Sometimes the most obvious things are also the ones that ignored: like fitness equipment maintenance. One of the most effective ways of decreasing costs associated with litigation and being sued is to avoid being sued in the first place! Truly, it is more cost effective to pay in prevention than in trying to solve a problem that may arise.
Equipment Maintenance is one way you can help prevent accidents and injuries.
By ensuring that you limit negligence that results from failing to maintain equipment properly you also decrease one of the risks of being held liable for injuries and accidents that take place within a facility where you are responsible. This doesn’t mean you won’t be subject to a legal suit for accidents or injuries that take place where you have a duty of care, but records of the maintenance of the fitness equipment involved in the injury or accident can serve as supporting evidence that any injury or accident not a result of failing to maintain fitness equipment (and consequently negligence).
Even if you do ensure that all equipment is kept in good repair, you may still want to consider securing Malpractice Insurance or Errors and Omissions coverage as well as ensuring that your policies and procedures are effective in protecting your legal interests and help to mitigate your risk as fitness professional. One of your most important responsibilities as a fitness professional is to ensure the safety of your clients. Insurance coverage may be helpful to assist with the amount you are legally obligated to pay to compensate others for damages and the cost of legal defense.
If you are working as a contractor in a gym where you do not have responsibility for the maintenance of the fitness equipment, make sure to confer with your attorney about whether your contract with the facility addresses both responsibility for equipment maintenance and liability for injuries that occur as a result of malfunctioning equipment, or damage that occurs as a result of the actions, errors or omissions of your clients – including breaking or damaging equipment or damaging the premises where you are coaching. When in doubt, don’t allow your clients to use equipment that is damaged or not in full working order. Report any non-functional equipment to gym management and be sure to note any report separately in your own records.
As mentioned above, insurance may be available to compensate others where you are personally responsible for causing damages to equipment, however you should consider whether it is appropriate to limit your liability in relation to the behavior of your clients by ensuring that there is a disclaimer in your user (or training agreement) contract with them, that they are responsible for the payment of any compensation related to damages they cause.
As with any situation where you are seeking to minimize the risk of Injury to your client(s) while under your supervision, make sure you have all of your basic business operations sorted. Here are some questions you can ask yourself: are you adequately trained and certified for the activity involved? is your pre-program screening and testing adequate? Did the client signed an informed consent, release and assumption of the risk consent form? Are your instructions and advice within acceptable ranges based on the client’s physical condition and circumstances?
The last question is particularly relevant when it comes to instructing clients on the use of fitness equipment. In addition to ensuring that the equipment is functional and in good repair, it is imperative that you appropriately instruct your client on how to use a new piece of equipment. Failure to show a client how to use a new piece of equipment which results in injury may give rise to liability on the part of the fitness professional.
Consider the benefit of written internal policies about the standards for equipment maintenance for all of your equipment. This might include health and safety audits with risk assessments of each piece of equipment so you can ensure that you appropriately educate your clients about any injury risk associated with using a specific piece of equipment. It should also state standards for your business in terms of the state of repair of equipment – what range of pressure should your fitness balls be filled with air? Are frayed or damages accessories for body weight exercises acceptable to your fitness business? Do you know where the emergency stop buttons are located on all pieces of treadmill type equipment?
Consider also developing a bank of information to share verbally or in writing with your fitness clients that explains how to avoid injury using each specific piece of fitness equipment, and ways of gauging how your body is responding to training sessions using a specific piece of fitness equipment.
Finding ways of mitigating the risk of liability that may arise as a result of injury or accident caused by fitness equipment can be a great strategy for ensuring that your business thrives. One of the most cost effective ways of mitigating the risk of injury from fitness equipment is to ensure that the equipment is well maintained. Remember that if you are found liable for any injury or accident that occurs as a consequence of your negligence (including failure to appropriately maintain fitness equipment) you could be responsible for paying damages for the injury, lost earnings, and damage to personal property.