Tired of the kids bouncing off the walls? Maybe they could use that energy bouncing on a trampoline instead. Trampolines can be a great way for kids to have fun, get exercise and develop coordination, but unfortunately they're also a common source of injuries.

Most modern trampolines come with nets to prevent falls and pads to cover the springs. These do help reduce injuries but they're no guarantee of total safety. Our guide will help you choose a good trampoline and use it safely, so the kids – and maybe you too! – can bounce to their hearts' content.

What to look for

Space

First, do you actually have the right space for a trampoline? It should be placed on a level surface that's free of hazards such as furniture, and the area around the trampoline should be covered in soft, impact-absorbing material. Lawn, pine bark, wood chips or sand are good. Not paving or concrete – there's too much risk of injury from falling onto a hard surface. Fall injuries commonly occur when mounting and dismounting. You need two metres' clearance on all sides and five metres overhead.

Safety padding

The metal frame and springs should be padded to avoid injuries should a child fall and hit them. The safety pads should be a contrasting colour to the mat of the trampoline – this helps define the edge of the mat more clearly. Unfortunately we found in our 2012 test that although all of the models came with safety padding, none of them passed the safety tests. Padding on the frame should meet the current Australian trampoline standard AS 4989, but there's no easy way for the average buyer to tell, other than looking for a statement of compliance to the standard.

An alternative design that needs little or no padding is a soft-edge system, which has no steel frame or springs. In 2012 we tested only one of this type of model, by Springfree, and found it to be the safest design of all the trampolines tested.

Netting

A netted enclosure helps prevent falls from the trampoline and we strongly recommend you only use trampolines that have one. It shouldn't be suspended from unpadded rigid or stiff poles, as this introduces another hard object that could pose a risk to a child. Ideally, the safety netting should be fitted on the inside of the padding as that reduces the chance of hitting the trampoline edges in the case of a fall.

Ladder

A ladder or steps to help kids climb onto the trampoline isn't necessarily a good idea. If a child is unable to get up there alone, they may not be at the right developmental stage to use a trampoline at all. So we recommend limiting access to a ladder. A ladder can be used to help kids get on and off a trampoline safely, but it should be removed when the trampoline is not in use.

Instructions

Instructions need to be clear, comprehensive and complete with good text and pictures. They should specify how to assemble the trampoline, maintain it and use it safely.

Are they really that dangerous?

Hundreds of kids (and some adults) are taken to hospital in Australia every year for trampoline-related injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to more serious sprains and fractures. Trampolines are the second biggest cause of hospital-treated injuries on play equipment, just behind monkey bars.

Children can fall off or hit the side of the trampoline, bounce into one another or be injured by a double bounce. Younger kids are at risk if they wander underneath and get hit when someone bounces above them. Injuries range from cuts, bruises, sprains and fractures all the way up to serious damage to the child's brain and spine.

A 2007 baseline study of consumer product-related injuries conducted by ACCESS Economics estimated that there were 9006 accidents involving trampolines that year in Australia, 11% of them requiring hospitalisation.

In NSW, Westmead Children's Hospital reported 86 trampoline-related injuries in 2005 which almost doubled to 153 injuries in 2008.

In Victoria, the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) reported 7813 hospital-treated trampoline injuries between mid-2002 and mid-2007, with 79% of these caused by falls. Other causes were collisions with people or objects, resulting in cuts and wounds.

Our 2012 test

In 2012 we assessed 12 trampolines based on the Australian standard, AS 4989:2006. The main test was a shock test of the padding or soft-edge system to see if the padding would adequately protect a child falling head-first onto the pads. We also tested if the pads suffered permanent damage from the shock test, and looked for strangulation and limb-entrapment hazards around the enclosure and the edges of the trampoline.

Unfortunately only one trampoline passed the tests – the Springfree Trampoline R54 – and was the only model we recommended.

Models tested were:

  • Action sports trampoline Platinum AP-270 9ft
  • Big Air Universal Trampoline 10ft
  • Bounce Pro Trampoline TR10-combo-L
  • Lifespan Fitness Trampoline 10ft
  • Oz Trampolines 10'
  • Plum Products 30145
  • Premier Trampolines round
  • Proline trampoline 10ft
  • Springfree Trampoline R54
  • Standard trampoline Playworld
  • Trampoline Web and Warehouse.com TP 8'
  • Vuly Trampoline 8ft

The Australian standard

As of 2014, the Australian standard for trampolines, AS 4989, is only voluntary. So while we expect manufacturers to strive to meet this standard – and many do – they're not required by law to do so.

The standard specifies performance tests for the padding or soft-edge system, to ensure it will properly protect a child's head in the event of a fall or impact. It also specifies requirements for the instructions, labels and safety warnings.

The latest revision (to be published in 2015) also requires the trampoline to have a safety enclosure (net) and includes performance tests to check that the enclosure is free of strangulation hazards, limb entrapments and other hazards.

More regulations based on the latest standard are also likely in future. This will help weed out the more dangerous trampolines from the market.

Using a trampoline safely

  • Supervise children while they're using the trampoline.
  • A safety enclosure can help prevent falls but it's no substitute for good safety padding and a sturdy frame.
  • Even with an enclosure in place, kids still need to play safely on the trampoline and under adult supervision.
  • Don't let kids bounce against the netting on purpose.
  • One child at a time on the trampoline. Accidents are more likely to occur when more than one child is playing on the trampoline.
  • Large trampolines are not recommended for kids under six.
  • Clear safety rules such as "one at a time", "bare feet only", and "do not use when wet" are good boundaries to set early on.
  • Jump only in the middle of the trampoline and don't jump off the trampoline when finished.
  • To control bounce, teach your child to focus their eyes on the trampoline.
  • If you have an older trampoline, consider getting it retrofitted with a frame padding system that's compliant with the current standard.

Assembly and maintenance

  • Assembling a trampoline isn't always an easy job – instructions can be complicated. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer for more detailed instructions and guidance.
  • You can also check the manufacturer's website for more timely safety advice or additional guidance.
  • Some manufacturers also offer an installation service for an extra fee, which may be worth considering.
  • Be careful – trampoline springs contain stored energy and some parts may be heavy and awkward to move and use, so you follow safety instructions (and common sense). Get someone to help you assemble the trampoline.
  • Check the trampoline regularly for tears, worn areas and bending in the bed, frame and safety enclosure. Before using, check that the area around and under the trampoline is free from obstacles. Inspect the frame and springs regularly for surface rust, corrosion and deterioration.
  • Secure trampoline legs to the ground. This will increase stability and prevent unsafe relocation of the trampoline. Only three trampolines in our 2012 test were supplied with an additional stability system to secure the trampoline to the ground.
  • In-ground installation is an option to consider as you can reduce fall heights and possible injury. But you'll need to bear in mind that this will involve quite a lot of preparation (for example, pit drainage is essential).
  • Rotate the safety padding periodically to minimise degradation at the enclosure entrance and sun exposure if some parts are protected by shade during the day. This will increase the length of time before the padding needs to be replaced.