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Bunk beds are a central part of virtually every residential campsite as well as holiday venues and many homes and there are some risks associated with their use.
National information is not readily available but, in Queensland alone it’s estimated that annually there are about 1,800 hospital presentations resulting from bunk bed injuries.
A new edition of the Standard ‘Bunk beds and other elevated beds AS/NZS 4220’ was released in 2010 and recommended a handbook be developed specifically for commercial environments, including those where bunks are more likely to be modified to bring them to a safe level. This handbook is ‘Bunk beds for the short-term rental accommodation industry’ HB 393-2011 and is available from http://infostore.saiglobal.com
The new handbook says
“The key safety issues to address with bunk beds are –
- Falls from top bunks as a result of inadequate roll out protection or users being overly adventurous; and
- Hanging, either by protrusions in the area of the top bunk or (for very young children) by gaps that allowed a child to be trapped by the head.”
- Nationally, the ACCC’s Consumer Protection Notice No.1 of 2003 only applied to the purchase of new bunk beds however the state camping associations agreed that their accreditation program would make the same requirements applicable to existing bunk beds.
In 2011 Queensland introduced a regulation (Fair Trading (Safety Standards) Regulation 2011) that required short-term accommodation providers to ensure that bunk beds meet similar safety requirements by 21 October 2013.
It is preferable that bunks in commercial settings are stronger and of a more durable grade than those used in domestic settings. While steel bunks are less prone to bed bug infestation, timber bunks are often ‘built-in’ but must still meet safety requirements.
Falls from top bunks is a major hazard.
The preferred maximum height of the bunk is 1350 mm as measured by the vertical distance between the floor and the upper surface of the mattress base.
Where in-situ bunks exceed this height, guardrails on all four sides of the top bunk should be an integral part of the bunks.
The base should be permanently fixed, of adequate strength and must not contain any entrapment hazards (e.g. for fingers).
Guardrails, access and ladders
There should be guardrails on all four sides. Walls can only be considered guardrails if the bunk is attached to a wall (to avoid small children being trapped between the bunk and a wall).
A minimum of 160 mm from the top of the mattress surface to the top of the guardrail is required. A height of 250 mm is preferred.
Corner posts on guardrails should not have protrusions (these are a potential snag point)
The access gap should be between 300 mm and 400 mm wide.
Ladders should be permanently fixed with a minimum height to the first rung of 500 mm. The ladder or other access device should be positioned so as to avoid entrapments.
Protrusions and sharp points
If a component protrudes more than 5 mm it has the potential to catch a person’s clothing or a body part and cause injury and strangulation. Bolts, nuts and fastenings should be flush, recessed or domed so as not to present sharp edges or snag hazards.
Older in-situ bunks often have snagging hazards, often at corner posts or access points.
These may be gaps that trap fingers, limbs or heads. Such entrapments may also be caused by the positioning of the bed in relation to a wall as well as cords from blinds and curtains hanging close the bunk.
Tight fitting mattresses are needed to avoid entrapment. When a mattress is pushed into a corner the gap between the mattress and bunk should not exceed 40 mm.
The area near to the bunk should also be clear of protrusions and sharp points such as light fittings and hooks on walls.
The top bunk should be 2 m clear of ceiling fans.
Where possible, the area within 2m of the upper bunk should also be clear of protrusions and sharp points including furniture and cords.
Bunks should not be placed near windows.
Warnings and notices
Bunkrooms should contain warning signs to provide another level of mitigation.
WARNING: TOP BUNKS AND ELEVATED BEDS ARE DANGEROUS AND ARE NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 9
Falls from elevated beds can be fatal and deaths have occurred where children have fallen from elevated beds. This is relevant for all ages. The risk is greater for younger children.
The pre-booking information and site briefings should provide the following information:
- Children under the age of 9 should not use the top bunk.
- The risk of using bunk beds for those with impaired capacity.
- The dangers of using the top bunk when intoxicated or affected by medication or drugs.
- The danger of using the top bunk if persons are bed wetters or have previously fallen from a bed.
- Bunks are not to be used as play equipment and users should not jump on or from the bunks.
- Bunks should not be located within 2 m of a ceiling fan.
- Any defects to beds must be immediately reported.
Re-engineering existing beds (from the Handbook)
While it may not be possible to re-engineer or test every in-situ bunk bed “every effort must be made to meet the key safety requirements in the standard such as base strength, notices, ladders, rails, access openings, protrusions, sharp points and entrapment hazards.
In any event, upper bunks must have effective safety rails with the top of the upper rail a minimum of 200 mm above the upper surface of the mattress (Standard – minimum 160 mm, preferred 250 mm).
BUNKS SHOULD NOT BE USED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WITHOUT ADEQUATE GUARDRAILS.
Note that children have died where guardrail gaps are non-compliant. Professional guidance should be sought in the assessment of in-situ arrangements. It is highlighted that inappropriate modifications to in-situ bunks may result in the introduction of further hazards and this should be avoided.“
As well as these mandatory requirements, the facility is also responsible for the safety of the clients. Good risk management practices are essential. Regular inspections of bunks and surrounding areas and prompt maintenance should be part of the overall management systems.
Australian/New Zealand Standard 4220:2010 ‘Bunk beds and other elevated beds’
Originated as AS/NZS 4220:1994
Previous edition 2003
Third edition 2010
The major objectives of the 2010 revision were:
- To increase the minimum vertical distance between the upper surface of the guardrail and the upper surface of the mattress base to a minimum of 360 mm (from the 260 mm in 2003 edition)
- To discourage the creation of large gaps in guardrails in order to prevent the inadvertent formation of dangerous smaller gaps that may arise when a mattress is fitted. Of particular concern were gaps formed where the top, outside edge of the mattress forms the bottom edge of an entrapping space.
- To place a maximum limit on the number of permissible access openings in guardrails.
- To expand and improve the section on climbing access.
- To reduce from 800 mm to 700 mm the maximum height above the floor of the upper surface of the mattress base.
- To increase the severity of load testing of guardrails.
- To improve both the accuracy and clarity of the figures used in the Standard.
What the states say
“Bunk beds have been associated with many injuries to children. Hazards include falling from the top bunk or small heads and limbs being trapped in the bed framework, often leading to serious or even fatal injuries. Studies show that in Australia at least 3850 bunk bed-related injuries to children under 15 are treated every year by hospital emergency departments or by general practitioners. Of these cases, about 390 are estimated to result in hospital admission. Almost half of all bunk bed injury cases are in the five- to nine-year age group and, of these, at least 180 need to be admitted to hospital.”
(Source ACCC Product Safety Sheet Produced by the ACCC 11/07
Does the mandatory standard apply to second-hand bunk beds or bunk beds available for hire?
Yes, it applies to any supply of bunk beds.
Go to http://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/970225 and enter ‘bunk beds’ in the search field
“Accident reports show that about 50 percent of bunk bed injuries are due to falls from the top bunk during the night, 6 percent from falls getting up to or down from the top bunk, and 44 percent due to falls from the top bunk while playing.”
(Source Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading (Tasmania)
“The most dangerous hazard posed by unsafe bunk beds is accidental hanging. Gaps in and around the bunk bed that allow a child’s body to fall through but trap the head, can cause the child to be hanged by their own body weight.
Although there have been no bunk bed deaths recorded in Victoria in recent years, there have been two deaths reported in other Australian states and 54 in the United States.”
Total number of injuries associated with bunk beds in Victoria*:
* Monash University Accident Research Centre
(Source Consumer Affairs Victoria Bunk bed safety fact Sheet October 2003)
Bunk bed laws protecting Queensland children from today (Media release)
Date: 9th December 2011
The risk of unsafe bunk beds harming Queensland children will now be reduced with new laws coming into effect today. Attorney-General Paul Lucas said the new regulations give short-term accommodation providers until the 21 October 2013 to ensure all bunk beds meet minimum safety standards. He said that while mandatory safety standards had been in place for bunk bed suppliers and manufacturers since 2002, there were older, unsafe bunk beds still being used in some holiday apartments and camping facilities.
“Unsafe bunk beds pose a very real and serious risk of injury for children,” Mr Lucas said. “Parents who book holiday accommodation for their families in good faith are entitled to expect that their children will be staying in a safe sleeping environment.“ The regulation protects children by requiring bunk beds to include practical safety features, such as guardrails to prevent children rolling out of the upper bunk. “Gaps and protrusions in a bunk bed are also safety assessed to ensure they do not create strangulation or choking hazards for children.
“Serious childhood injuries have a devastating affect not only on children, but also their parents, family and friends, and the broader community.
“For the Queensland government child safety is paramount and we will continue to make changes to safety laws to better protect our children.”
Under the new regulations a person who supplies accommodation for a period of 60 days or less to people under the age of 16 will be required to ensure that all bunk beds meet minimum safety standards.
Mr Lucas said previous consultation highlighted that some tourism businesses and community-based organisations were concerned about the costs and implementation issues associated with upgrading existing bunk beds.
“I acknowledge that there may be practical and financial issues for short-term accommodation providers who have large numbers of older bunk beds,” Mr Lucas said.
“That is why the regulation allows almost two years for the upgrade or replacement of bunk beds that do not meet the minimum safety standard.
“However, I strongly encourage short-term accommodation providers to take action on this issue as quickly as possible.”
Over the next 22 months the Office of Fair Trading will be proactively working with those within the industry to ensure they are ready for the commencement of the regulation on 21 October 2013.
Qld legislation http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/SLS/2011/11SL264.pdf
This information is drawn from the Australian Standard, the ACCC Product Safety Sheet as well as fact sheets from various state consumer affairs departments.
Does the bunk bed comply with the Australian Standard?
Bunk beds supplied on or after 1 November 2002 must comply with the essential safety requirements of the Australia/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4220:2010. There may be a label or swing tag confirming compliance. If you are unsure, always check with the supplier. Consider that domestic bunk beds may not be durable enough for commercial environments.
Are there any dangerous spaces?
There should be no gaps wider than 95 mm or narrower than 230 mm in any part of the bed including guardrails. It is important to remember that some children’s bodies are small enough to pass through gaps of this size but heads can get stuck. They can become trapped and die by hanging under their own weight.
Guardrails are essential, even on the wall side of the bunk, because children can slip between the bed and the wall.
Where will the bunk be located?
Either allow a clear space greater than 230 mm between the bedroom walls and the sides and ends of the bunk, or no space at all.
Adults should be able to safely access the top bunk without risk of hitting ceiling lights or moving fan blades. There should be at least two metres clearance between the bunk bed and ceiling fans or lights.
Who will use the bunk bed?
Children under nine years should NEVER be allowed on the top bunk as there is the risk that they could become trapped in some spaces on the bunk ends or guardrail. Injuries do not substantially reduce with bunk beds until children reach nine years of age.
Important safety guidelines
Properly attached ladders are important to provide safe access to and from the top bunk. Teach children the correct way to get in and out of bunk beds.
The correct size mattress should fit snugly into the bed frame with a gap of no more than 400 mm between it and the bed sides. A mattress this size prevents any dangerous gaps from occurring for small children to slide through. Never use a mattress in the top bunk that is thicker than the manufacturer recommends.
Metal tubular bunk beds should have the tube ends plugged to prevent trapping of fingers or toes.
Edges and points, including corners accessible under normal use, should be suitably rounded.
All fastenings such as screws, nails, dowels, nuts and bolts should be flush and smooth, with no protrusions of more than 5 mm, anywhere on the bed.
Some form of lighting (night light, bedside lamp or torch) should be provided for the person in the top bunk to make getting in and out of the bed safer.
There should be guardrails on all sides of the upper bed. The height of the guardrail top should be at least 160 mm (but preferably 250 mm) above the top of the mattress.
Always follow the manufacturer’s assembly instructions closely and keep them for future reference. Regularly check the bed for any loose bolts, broken parts or splinters.
Nuts and bolts should be tight, flush and smooth.
Keep the floor area near the bunk beds clear of any toys and sharp objects that may cause serious injury if a child falls on them.
Bunk beds are not intended for play. Establish rules and ensure they are obeyed.
It is a requirement of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that bunks sold after November 2002 meet an amended and simplified version of the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4220:1994 (ACCC Product safety Sheet ISBN 978 1 921393 39 6)
In the interest of public safety and prudent risk management all bunk beds used in accredited facilities should address the issues raised by the ACCC.
This checklist is provided to assist in the interpretation of the ACCC Product Safety Sheet as well as fact sheets from various state consumer affairs departments.
|If purchased since 1 November 2002, the bunk bed complies with the essential safety requirements of Australia/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4220:1994||A compliance tag or sticker is present.||□||□||□|
|The height of the upper surface of the upper mattress base above the floor is not greater than 1350 mm.||The height of the upper surface of the upper mattress base above the floor is not greater than 1350 mm.||□||□||□|
|Adults should be able to safely access the top bunk without risk of hitting ceiling lights or moving fan blades.||There is at least two metres clearance between the bunk bed and ceiling fans or lights.||□||□||□|
|Curtain or blind cords can cause strangulation and broken glass can cause fatal injury.||The bunk bed is not near a window and clear of hanging cords.||□||□||□|
|The risk of injury is greatest for children under nine years.||Clients are instructed that children under nine years should not use the top bunk.||□||□||□|
|The risk of injury is greatest for children under nine years.||There is a warning sign in the bunk room indicating the danger of young children using upper bunks.||□||□||□|
|A snugly fitting mattress avoids dangerous gaps that small children might fall through.|
Never use a mattress in the top bunk that is thicker than the manufacturer recommends.
|The mattress fits snugly into the frame with no more than 40 mm between it and the bedsides.||□||□||□|
|There should be guardrails on all sides of the upper bed. Guardrails are essential, even on the wall side of the bunk, because children can slip between the bed and the wall.|
The top of the guardrail above the top of the mattress should be at least 160 mm (250 preferred).
|The height of the guardrail top should be at least 160 mm above the top of the mattress.||□||□||□|
|If the top of the guardrails above the mattress base must be at least 360 mm (400 mm preferred).||The top of the guardrails above the mattress base is at least 360 mm.||□||□||□|
|Some children’s bodies are small enough to pass through gaps but heads can get stuck. They can become trapped and die by hanging under their own weight.||There are no gaps wider than 95 mm or narrower than 230 mm in any part of the bed including guardrails||□||□||□|
|To avoid entrapment either allow a clear space between the bedroom walls and the sides and ends of the bunk, or no space at all.||There is either a clear space 230 mm between the bedroom walls and the sides and ends of the bunk, OR no space at all.||□||□||□|
|Properly attached ladders are important to provide safe access to and from the top bunk.||Ladders are firmly attached.||□||□||□|
|Tubular beds may entrap fingers or toes.||Metal tubular bunk beds have the tube ends plugged to prevent entrapment.||□||□||□|
|Edges and points, including corners accessible under normal use, should be suitably rounded.||There are no sharp edges or points.||□||□||□|
|All fastenings such as screws, nails, dowels, nuts and bolts should be tight, flush and smooth to avoid snagging of clothes.||Fastenings are flush and smooth with no protrusions of more than 5 mm, anywhere on the bunk.||□||□||□|
Even if you answered ‘Yes’ to every question above you need to continue to monitor the way your bunk beds are used and maintained.
This completed checklist should be retained as part of your hazard management process.
If you answered ‘No’ to any question, you must eliminate the hazard.