties that should be placed under them in the event a patron falls. Padding around and on the side of some climbing areas should also be placed around the perimeter. A needs analysis can assist with determining the proper spacing of the surrounding areas in order to mitigate any risks.

Climbing Walls

Climbing walls and bouldering attractions should be operated and supervised per manufacturers' recommendations, as well as safe practices promulgated within the climbing associations (i.e., buddy checks, supervisor checks). Never allow a self-belaying policy without proper supervision or use of a second carabiner. Owners and operators should be cognizant of redundant systems, such as the use and placement of proper padding beneath the feature safeguard any hard surfaces and absorb a fall.

It is best practice to have an operational and supervision plan in place. Supervision and safety should be a top priority. Patrons should never be left unattended to attach themselves to the belay system. Perform regular equipment checks, and have an emergency action plan in case of malfunction while patron is climbing. It is up to owners and operators to provide the proper training to their employees.

It is foreseeable that patrons could misuse a piece of equipment or that owners or employees could improperly fasten or use damaged equipment. Nonetheless, no one wants to see a fall in their parks. To minimize these incidences, all parks should have a trained attendant setting up and supervising people on the belay system, with the proper padding or crash pad that meets the wall's height requirements, if necessary. It should never be taken for granted that safety systems are failproof; a redundant system should always be in place in the event there is a failure.

Inspection and Maintenance

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends closely inspecting climbing walls and equipment in accordance with manufacturers' instructions and guidelines for operation, repair, maintenance and setup. Documentation and proper record keeping allow owners and staff to know what maintenance has been done. Inspections should be performed daily before the park opens, and at least once a week beneath the trampoline beds, depending on manufacturer recommendations. Further, specific inspections should be implemented at varying times as specified by the manufacturers.

Padding should be checked as patrons tend to walk on it, compromising its attenuating properties. Over time, the padding is less aerated, causing the padding to no longer work as needed to absorb an impact. Underneath these pads are spring and metal surfaces that can be dangerous if someone were to land on them.

Park owners and operators are responsible for maintaining and regularly inspecting these areas to check for any compromised components. The ASTM 2970-17 standard should be reviewed to ensure that nettings, padding, redundant beds and barriers are installed and utilized properly.

Overall, owners and manufacturers should have inspectors come in and perform a safety audit of the facility to assist with safety parameters as well as safe practices. This entails reviewing training and supervision documentation. Audits should be conducted yearly to review how these facilities are preparing their employees and how inspections and maintenance records are kept. Any new feature must have a risk device analysis conducted to comply with the ASTN 2970 standard and other regulatory bodies.

Personally, as sport and recreation consultant, I have seen cases where patrons on ninja (amusement challenge) courses and various climbing features in trampoline parks land on a hard surface without the proper attenuating properties, redundant systems and suffer impact fractures, which are most often very serious.

It is up to owners and operators to be proactive in order to mitigate these injuries. Understanding what the manufacturers state regarding the operation of, as well as having proper training in place for operating a safe park should be their main priority..

Laura Miele, PhD, CST-2, is a Sport, Fitness, and Education Expert with over 30 years of experience in various aspects of sport, fitness, and physical activity including the education, training, and supervision of athletes. Dr. Miele is a Nationally Certified Accredited Interscholastic Coach through the National Federation of State High School Association NFHS) and has 14 years of physical education experience, (Pre-kindergarten-12) within multiple states across the country.

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