Are Bunk Beds Safe For Children? (Safety Guide)

If you’re thinking about buying a bunk bed for your children, then you might be wondering if bunk beds are safe for kids or not.

Bunk beds can be safe for children if the bed meets safety standards, is not bought second hand, has the correct mattress size, is made from high-quality materials, doesn’t have large gaps, and the weight limit is not exceeded. However, statistically, bunk beds can still pose a risk to your child’s health.

Because according to this study conducted by the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital at Ohio State University:

‘An estimated 572,580 children and adolescents aged </=21 years were treated in US emergency departments for bunk bed-related injuries during the 16-year study period.’

More specifically, as cited by another study, more than 63% of the estimated 23,000 children aged 0-9 years treated annually in emergency departments in the US for bunk bed fall-related injuries were under 6 years old.

The injuries were mostly fractures, lacerations, bruises, and scratches – with 25% arising due to a fall from the top bunk.

But looking further afield, I found examples were children had actually died due to accidents and incorrect assembly of the bunk beds by parents.

Including a 4 year old that passed away due to rolling out of the top bunk and getting his neck trapped between bed frame and the wall it was pressed up against – because the relatives had not installed the barrier on the side closest to the wall.

So, if you’re thinking about buying a bunk bed for your children, then make sure you read this bunk bed safety guide in full.

(And be sure to share it using the buttons at the top or bottom of this page to help warn others too).

Bunk Bed Safety Guide

Ok, so I’m going to walk you through the steps required to both identify a bunk bed that’s safe to buy and how to then have your children use it in a safer manner.

Obviously, the strategies below are not foolproof and I’m certainly not saying that by following these steps NO injuries will ever occur because such certainty is impossible to guarantee.

And if you’re trying to figure out how to build a bunk bed for your kids – I will NOT be covering this here because there’s no way I’d feel comfortable providing you with such bunk bed plans. If that’s the route that you’d like to take, then you’re better off talking with a specialist.

However, I have consulted with several sources to come up with this bunk bed safety guide – which should help save you a bit of time and reduce the dangers somewhat.

There are 14 bunk bed safety tips in total.

How to Buy a Bunk Bed That’s Safe

Here’s what I would personally do when buying a bunk bed for my children.

1: Avoid Buying Second Hand From Individual Sellers

You can most certainly get a bunk bed for a fraction of the price by buying second hand on sites like eBay, Craigslist, and Gumtree.

Now call me over cautious here…

But I would personally steer clear of buying second hand from a private seller because there’s no telling what sort of care the beds have been treated with, and whilst they may LOOK safe in the pictures – the wood and joints may not be as stable as they appear on the outside.

If I was forced to buy second hand, I’d want to find a reputable retailer and I’d question them about the level of safety checks and precautions applied ad nauseam.

2: Ensure The Bed Meets Safety Standards

Further to the last point, you should conduct your due diligence to ensure that the bunk bed you’re about to buy has the correct certification to prove that it has passed the required safety standards.

You’ll want to check the product label, look on the manufacturer’s website, or ask the retailer to ensure that the bed meets the most recent ASTM International F1427 standard.

In the UK, the British Safety Standard number BS EN 747:1993 applies.

3: Get The Correct Mattress Size

Most bunk beds are sold without the mattress when buying online.

This means that you’ll have to buy the mattress separately.

And you’ll need to ensure that not only does it fit snugly against all four sides of the bed, but it doesn’t come too high up against the guard rails – otherwise your child could end up rolling out in the night.

According to this source, the bunk bed rails should be at least 16 cm taller than the mattress.

4: Consider The Materials and Their Qualities

You’ll want your bed to be sturdy and free from creaks and sways when correctly assembled, and the first step to achieving this is by picking the right construction materials.

Bunk beds are typically made out of wood or metal – although I have also seen ones made out of solid plastic. I would personally stick with metal and wood and ditch the plastic if I’m honest.

For the metal options, you’ll want the frame to be made from steel tubes, metal rods, or wrought iron.

With that said, wooden bunk beds probably account for around three quarters of the market, so you’ll probably be faced with softwoods like pine which is perfectly acceptable. But if you want to step things up a notch, then you may wish to consider hardwoods like oak, poplar, ash, or cherry for maximum durability.

The next step is to actually ensure that the pieces are in good quality condition.

In the most obvious sense, you’ll want to look at the parts to make sure they are free from external damage. But another thing to look out for is whether or not the wood is solid all the way through or not. Because I have seen some cases where laminated wood is placed over pressed wood which is not going to be as sturdy or durable.

The checking of the parts should be done prior to assembly. And it’s always a good idea to check customer reviews of bunk beds if you’re buying online to see if there’s a pattern of complaints relating to the quality of the materials.

5: Check the Maximum Weight Allowances

It’s very important that you find out the maximum weight capacity of the top and bottom bunks.

Because this can vary greatly.

I have seen weights as low as 160 lbs and as high as 400 lbs per bunk.

6: Check the Gaps

Beds that are made to the correct safety standards should have narrow gaps between the slats and guardrails to prevent entrapment and strangulation.

The gaps between the guardrails should be no more than 3.5 inches.

The space between the slats should be no more than 7.5 cm.

Steps on the ladder must be a minimum of 3 cm wide and 20 cm.

7: Take Room Measurements

You’ll obviously want to take room measurements to ensure that there’s going to be enough floor space for the bunk bed.

But don’t forget about ceiling clearance too.

You’ll want your child to be able to sit up in the top bunk without having to worry about banging their head.

Be sure to account for the additional space required when buying a bunk bed that has extendables such as drawers, a trundle, or a fold out desk.

How to Use a Bunk Bed Safely

Ok, so now that you’ve found your ideal bunk bed, the next step is to know how to use it in a safe manner.

This starts right from the point of assembly and extends to everyday use.

1: Make Sure The Bed is Set Up Properly

Most folks tend to shoulder the responsibility of assembling the bed themselves.

But personally, I would opt for a white glove delivery service with the option of having the bed assembled by a professional. I would then check their work and test the bed myself to ensure that the thing isn’t going to collapse.

But if you do decide to build the bed yourself, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Get help if possible – have someone on hand to help you move the parts/boxes around, speed up the rate of assembly, and help you lift the top bunk on to the bottom bunk if required.
  • Read the instructions – make sure that you are following the proper guidelines when setting up the bed.
  • Use the right tools – many bunk beds come with the tools required for assembly, but if not, make sure you use suitable tools that aren’t going to damage the bed.
  • Check, check, and check again – once the bed is up, make sure that everything is held together properly and all the joints are secure.

2: Install the Guard Rail on BOTH Sides of the Bed

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when constructing a bunk bed for their child is that of failing to install the guard rail on the side of the bed facing the wall.

This has proved fatal in some cases – an example of which I linked to earlier.

Don’t take the risk of having your child falling down the side and becoming strangled.

3: Position the Bed Safely

Make sure that the bed is not close to any windows, and is well away from fixtures like ceiling fans and even doors.

A clearance of at least two metres from such items is advised.

Also make sure that your child cannot grab nearby blinds, cords, curtains, or anything else that could cause strangulation – such as robes, belts, or clothes.

4: Do NOT Let a Child Under 6 Use the Top Bunk

As the study that I linked to earlier indicates, most injuries involving bunk beds happens to children under the age of 6.

That’s why current guidelines state that you should not let a child under the age of 6 use the top bunk at all.

5: Consider Night Time Safety

Prior to putting your children to bed, make sure that you’ve cleared away any toys or objects from around the bed that could present a trip hazard in the night.

It’s also a good idea to use an easily accessible clip light to help illuminate the ladder quickly if your child needs to get up in the dark. This can be especially important if they have nightmares and wake up in a panic.

6: Explain the Rules

A big part of getting a bunk bed is going to require a fair amount of cooperation from your little ones.

Make sure that you explain to them the following bunk bed safety rules:

  • No jumping on the bed. Ever.
  • Only one person on the top bunk at all times.
  • Keep large toys off the top bunk.
  • Only use the ladder/stairs to get in and out of the bed.
  • Do not tie anything to the bed or the frame.

7: Don’t Misuse the Bed Yourself

Never be tempted to use the bed for drying clothes or hanging items from it.

If you need to replace any parts, make sure they are the correct ones from the manufacturer.

Never customise the bed beyond safety standards.

Conclusion: Better Safe Than Sorry

I hope this bunk bed safety guide has helped clarify some of the points that you may not have thought about when buying and using a bunk bed for your child.

If you have any safety tips of your own – please do leave them in the comments section below to help others.

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Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Kids Room With Bunk Beds’ by PC Photography (Getty Images) – used with permission under Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.