Injuries at Jump Gyms Spur Safety Concerns

Local authorities in California and Utah are cracking down on trampoline parks amid rising injury rates, according to CBS News.

Last September, the American Academy of Pediatrics discouraged the recreational use of trampolines after finding evidence for risk of major injuries such as ankle injuries, shin fractures, spinal injuries and head and neck injuries, which in rare cases resulted in brain damage.

The report found that in 2009 alone, 70 injuries occurred for every 100,000 kids between 0 and 4 using a trampoline, and 160 injuries for every 100,000 kids 5 to 14 years old . That’s approximately 98,000 trampoline injuries per year.

Stephen Merrill was older than kids in those statistics when his horrific injury occurred.
The 22-year-old Provo resident was finishing his freshman year of college two years ago when he and some friends went to an indoor trampoline park in Utah for a day of flipping and bouncing. Merrill leaped from a platform into a pit full of foam blocks, but shot right through them and landed on his head, breaking vertebra in his neck. He was left paralyzed from the neck down.

His injury underscores the recent warnings from doctors and government officials about the dangers of jump gyms. Some areas have launched an increased effort to regulate indoor trampoline parks as they have become a popular rain-or-shine entertainment for birthday parties and summer camps.

“Anything where something like that can happen, I mean, it’s such a devastating injury,” the 22-year-old Merrill said of his mishap in Provo. “It doesn’t seem like things are properly regulated if something like that is possible.”

Citing broken necks, shattered leg bones and one death, some doctors say the parks are dangerous and can lead to serious injuries that eclipse any benefits. Governments are taking notice, with proposed regulations in Utah and California among the first in the country.

Operators of the trampoline gyms say severe injuries are rare and safety fears are exaggerated. They claim an injury rate lower than organized sports such as baseball or soccer, and note that the gyms offer a place for adults and kids to have fun and get exercise.

The parks are typically giant warehouses filled with trampolines that allow customers to bounce in all directions, dunk basketballs and do gymnastics moves. Some parks feature angled trampolines and pits filled with foam blocks. The industry has grown rapidly, from a handful of centers in the Western U.S. in 2007 to about 160 throughout the world, according to ASTM International, a standards-development organization.
For safety, many of the gyms post staffers around trampolines like lifeguards to enforce rules and require jumpers to first sign a waiver.

Emergency room doctors in one Utah county say that’s not enough, and they’ve asked the health board to step in.

“You’ll see a lot of these very severe, open wounds that you don’t see unless you’re in a high-velocity type of injury,” Dr. Craig Cook, trauma director at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. “This is like a war type of injury or a motor vehicle crash.”

Trauma staff at the hospital say they saw 52 injuries requiring multiple doctor visits from area jump gyms from May 2011 to November 2012, according to emergency room records. Most of the patients are young men in their late teens and have had injuries such as dislocated feet, brain hemorrhaging and paralysis.

Misty Uribe, who manages Lowes Extreme Air Sports in nearby Provo, said her gym already follows many of the health board proposals, but is concerned the industry has been unfairly targeted.

Uribe said her center sees few injuries compared to the number of people that participate, citing one major injury for every 20,000 visitors. That was Merrill, and she said his jump violated the facility’s rules but that the location still took steps to make the pits safer. “My concern is, once they start with this, where is it going to end?” she said of the proposed regulations.

The Utah County Health Board is considering proposals that stipulate gyms must provide supervision, report their injury rates to the county and warn jumpers about the risks beyond having them sign a waiver. The board will have a public discussion on the proposals this fall.

“We do feel like we have an obligation to inform the public about safety risks out there, especially when it’s just open to general public,” said Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah County Health Department.

The Utah proposals are partly modeled after legislation pending in California that would create an inspection program for the parks similar to amusement park rides, in addition to requirements about insurance, employee training and injury reporting. The bill has been promoted by a Coronado woman whose 30-year-old son died days after breaking his neck at an Arizona trampoline park in 2012.

In Orem, the jump gym Get Air Hang Time has posted signs warning of rules and risks of “serious catastrophic injury or death”. In addition to requiring participants to sign a waiver, the gym requires jumpers to watch a safety video. “We try to make sure that people understand what this activity is all about and that the risks are there just like any other recreational activities,” owner Aaron Cobabe said. “The vast majority of people that come in our facility,” he said, “enjoy the activity and leave without any injuries.”