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THE SAFETY ZONE | Spotlight | JERRY HICKS

Too Much Bounce for the Buck?

October 02, 2000|JERRY HICKS

A backyard trampoline seemed the perfect family fun for Laurie and Phil Martz of Modjeska Canyon. And it has been over the years, except for one unfortunate mishap--while their two young boys were airborne and wrestling, one wound up with a broken arm.

It's not that uncommon on trampolines, which are zooming in popularity.

The trampoline industry got its biggest public relations boost in September when trampoline gymnastics debuted as an Olympic Games competition.

But the same week the Games began, trampoline makers also took a major hit: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released a new report warning about the dangers of backyard trampolines.

Commission statistics show that hospital emergency room-treated injuries from trampolines have almost tripled in 10 years--95,000 such injuries in 1999. Then again, sales have been soaring too.

"The Olympics could give the popularity of trampolines another bounce," commission Chairwoman Ann Brown said when the report was issued. "Unfortunately, injuries have already reached Olympic proportions."

By Far, Most Injuries on Trampoline Itself

Children ages 6 to 14 made up nearly two-thirds of those injuries, the government statistics show. And children younger than 6 were an additional 15%. The vast majority of injuries happened on the trampoline itself, not in falling from it. The leading causes: collisions with others while bouncing, falling on the trampoline springs or frame, or performing stunts. About 30% of the injuries came from falling or jumping from the trampoline.

With costs now down to under $300, trampoline sales are indeed jumping. About 140,000 were sold by U.S. manufacturers 10 years ago; that's up to more than 640,000 annually today. The federal government says more than 3 million homes have some kind of backyard trampoline.

"It's an industry that's focused on the kids," said Mark Jette, general manager at Sam's Club on Beach Boulevard in Stanton, which sells them. "They're fun; kids love them. I had one when I was growing up."

The trampoline is a huge hit among youngsters at the Westminster Boys & Girls Club, athletic director Larry Nagato said. Many of its regular visitors cannot afford one for their own home.

"It's something different for them," Nagato said. "They get on there and do flips like crazy."

But those flips are one of the reasons safety experts shudder.

The commission says many of the injuries to children come from performing such stunts improperly, causing them to land wrong on a foot or leg or even the back or neck.

Here's a look at some of the other precautions recommended by government and private safety experts:

* Never allow more than one person at a time on the trampoline. The bounce from one person can cause injury to a lighter person who has just landed. The recoil effect from the transfer of kinetic energy can cause muscle tears or even shattered bones to feet and legs.

* Never allow children on the trampoline without adult supervision.

* Never allow anyone to jump onto the trampoline from a ladder or other higher places, such as a roof. (Yes, children have been known to do such things.)

* Always make sure the springs holding the trampoline together are covered by shock-absorbent padding.

* Place the trampoline away from structures and other play areas.

* Do not allow children to jump off the trampoline when quitting; always have them climb off carefully.

* Children love to bounce as high as they can. Always make sure their bounces are under control. And teach them to try to bounce in the center.

* Remove loose jewelry and empty your pockets before bouncing on a trampoline.

* Most experts recommend a safety net that surrounds the trampoline, to prevent falls. Unfortunately, the nets are sold separately, and run about $200.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission states flatly that no child younger than 6 should be allowed on an outdoor trampoline.

But it stops short of saying that such trampolines should not be used by others altogether.

One powerful group that does want the industry shut down, however, is the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 1996, it came out with a policy statement that no one should use an outdoor trampoline, and that schools should ban them too. The only trampoline use it does not oppose is organized competition supervised by qualified coaches.

Doctors Unequivocal: They're Not Safe

The pediatrics group, no surprise, has been harshly criticized as unfair by the trampoline industry. But Dr. Danielle Laraque, of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who works on the pediatrics group's injury and poison prevention committee, says it has no obligation to keep trampoline makers in business.

"They're not safe; you shouldn't have one in your backyard," Laraque said. "Some people make balance beams too, but you wouldn't want your children in the backyard on one of those."

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