The biggest safety issue with bunk beds involves children falling off the bed. Injuries sometimes occur when children are playing around in the bed; other dangers include children who fall or roll off in the middle of the night. In the case of very small children, entrapment and subsequent strangulation are also other dangers to consider.
Guardrails are meant to protect a small child from accidently falling; however, guardrails are sometimes the source of the danger. Some types of guardrails will actually become dislodged and allow a small child to slip between the rail and the bed, becoming trapped. In other instances, the guard moves allowing children to slip out of bed and fall. Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website for the latest bunk bed recalls.
To prevent strangulation, be sure that there is no gap greater than 3.5 inches. Close in any gap larger than this with additional boards, or replace the guardrail altogether. Rails that simply hook onto the bed are more apt to slip and allow for falls. Choose guardrails that permanently attach to the bed with hardware.
Parents will often affix a guardrail on the outer side of the bed figuring on the wall next to the bed to prevent and falls from that side. Unfortunately, children have died after falling between the bed and the wall. Always use a guardrail on either side of the bed especially for very young children. Guardrails should extend at least five inches above the mattress.
Top bunks often sit on a small board which rests on the narrow ledges beneath the mattress. Children on the lower bunk have been trapped and even suffocated after the top bunk mattress has fallen down on top of them. Attaching extra cross boards beneath the mattress can help prevent a tragedy, even if the child kicks and pushes on the upper mattress.
Buy mattresses that fit the bunk beds. Measure carefully to be sure that there are no large gaps between the mattress and the side of the bed. Again, gaps anywhere on the bed pose a strangulation hazard for children. Most beds and mattresses come in either regular or extra long; be sure to match the right mattress type with the right bed size.
Be sure that the bunk bed ladder is secured to the bed, and not simply set against the bed frame. Watch children carefully on bunk beds. Do not permit horseplay. The risk of injury for children engaged in horseplay is very real. Children under the age of six years should not sleep on the top bunk. Lastly, be sure that the bed cannot separate if the children do play around. Install a lock that will keep the beds safely attached.
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