Shopping centre ball pit ‘drowning’ prompts safety review

Operator to relook safety, though blogger's viral video of her 'fright' is seen by some as overreaction

Children under seven must be accompanied by an adult to enter the suspended ball pit at City Square Mall. Left: A ball pit "lifeguard" attending to a child yesterday.
Children under seven must be accompanied by an adult to enter the suspended ball pit at City Square Mall.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
Children under seven must be accompanied by an adult to enter the suspended ball pit at City Square Mall. Left: A ball pit "lifeguard" attending to a child yesterday.
A ball pit "lifeguard" attending to a child yesterday.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI

The operator of a newly opened attraction at City Square Mall, which features a suspended ball pit, said on Saturday that it will review safety measures after a video of one of its visitors "drowning" in the pit went viral.

Bloggers Vivien and John Low, who run parenting blog Beautiful Chaos, posted a video on their Facebook page on Saturday of their visit to the three-storey Airzone, touted as the world's first net playground built in a shopping centre atrium.

The attraction, which had a soft opening in mid-January, includes a ball pit suspended on the third storey, and a slide and maze leading to the fourth and fifth storeys.

Mrs Low said in the post she had the "fright of my life" after entering the pit with her son, Riley, four.

"Not long into the play, I lost my balance in the ball pit and fell backwards. I could not reach the bottom and I could not stand up," she wrote, adding that she is 1.72m tall.

Attempts to roll over or grip the net failed and when she "panicked and waved and screamed for help", no one came, she claimed.

Mrs Low added that her son was "stuck inside" the ball pit too, together with a few other children. She was able to pull herself up after grabbing someone's hand.

  • 40,000

    Approximate number of balls in the pit

Her experience was captured on video and the post has since attracted almost 4,000 shares.

Parents The Straits Times interviewed yesterday said they were not concerned, with some calling the Facebook post an overreaction.

When ST visited the attraction, children were seen deliberately jumping into the ball pit and submerging themselves in the balls.

Technician Eddy Cham, 34, who was with his nine-year-old son, said he was aware of the video.

"The kids who are shorter than adults are all enjoying themselves," he said.

In response to the Lows' Facebook post, Airzone apologised and said in a comment that it will review the number of balls included in the pit and ensure that first-aid trained staff are swifter in their response to requests for assistance.

"It is also a requirement at Airzone for children under the age of seven to be accompanied by an adult. This should have been communicated to parents with children prior to entering the attraction," it said.

The attraction is operated by Ultimate Entertainments Group.

In response to ST's queries, an Airzone spokesman said it will be speaking to visitors to get feedback, and look at reducing the slack of the nets to make the pit shallower.

The pit currently holds about 40,000 balls.

There are two to three trained staff on each level of the structure during peak operating hours, and a mandatory safety briefing is held before visitors are allowed to enter.

"So far, the feedback we have about the ball pit has been very positive and we've not received any other feedback about the ball pit being too deep," the spokesman said.

Current safety measures will be strengthened, including having staff watch out for visitors who appear to be struggling in the pit and limiting the number of people in the pit to eight at any point in time.

A maximum of 60 people will be allowed into the attraction at a time or around 20 people per level.

Mr Low later clarified that it was his wife's first time at the attraction and Riley's second. In fact, he said his son asked to return because he "really loves the ball pit".

He also said in a reply to Airzone that "many people are overreacting" to the post and that he got used to the ball pit after 10 minutes on a previous visit.

"It really is quite safe, although a little out-of-the-norm experience," he wrote. He also said that their post was meant to advise parents to accompany their child in the pit.

Madam Nana Wahab, 42, took her two daughters, aged seven and eight, and her eight-year-old niece to the attraction yesterday.

"My younger one, especially, lacks confidence... I brought her here to help her overcome her fear of heights," she said.

She added that her daughters and niece, who are all about 1.2m tall, enjoyed the ball pit but steered clear of the centre as it was "quite deep".

National Safety Council president Ameerali Abdeali said: "There is a need to closely monitor the situation and improve it where necessary, as well as ensure that regulatory requirements are met."

Airzone has received about 1,700 visitors since its soft opening and will be officially launched on Friday.

WATCH

Kids playing in Airzone's ball pit. http://str.sg/owQy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2018, with the headline 'Ball pit 'drowning' prompts review'. Subscribe