HEALTH and SAFETY – Experts call for regulation as trampoline injuries soar

Consumer found a concerning lack of safety among the trampolines tested.

Experts are calling for the introduction of mandatory safety standards for the trampoline industry as new ACC figures show more than 58,000 claims resulting from trampoline use over the past five years.

According to the ACC data, more than 1000 accidents requiring medical attention occur every month in New Zealand. Children and teenagers are most at risk with more than three quarters (78%) of injuries occurring among those aged 14 or below.

The number of head injuries has increased 289% from 2013/14 to 2017/18 while neck injuries are up 33% and, lumbar and thoracic injuries are 29% higher.

The annual cost of treatment for the New Zealand taxpayer has also increased by from $4.2m to $8.9m – with the average cost per patient growing from $443 to $683 over the past five years.

While many injuries covered by ACC are treated by GPs, more serious injuries require hospitalisation with data from Starship Hospital showing falls are the leading cause of trampoline-related admissions (70%); with injuries including neck, head and limb fractures, lacerations, hematomas, soft tissue injuries, internal organ injuries, fractures, dislocations, and concussion.

Professor Keith Alexander from the University of Canterbury, who also sits on the Trampoline Standards Committee in the US and has contributed to the Australian standard, says there have been no official standards in this market for the past four years.

He says many consumers may be given the impression that trampolines purchased from their local retailer meet international standards as some carry confusing labelling which refers to a universal ‘manufacturing standard’, and does not refer to a trampoline safety standard such as Australian ASTM F381 or AS4989.

“The original standards covering trampolines used in NZ were last updated in 1997 and in 2014 they were withdrawn with some suggestion that they would be replaced by the Australian standards – however this has not happened.

“In their absence we have seen a flood of substandard imports enter the New Zealand market that are frankly, quite hazardous for our children.

“There are three main preventable causes of injury on a trampoline: the steel components (frame and net poles), the springs and the risk of falling off. They may also have pinch points, and head entrapment dangers.

“While most of the cheaper imports will have padding to cover springs and nets to prevent falling off, in most cases these are simply cosmetic, do not comply with standards so will quickly deteriorate in the sun and fail under normal use.

“Many nets fail from UV light within a few months and padding frequently comes off within the first year and is never replaced. This leaves a comparatively dangerous product in the back yard.

“The injury figures from ACC suggest we urgently need to address this issue. My suggested approach would have two steps. The first is the formal adoption of a recognised standard (such as AS4989).

“The second is to work with Government to make this standard mandatory. This would ensure that parents buying trampolines in this country could be confident they have a safe trampoline for their children to use,” he says.

“We urgently need a review of this issue and the introduction of new mandatory standards which cover the sale of these products in this country.”

Professor Alexander, who specialises in mechanical engineering says while the standards are voluntary in US, the potential for litigation in that country means the standards are generally well adhered to – which is a major difference from the way our own market operates.

“Unfortunately voluntary standards for trampolines don’t work well here. Experience in both New Zealand and Australia has shown that voluntary standards are simply ignored by most importers and retailers,

“New Zealand’s accident compensation system is completely different from a more litigious market like the US. Consequently we need a different approach to ensuring compliance. This is why I would propose mandatory trampoline standards for this country,” he says.

Consumer NZ head of testing Dr Paul Smith who tested many of the trampolines sold by retailers in New Zealand found that all, with the exception of one model, failed basic safety testing based on the now-retired safety standard.

“We found a concerning lack of safety among the products we tested.

“Only the Springfree had no major safety failures. The other six either failed structural tests, didn’t protect the user from impact on the frame or enclosure, or had dangerous head entrapment problems or pinch points.”

Emergency medicine specialist Dr Vicki Vertongen agrees with Professor Alexander and says her own first-hand experience suggests more needs to be done to prevent children being injured unnecessarily.

“We are seeing a number of children in the Emergency Department who have fallen off trampolines without nets. They often present with fractures, particularly of the arm and also head injuries – which can range from mild concussion to a more significant head injury that requires hospitalisation.

“I would certainly be encouraging kids to be outside and active – it is a really important message. At the same time if children are on trampolines I would definitely say make sure they have good safety nets, and make sure they are zipped up as we have seen kids fall out through open doors.

“Parents also also need to ensure that any trampoline they purchase is of safe and sturdy design, and there is only one person on the trampoline at a time,” Dr Vertongen says.

A study of patients hospitalised in Counties Manukau DHB found the number of trampoline injuries increase by more than a third (35%) in the spring/summer months following daylight saving. The study found that 44% of those hospitalised required surgical intervention to treat a fracture and the most common injury was as a result of fall onto an outstretched hand.