Bunk beds were originally designed to maximize floor space in sleeping areas while providing a means for multiple people to sleep in the same room. The typical bunk bed structure consists of four posts at each corner of the bed which stabilize a bottom level bed with a second bed positioned on the same posts several feet higher. A ladder generally provides access to the second bed level.
There are several types of bunk beds:
- Standard – two mattresses positioned with one bed directly above the other
- Twin over full – the bottom bunk is a full sized bed and the top level is a twin size
- Futon bunk – the top level is a standard bunk with the bottom level being a futon bed which easily converts into a couch
- L-Shaped bunk – the two levels are perpendicular to one another, often with a desk or shelving installed adjacent to the bottom level bed
- Loft bed – a bunk with only a top level bed and the lower level space utilized for other purposes such as seating, storage, or a desk
Bunk beds are particularly popular in dormitories, military environments, prisons, summer encampments, and children’s rooms. They are often utilized as a child’s first bed after he or she transitions from a crib at about 2 years old, but can also be used by older children and adults.
Pediatricians recommend not allowing children under the age of 6 years to use the upper bunk, to ensure guard rails are secure on each side of the upper bunk to prevent falls, and to ensure that the ladder is utilized for access of the top level. Using furniture or other means of accessing the higher bed can be very dangerous.
There are several main areas of concern relating to bunk bed construction and use. Accidents and injuries frequently result from these aspects of the beds:
- Guardrails – Children can slip through the guard rails or between the guard rail and the mattress, resulting in death by strangulation.
- Absence of guardrails – Very young children can become lodged between the upper bunk and the wall.
- Upper bunk mattress dislodging – Many bunk beds provide only a small ledge of support around the bed frame upon which the mattress foundation rests. A child on the bottom level can suffocate as a result of the top bed foundation and mattress dislodging and falling upon them.
- Improper mattress fit – An improperly fit mattress may leave up to a 5-inch gap between the mattress and headboard or footboard of the bed. Children have been strangled by falling through these gaps.
- Corner posts – Children’s garments, bedding, or neckwear can catch on bunk bed posts of a “corner post” style. If a child falls from the top level, an entangled garment or other item may cause the child to become strangled by the corner post.
General Product Failure
More than 35,000 individuals visit emergency rooms each year seeking remedy for injuries associated with bunk bed use. More than 40 percent of those suffer major injuries including concussions, skull fractures, lacerations of the spleen, and long bone fractures. Also seen are a higher proportion of brain injuries, hospitalizations and fractures than injuries incurred through use of regular beds. The vast majority of those injured in bunk bed accidents are under age 15. Because of the high occurrence of injury and death-inflicting defects in bunk bed manufacture, more than half of a million bunk beds were recalled by manufacturers in the 1990s.
Some examples of general failure of bunk beds and recalls include:
- Fourteen children’s deaths occurred within the United States from 1993 to 2002 due to accidental strangulation upon corner posts of the top level of bunk beds.
- Thirty four children under three years old and one child over age three died as a result of strangulation on the top bunk level of wooden framed bunk beds, and five children under age two years died from the same cause on metal bunk beds. The children became entrapped by the head and strangled during a fall through gaps between upper level railings. More than 500,000 bunk beds were voluntarily recalled by 36 manufacturers between 1994 and 1997 because of this defect.
- In October 2000, Pottery Barn Kids, Inc. recalled 200 Stinson wooden bunk beds due to side and guard rail breaks which resulted in two 3-year-old girls being injured in two separate bed collapse incidents.
- Ten International Express Manufacturing brand tubular metal bunk bed top levels were reported to have collapsed upon lower bunk occupants, injuring two individuals. More than 8000 of these beds were recalled in 1994.
- Approximately 4800 metal bunk beds under the style names “Slumberama” and “Double Decker” were recalled by Fashion Bed Group in April of 1994, as 18 of the beds reportedly collapsed due to cracking of the tubular metal bed structure. Three injuries occurred.
- Rosalco, Inc of Indiana distributed 175,000 tubular metal bunk beds from January 1990 through the end of 1993. Those beds held risk of frame cracking and collapse as occurred in 150 instances in private residences, causing ten injuries.
- A 2-year-old child died in Lake Worth, Florida, when his body fell through a space between the guardrail and mattress of his wooden bunk bed. His head became lodged and would not fit through the gap his body was able to pass through, causing strangulation. The bed was produced by El Rancho Furniture and Seffi Industries and sold to approximately 10,000 to 14,000 consumers between 1990 and 1994.