The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued a mandatory federal safety standard for bunk beds. These rules are mandatory for manufacturers of bunk beds as of July 1, 2000. We are notifying camps since you may be purchasing new beds in the spring of 2000. Most U.S. manufactured bunks now meet this standard, but there are some new requirements. The new standard is a response to approximately ten deaths per year caused by entrapment in both child and adult bunk beds.

The mandatory standard is also a response to a lack of conformance by some manufacturers to a voluntary standard published by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) in 1992.

Rule Changes Regarding Bunk Rails

The new CPSC standards make several notable changes to previous guidelines established by the CPSC. The new standards specify:

  • Continuous guard rail along the wall side of the bunk

  • Appropriate spacing on the ends of bunks so that people cannot be entrapped

  • Required identification of manufacturer on all bunk beds

The mandatory federal ruling will enable CPSC to hold retailers and distributors accountable, seek civil penalties of up to $1.5 million against manufacturers for noncomplying bunk beds, and stop shipments of noncomplying bunk beds made by foreign manufacturers.

According to this ruling, all bunk beds manufactured or imported for sale in the United States will have to meet the following requirements by July 2000:

  • Any bed in which the underside of the foundation is over 30 inches from the floor must have guardrails on both sides and the wall-side guardrail must be continuous.

  • Openings in the upper bunk structure must be small enough (less than 3.5 inches) to prevent the passage of a child’s torso. In other words, the bottom of the bed rail must be no more than 3.5 inches from the top of the bed frame. (This wording is already contained in the interpretation of ACA’s bunk bed standard — SF-15.)

  • Openings in the lower bunk end structures must be small enough to prevent entry by a child’s head or torso, or large enough to permit free passage of both the child’s head and torso.

  • The bed must have a label identifying the manufacturer, distributor or seller, the model number, and the date of manufacture.

  • Warnings must be on a label affixed to the bed and assembly instructions must accompany the bed. The label warns not to place children under six years old on the upper bunk and specifies mattress size.

Additional information on the CPSC ruling can be obtained by contacting the CPSC’s consumer hotline at 800-638-2772, or through their Web site,

Rules Concerning Mattress Supports

Due to the danger of improperly supported mattresses falling on persons under the top bunk, the CPSC further recommends side-to-side mattress supports. Consumers that currently have bunk beds with mattress or foundations that rely on side rail ledges as the only means of support, may write to: Bunk Bed Kit, P.O. Box 2436, High Point, NC 27261, and ask for a free cross-wire support kit.

Implications for Camps

Camps purchasing beds in 2000 should be aware of these requirements and take care to only purchase beds that meet the CPSC standard. While the rule affects the manufacture and sale of bunk beds after July 1, 2000, consideration should be given to whether current nonconforming beds can be safely modified to meet this standard as funds and appropriately manufactured retrofits become available.

As older beds are replaced, it would be wise to keep these standards in mind as beds are built or purchased.

Keep in mind that the rationale for requiring bunk rails in camps was less an issue of entrapment and more an issue of people falling from the top bunk. Camps often use plastic coated mattresses, and campers or staff often have a slippery fabric on the outside of their sleeping bags. Falls from upper bunks have caused numerous serious and sometimes permanent injuries.

The National Standards Board will update the interpretation of standard SF-15 to clarify that beds placed against the wall should have a continuous rail on the wall side of the bunk. However, bunks permanently attached to the wall would not need an additional rail on the wall side. In addition, the NSB supports the CPSC warning that children under six years old should not be put in upper bunks.


Originally published in the 2000 Winter issue of The CampLine.