Bunk bed and loft bed usage is, due to their elevated design, associated with a certain amount of risk; each year thousands of children under age 15 receive medical care for injuries related to bunk beds. Most of the time these are minor in nature and occur when kids fall off the beds, however, some potentially very serious hazards do also lurk under the surface -- the aim of this guide is to help you avoid them and reduce the risk to a minimum.
The first thing you need to make sure is that the product you intend to buy complies with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards; since mid 2000's, this has been obligatory for all bunk beds sold in the United States. Although it's not very likely that any of the respectable stores would feature an item that does not conform to the regulations, it costs you nothing to make sure. To the best of our knowledge, all products reviewed at this site are in compliance with CPSC's standards. Here are a few excerpts from those requirements:
Every bunk bed must have an affixed label that states the bed's manufacturer, model, and mattress size information and advises against placing children under six years of age on the upper bunk.
Bunk beds must have continuous guardrails on both sides of bed; the tops of the guardrails must be no less than 5 inches above the top of the mattress.
Openings on the upper and the lower bunks must be small enough that a child's head, torso, or limb cannot pass through them.
Note: for complete information regarding the mandatory requirements for bunk beds and related safety concerns in general, visit the following pages:
In addition to the CPSC's standard, there is a voluntary standard -- ASTM F 1427-96 -- that addresses additional hazards, for example, foundation and guardrail structural integrity. Most manufacturers comply with it as well and it is, of course, a good idea to pick a bed which adheres to that set of rules also.
While the above mentioned regulations have made modern bunk beds much safer for children to sleep and spend time in, there are still some sound measures that you can and should exercise yourself to further reduce the chance of a possible accident.
Do not allow children under age 6 on the top bunk -- while they may very well be adroit enough to climb up and down the ladder (or stairs), very young children usually haven't yet developed a sense of caution that would help govern their behavior on such elevated surfaces. Age 6 seems to be widely agreed on as a sort of turning point in that sense; however, you alone, as a parent, are in the best position to make a judgment on when your child is ready for the top bunk.
Place the bunk bed tightly against the wall -- this is to prevent children from becoming trapped between the bunk and the wall should they by any chance fall over the guardrail. Needless to say, continuous guardrails on both sides should be used at all times.
Never attach or hang anything from a bunk bed (ropes, belts, hooks etc) -- the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has recently determined that any vertical protrusion greater than 16" is unsafe; most manufacturers comply with their recommendations, hence this problem and the hazards related to it (strangulation, etc) have been diminished -- for new bunk beds, anyway.
Do not allow jumping or general horseplay, especially on the top bunk -- not an easy rule to enforce, but you should insist on it, perhaps using an educational approach, try and teach the kids that rough play on bunk beds is unsafe. You might also consider using foam mattresses -- having no springs, they take the fun out of jumping. Some sort of supervision, especially if more kids are playing together, is always a sound measure if viable.
Instruct your children to always use the ladder (or the stairs if this is a stairway bunk bed) when climbing on and descending from the top bunk -- not the chairs or tables standing near-by or the slats on either end of the bed that may look like climbing structures or any other of a dozen alternative ways to get up there that will surely cross their minds. The proper way to climb both up and down is facing the ladder -- while it may look easy to descend facing away into the room, only by facing the ladder it is possible to hold on to it securely. It is also a good idea to have the children get up and down a few times in front of your eyes before leaving them alone with the bed.
Use only properly-sized, manufacturer-recommended mattresses on the upper bunk. To prevent the possibility of a child rolling off the bed while sleeping, there must be at least 5" of space between the top of the mattress and the top of the guardrails. In most cases this means that the mattress and foundation on the top bunk cannot exceed 8". Do not use water bed or air mattress with your bunk bed.
Heed the manufacturers' weight restrictions -- some bunk beds are built to withstand 400 pounds on the top bunk, but not all of them. The maximum weight capacity should be clearly stated in the documentation that came with the product.
Make sure the bunk bed is placed safely away from a ceiling fan -- if there are any in the room.
Check your bunk bed from time to time to make sure that it is in good condition, and that all parts are tightened and working properly. Especially make sure that the ladder and the guardrails are securely attached to the frame.
Consider using a night light so that the kids will be able to see the ladder if they get up during the night.
Discuss the above specified safety concerns and the proper usage of bunk beds with your children -- preferably on day one.
A few additional notes: bunk and loft beds with stairs are generally considered safer than their counterparts that come with ladders -- if the idea of your child climbing up and down a ladder all the time gives you shivers, perhaps that is the way to go.
On the other hand, if you can't get used to the notion of your child sleeping 6 feet off the ground at all, but would still like to provide for it that invaluable experience that comes with having and sleeping in a bunk bed, perhaps one of the low height loft beds is your answer. They only go up to about 50 inches or so, which drastically minimizes any risks associated with bunk beds. The Berg Sierra Captain's Bed Collection features some nifty solutions in this regard, as do many of the Maxtrix Kids loft beds.
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