Use Caution When Buying or Using Bunk Beds

Bunk beds are frequently used as a child's first regular bed after he/she outgrows a crib - either at about age 2 or 35 inches (890 mm) in height. Some bunk beds also are used separately as twin beds for older children and even adults.

Each year, thousands of children under age 15 receive hospital emergency room treatment for injuries associated with bunk beds. Most of these injuries are fairly minor and occur when children fall from the beds. Horseplay frequently contributes to these accidents. There are other less obvious yet potentially very serious hazards associated with bunk bed structures that have entrapped children and resulted in suffocation or strangulation deaths.

Guardrail Spacing

On some beds, the space between the guardrail and mattress or the bedframe and mattress is large enough to allow a young child to slip through. Deaths have occurred when children became suspended by the head in these spaces and strangled.

  • Guardrails which are attached to the bed by hooks and remain in place by their own weight can dislodge, allowing a child to become entrapped under the guardrail or fall.

  • Attach additional boards to the bunk bed to close up any gap more than 31/2 inches (89 mm) between the lower edge of the guardrails and the upper edge of the bed frame to prevent possible entrapment and strangulation.

Use of the Bed Without Rails on Both Sides

Most bunk beds are used with one side located against a wall and are sold with only one guardrail for the upper bunk to prevent falls from the side away from the wall. Deaths have occurred when very young children ratted off the bed and became entrapped between the wall and the side of the bed not having a guardrail. This hazard is not unique to bunk beds. Regular beds can present the same hazard.

Dislodgement of Mattress Foundation

The mattress foundation an some bunk beds merely rests on small ledges attached to the bedframe. They can dislodge, particularly if a child, underneath the bunk, pushes or kicks upwards on the mattress. Suffocation deaths have occurred when mattress foundations fell on children playing on the floor or occupying the lowerbunk.

Fasten additional cross ties underneath the mattress foundation of both beds.

Wrong Size Mattress

Bunk bed structures and mattresses come in two lengths - regular and extra long. Extra long is 5 inches (127 mm) longer than regular. Therefore, if a regular length mattress is purchased for an extra long bed, there can be a 5-inch (127 mm) opening between the mattress and headboard or footboard. Strangulation deaths have occurred when children fell through openings created between the mattress and headboard or footboard when a regular length mattress was used in an extra long bed frame.

Here Are Safety Tips for Selecting, Using, and Maintaining Bunk Beds


Choose bunk beds that have:

  • Guardrails on all sides which are screwed, bolted or otherwise firmly attached to the bed structure.
  • Spacing between bed frame and bottom of guard rails that is no greater than 3-1/2 inches (89 mm).
  • Guardrails that extend at least 5 inches (127 mm) above the mattress surface to prevent a child from rolling off.
  • Cross ties under the mattress foundation which can be securely attached.
  • A ladder that is secured to the bed frame and will not slip when a child climbs on it.
  • A feature which permits the beds to be separated to form two single beds if you have children too young to sleep safety on the upper bunk.
  • And finally, choose a mattress that correctly fits your bed, whether regular or extra long.


  • Always use two side guardrails on the upper bunk. Keep guardrails securely in place at all times no matter what the age of the child. Children move about during sleep and may roll out of bed.
  • Do not permit children under 6 years of age to sleep in the upper bunk.
  • Be sure crossties are under the mattress foundation of each bed and that they are secured in place even if bunks are used as twin beds.
  • Emphasize to children to use the ladder and not chairs or other pieces of furniture to climb into orout of the top bunk.
  • Teach children that rough play is unsafe around and on beds and other furniture.
  • Consider using a night light so that children will be able to see the ladder if they get up during the night.

Maintenance or Safety Repair

  • If spacing between guard rails and bed frames is more than 3 1/2 inches (89 mm), nail or screw another rail to close the space to prevent head entrapment.
  • Keep guardrails in good repair and securely in place.
  • Replace loose or missing ladder rungs immediately.
  • Repair or replace loose or missing hardware, including cross ties immediately.

Courtesy of the DOE