the legal resource for fitness entrepreneurs
the legal resource for fitness entrepreneurs

Fitness Facility Risk Management Basics

Want to know the best way to avoid injuries and lawsuits befalling your fitness business that doesn’t involve not having a fitness facility? Implementing risk management strategies that mean that your fitness facility is at less risk than it might be otherwise. This article presents important and helpful information that will empower you to manage risk for your fitness facility, health club, or personal training studio.

Why does this matter?

Someone could die. You could lose your entire business. Not every issue with your fitness facility will result in these things, but some can. So, why not spend a little time to potentially save yourself a whole lot of money and maybe even someone’s life or limb.

If that doesn’t convince you, know that your insurance company may take it very seriously if someone is injured (or worse), and you are found to have been negligent in managing the risks that are inherent in owning or operating a fitness facility.

 

Where do you start with fitness facility risk management?

Risk management is a wide-ranging field, but any good risk management strategy starts with an evaluation to identify the potential risks – think physical, legal, financial, and security. The next step is evaluating the severity of the potential risks, and finally developing strategies to mitigate potential risks. Mitigate means to reduce the negative impact of something. This means finding ways to reduce the potential injury or negative impact that could be caused by each potential risk that you’ve identified.

Start by taking a walk around each area of your fitness facility – gym, health club – and think of the worst case scenarios. Write down the possible hazards in each area. Also, consider and write out how you might lessen the impact of those hazards. This writing down how you can make the impact of any potential risk less serious is often referred to as “mitigating.”

Be honest about the state and condition of your facilities

Ask these questions and answer honestly! Do your facilities need to be upgraded? Is there equipment that is no longer functional? Do you have enough staff and are they all trained appropriately?

 

Prevention & Mitigation of Risk Tips

Regular Maintenance and Staff Awareness

Implement inspection and preventative maintenance at set intervals. This will help you and your staff identify potential problems and replace or repair equipment or facilities. These inspections and required maintenance should be documented. Many lawsuits and insurance claims involve equipment that is damaged or not properly maintained. Equipment maintenance is key!

Staff Training and Duties

Hire competent and knowledgeable employees and provide ongoing training. Check on all qualifications and complete background checks. By properly supervising activities within your fitness facility, your staff can decrease the risk of injuries incurred by clients.

Invest in Client Education

Just like we love to educate you about legal topics for your fitness business, educating your clients can help decrease the risk of injury and illness. Client education can consist of orientations, written material and appropriate signage showing proper use of equipment and warning of increased risk. Investing in the education of clients can pay off in increased safety.

Client Waivers

Client waivers are key! In all but five US states, a well-written waiver, signed by an adult, will likely protect the facility from any injuries that might arise as a result of negligence. Include the waiver signing as part of the onboarding process for using your facility and ensure any waivers or illness and injury releases are signed prior to using any club facilities.

Initial Screenings

Have all clients complete a pre-activity screening prior to using the fitness facility. This screening can highlight potential health conditions that might impact a client’s safe participation. More on these screenings.

Emergency Procedures

Your emergency response plan and procedures should be written. Practice emergency response plans regularly and reviewe at set intervals (at least twice a year). Your emergency procedures should address major emergency situations, staff training, step by step checklists, and relevant contact information. Identify staff coordinators within the documentation, and they should be held responsible for ensuring the staff teams are trained and audited. The emergency response plan should provide locations for all emergency equipment on a labeled floor plan. The map should indicate locations for all emergency exits and access paths for EMS personnel and evacuations.

Develop relationships with local health care facilities and medical personnel and include relevant contact information in your emergency procedures documentation. Consider reaching out to Emergency Services or Red Cross to discuss first aid training and emergency procedures. You may also consider engaging a consultant to assist in the development of an emergency response program.

The emergency procedures should also address foreseeable emergencies not necessarily associated with physical activity, such as fires, chemical accidents, and natural disasters. In particular, your documentation should incorporate hazardous materials and bodily fluid handling procedures. Finally, train and test staff on their knowledge of these step-by-step procedures.

Emergency Equipment

First Aid kits and an automatic external defibrillator (AED) – a device that can detect certain life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and can administer an electric shock that can restore normal sinus rhythm – should be accessible within the facility. Eleven US states have legislation that limits civil liability where an AED is available within a fitness facility. Address the most likely medical emergencies reasonably foreseeable given a moderate to intense level of exercise in your emergency procedures document. These emergencies might include: hypoglycemia, cardiac arrest or heart attack, stroke, heat related-illness, orthopedic injuries, and blunt force trauma injuries.

Incident Reporting

Implement an incident report process to document all health and safety issues and incidents. Ensure incident reports are seen both by management and those responsible for inspections and audits. The idea is that an incident report is a tool for improving risk management.

 

So why put such effort into risk management planning?

Risk management plans save time and money in the long run. There is no way to mitigate all of the risks involved in utilizing a fitness center; however, the courts recognize this and will use a “reasonable man” approach to deciding fault.  If you have taken all of the precautions that any reasonable person would and should in order to ensure the safety of your gym members, you can least partly minimize your risk of liability.

Fitness Facility Risk Management Basics

About the author

Anna Blanch Rabe is a communications consultant, writer, and speaker. A non-practicing attorney, she works with social impact businesses and non-profit organizations to develop and effectively execute narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, and reach new customers. A former college level athlete, she now enjoys yoga and swimming, and crewing for her trail and ultrarunning husband.

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