Safety First! Exploring Risk Management Best Practices

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Aside from making sure clients are having the best experience possible at your club, you’re second largest priority should be ensuring visitor safety. However, as most club and facility owners know, this is no easy task. From establishing safety protocols and procedures; scheduling inspections; forms and contracts to sign, and making sure all other aspects of your business are running seamlessly, it’s a lot to handle. How can one person accomplish all of this? The answer is: you can’t, and you shouldn’t.

The key thing to take away from this is it takes a whole team. Do not assume all the responsibility yourself. Instead, create a risk management team and network made up of both internal and external sources of support. Having a team to delegate specific tasks to increases productivity and makes for a well-oiled safety machine.

Before looking for help outside your facility, consider your current resources. For example, do you have employees with a medical background? Do you have any individuals on staff with a law enforcement or engineering background? Look for individuals who can bring valuable knowledge and experience to the table. For this internal team, maintain a consistent meeting schedule to address risk management on safety concerns and protocols. These meetings should happen quarterly at the very least and should have a delegated leader to hold all members accountable for all current and new initiatives.

To further grow your risk management network, look to outside sources such as local fire departments, police forces and EMS teams. These resources can help you and your team practice drills for potential situations you may face as well as keep you up-to-date on local incidents.

You can also consult your insurance agent and carrier for resource and educational materials regarding risk management best practices and procedures. Some carriers also have loss prevention professionals who can be brought in to advise your team on proper safety measures and protocols.

Another great option to pull resources from is your local American Red Cross or other local agencies. American Red Cross assists businesses both small and large with educational materials, seminars, and guides for keeping your members safe in the case of an emergency.

The key thing to take away here is that you have a multitude of resources you can pull together to make the best risk management strategies possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and make sure new staff members are trained on all safety measures put in place at your facility.


Youth Sports: The Best Way To Recover From Injuries

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Many youth athletes today would rather play through the pain than miss a practice or a big game. They’ll ignore an injury and hope that it will just go away with time. Unfortunately, neglecting an injury usually leads to an overuse or repetitive trauma injury and can, in extreme cases, affect the player’s ability to play at all.

Overuse injuries are caused by repetitive stress on the muscle and skeletal system without enough rest to allow the body to adapt. Young athletes are especially at risk as their bodies are still developing. Most of these injuries occur during adolescent growth spurts.

As a direct result of the rise in repetitive trauma injuries in young athletes, sports medicine experts are now urging a larger role for athletic trainers at schools and sports facilities. With an effective rehabilitation program, highly trained athletic trainers can help players recover and avoid lasting damage or interrupting the competitive sports schedule. Facilities should look to include more trainers that specialize in sports-related injury and rehabilitation to their staff to ensure the proper recovery of their players. In a recent study conducted by the American Medical Society for Sports medicine, they recommend that facilities enforce preventative training and conditioning regimens, scheduled rest periods and requiring a pre-participation physical exam to assess a player’s ability to play. They also suggest enforcing limits on repetitive motions such as pitching and hitting as well as identifying any injuries certain athletes are prone to.

John DiFiori, head of the division of sports medicine at the University of California Los Angeles indicates that these preventative exams, “…gives parents a better basis for making a decision about their child’s participation”. In other words, if the assessment indicates that their child is prone to repetitive injuries, they may want to consider enrolling their child in an alternative sport.

Access to athletic trainers in school sports programs has doubled over the last 20 years, but only about a third of high schools have full-time professionals on staff, according to the National Athletic Trainers Association. Moreover, many community programs such as soccer and gymnastic leagues don’t have athletic trainers on board. Some states are considering legislation to require a medical professional be present at high school sporting events.

With more athletic trainers on staff, the better the chances are of avoiding an overuse injury in young athletes before they turn into a serious medical issue. For example, if a trainer catches an injury in time, he can put the player on a daily routine of stretching and applying hot and cold therapy with an electrical stimulation device to improve blood flow to muscles to reduce pain. Additionally, during practices, the player may be instructed to kick fewer balls, pitch a little less, hit less, etc., as well as rest for a few days after each game.

The key to avoiding overuse injuries is to catch them before they worsen. Unfortunately, in most cases, the player will let the injury get worse before seeking professional help. The goal of sports organizations and facilities should be to incorporate more athletic trainers into the overall sports program to prevent these injuries from occurring in the first place.


ACE Urges Congress to Focus on Prevention

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Recently, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) submitted a letter to Congress, urging the governmental body to redefine the U.S.’s approach to healthcare. Rather than focus on treating people who are ill, our healthcare system should emphasize illness prevention, ACE argued, while also empowering sufferers of chronic disease to manage their discomfort. As the letter put it: “[O]ur healthcare system needs to shift from one almost solely focused on responding to people who are ill to investing in preventing people from getting sick in the first place and empowering those with chronic conditions to helping themselves when they can.”

Among the intriguing policies that ACE enjoined Congress to adopt is this one: “Allow for financial incentives through tax policies to encourage increased participation through physical activity to reduce the chances of incurring preventable chronic diseases.” What this amounts to in plain English: “Reimburse people who pay to work out!”

In addition to benefitting large swathes of the population, ACE’s proposed financial-incentives plan could, of course, have beneficial effects for the fitness industry. The plan is ingenious. If individuals are reimbursed through tax policies for payments they make to gyms, sports centers, and other fitness facilities, then those individuals will have the opportunity to work toward better health at a lower cost. The facilities they sign up with will enjoy the benefits of a growing membership along with, ideally, built-in incentives for members to stay on-board. And, as citizens become healthier, managing their chronic illnesses and preventing the onset of new disease, the government, over the long term, will begin to see the overall cost of healthcare fall. Everybody wins.

Other proposals in ACE’s letter are equally hopeful. “Make science-based, interdisciplinary coaching, counseling, and support for sustainable behavioral change a functional, integral component of the nation’s healthcare system.” Elsewhere in the letter, ACE describes its members as “advocates for extending the clinic into the community with science-based preventative services delivered by well-qualified professionals not necessarily thought of as healthcare providers.” Put these two together, and you have a movement to enable greater health and healthier decision-making through the involvement of a population of workers not as overburdened as doctors and other medical professionals but qualified to provide health-related guidance — that is, personal trainers, nutritionists, physical therapists, masseuses, and others who make the fitness industry their home.

Another policy ACE pitched to Congress articulates this even more directly: “Extend the healthcare team into the community by tapping well-qualified health and fitness professionals to deliver preventative services and programs focused on behavior change directly in the community, reimbursable by health insurance.” A side benefit of a policy like this one is that health and fitness professionals could be held in greater esteem by the population at large, their knowledge and their services valued for the truly life-transforming elements they are.

All in all, ACE’s letter to Congress is one to read, promote, and actively support. As one of those health and fitness professionals who stands to benefit so much, call your local Congressperson and make your feelings about the letter known. Echo ACE’s words: “The single most effective path to manage rising healthcare costs is to reduce the cost of managing choric disease.” Then explain how your work has proven to you over and over again the truth of this statement.

gym healthcare

Workplace Wellness Programs: Value of Investment Over Return on Investment

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If you’ve ever contemplated partnering with businesses to offer employer-sponsored fitness programs, there’s no time like the present. No, really — there’s no time like the present. According to the ninth annual Willis Health and Productivity survey, 2015 is a “watershed year” for employer-sponsored health and wellness offerings. As has been the case for a number of years now, employers increasingly are offering programs designed to help employees achieve and maintain better health. But now employers have begun looking beyond the financial gains of such programs. “Given a choice, respondents focused on the value of a health management program…over program cost,” the report states.

What it comes down to is this: More organizations are turning away from expectations of an immediate return on investment (ROI) for their wellness programs and turning toward the value of investment (VOI) of such programs. In other words, they care less about reducing medical costs and more about boosting employee morale, increasing worksite productivity, reducing employee absence, and keeping employees safe. The Willis report states that, of 703 survey respondents, 64 percent have VOI-focused wellness programs, compared with 28 percent that have ROI-focused programs. For health clubs, gyms, and fitness centers, this means greater opportunities to provide quality programs to workplaces.

Interestingly, the report also notes that “Of those organizations without a wellness program, the majority of respondents (29%) stated that they do not have enough time or staff to start a program.” Again, this is an opening for health clubs, gyms, and fitness centers. Consider how your facility might put together predesigned packages — and customized packages — that provide full workplace health and wellness programs, including physical activity, healthy-eating plans, weight loss and management, tobacco-use reduction, and the like. Then consider the ways in which you could market such a program to businesses in your area. Knowing that companies are more interested in VOI than ROI, you might make increased productivity, better self-care, and higher employee morale some of your selling points. You might need to educate your potential partners on the advantages of focusing on VOI over ROI. You could sum those up the way the Willis Report does: “Organizations with a Value of Investment (VOI) focus tended to be more satisfied with the impact of their programs.” And you’ll definitely want to point out the time, staff, and other resources the businesses would save by partnering with you.

One thing to keep in mind is that, according to the report, “Forty-three percent of the respondents have implemented a health club reimbursement subsidy or corporate discount, and 35 percent have implemented a health club corporate discount.” Offering the businesses in your area a discount for their employees gives you a low-maintenance way of providing businesses with the health and wellness programs they want but don’t have the resources to incorporate on-site.  Make sure your club management software is capable of tracking these corportate or business membership programs. For example, a good management software system will make it simple to pull reports for each corporate plan and allow businesses to easily calculate employee reimbursements. All in all, now is the perfect time to assess your existing plan for partnering with businesses to offer workplace wellness programs or to develop a new plan — and then to get out there and sell those programs. Businesses are hungry for them.

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Ensuring Treadmill Safety

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The fitness industry joins with so many others in mourning Dave Goldberg, the CEO of SurveyMonkey, whose recent tragic death once again brings to light the potential dangers of treadmill use. Goldberg was exercising on a treadmill at a gym when he reportedly lost his grip on the railings, fell backward, and fatally hit his head.

Sadly, Goldberg’s accident was not a one-off thing. According to the government’s Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), 24,400 people in the United States were injured so badly in treadmill accidents in 2014 that they wound up in a hospital emergency room. All in all, emergency room visits for injuries from exercise equipment totaled 62,700 in 2014, and, according to the CPSC, patients cited treadmills as the cause more than any other kind of equipment. Injuries included broken bones, amputated fingers, and concussions. Between 2003 and 2012 (the last year for which data is available), thirty treadmill-related deaths were reported. One high-profile tragedy in 2009 was the death of former boxer Mike Tyson’s four-year-old daughter, who was strangled by a cord hanging from a treadmill.

In light of the hazards, what can gyms and fitness facilities do to help ensure that members and clients are using treadmills in the safest way possible? Here are some measures you can adopt:

1) Establish treadmill rules, communicate them, and stick to them. Treadmill users should always — always — use the safety key. They should never jump off the treadmill while it’s still in motion. They should avoid using it if they feel at all faint, dizzy, or not at their best. Look forward, don’t run barefoot, and begin workout sessions by straddling the belt. Include such rules — along with ones customized to your facility — on a prominently displayed poster near your treadmill area or on a small placard on each treadmill. If your trainers or other employees see members breaking the rules, they should ask them to vacate the treadmill immediately.

2) Require treadmill users to sign a document that explains the potential hazards and warns them against unsafe practices. Asking members to sign something makes it much more likely that they’ll actually take the time to read about the risks. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and prevention is possible only through education and awareness. It’s crucial that your members know what the risks are.

3) Review your treadmill placement. Make sure the backs of the machines are far enough away from walls and other obstructions that if a fall happened no one would be thrown into anything.

4) Teach your members how to fall — that’s right, how to fall. No matter how careful a treadmill user is, accidents can still happen. How prepared will your members be if one does? Will they know to try to keep their hands away from the belt, so that skin doesn’t get scraped or burned and fingers don’t get stuck between the frame and the belt? Will they know to try to tuck or cover their heads? Have your trainers review safe ways to fall with each new member who joins your facility, and offer occasional safety brush-up classes (not just for treadmills, but for all exercise equipment).

Without a doubt, the treadmill is a great machine. Exercisers can reap fantastic benefits from regular treadmill use, easily meeting their goals for fitness and weight loss. According to government statistics, nearly 50 million people use treadmills each year. Given that giant number, the number of related injuries is relatively small, and the number of deaths even smaller. But the goal, of course, should be zero injuries, zero deaths. Do your part to help reduce the number of treadmill-related tragedies each year.

Planning for Emergencies

Planning for Emergencies

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My son is eight years old, the age at which curiosity, acquired knowledge, and a total fascination with disaster scenarios come together beautifully and lead to all kinds of thought-provoking (and sometimes horrifying) what-if questions. What if the house blew up just as we were about to step inside of it? What if a tornado ripped through town unexpectedly while summer camp was in session? What if we went to watch a baseball game at Yankee Stadium and an earthquake happened in the first inning?
That last one gave me pause. What if an earthquake did happen during a baseball game? What if you run a sports facility or a recreation complex or, for that matter, a gym, health club, or fitness center and you’re faced with a major emergency? How do you prepare yourself? How do you even begin to think of something as massive, and as potentially devastating, as an earthquake?
Kevin Bryant, a senior facility manager for the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro, Oregon (which boasts a 3,700-seat baseball stadium, a 7,200-seat football/soccer stadium, and six softball fields) addressed such questions in a recent article for Sports Venue Safety, a supplement to Athletic Business. Bryant has encountered a number of extraordinary situations at his facility: a drunk and belligerent spectator, drug-use by a semi-professional sports team in the locker room, lights going out during a stormy, night-time, high-school football game. None of these are on the scale of an earthquake, but they got him thinking about the importance of being ready should a major emergency occur.
In order to frame out a coherent emergency plan, including an evacuation strategy, Bryant and his team—full-time and part-time staff—engaged in a months-long effort. Starting with the simple plan they already had (and you no doubt have at least a simple one of your own), they called upon the expertise of police and fire first-responders, city staff, and school district personnel. They researched actual emergencies that had happened at other facilities, used virtual reality software, and good, old-fashioned brainstorming to imagine potential situations. At the end of the process, they produced a carefully crafted, solidly tested, emergency and evacuation plan.
Bryant offers some useful advice. The first step, he says, was getting practical training for all full-time staff so that, at the very least, everyone knows how to administer basic first-aid and everyone has some AED and CPR training. Whether you run a sports facility or a gym or health club, you’ve probably prepared key staff members for simple emergencies in similar ways. But it’s worth asking yourself whether you’ve trained enough staff and whether new employees need training. Do you have a plan for yearly refresher sessions?
After training, Bryant and his team made a list of the exact types of emergencies they might encounter at their facility and then researched preferred ways of dealing with those emergencies. They looked into bomb threats, critical operations shutdowns, fires in and outside the stadium, extreme weather situations (including, yes, earthquakes), medical emergencies, and even nuclear fallout. They outlined, among other things, what the immediate reaction to each type of emergency would be, who would be responsible for what, and how the city and first-responders would be involved. The take-away here is that different kinds of disasters require different kinds of responses. At your facility, you must have a specific plan for each kind, and all the players must be clear on their roles.
Once you’ve got your written plan, you need to start another round of training—this time stepping through the actual plan as if an emergency had occurred. Bryant’s staff went through a fire drill. On a day when there was no event, they pulled the fire-alarm, role-played responses, and then discussed how it all went. The exercise revealed the importance of communication in the midst of chaos, noise, and stress, and showed Bryant that, while a written plan is crucial, realistic training is the only way to get all players on board with how to manage an actual situation.
Another great thing about eight-year-olds is that they’re convinced they can overcome any disaster scenario they might have to face; when my son explains how he’s going to deal with the tornado-at-summer-camp, or any other similar situation, he always describes his own deeds of daring and his phenomenal, heroic triumphs. I love his confidence and optimism, but I always try to remind him that he has a good chance of succeeding as long as he has a carefully thought-through plan.

Planning for Wear and Tear

Planning for Wear and Tear

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It’s a sad fact of life—any highly trafficked building, sports clubs, gyms, health clubs, and fitness centers undergo a great deal of wear and tear in a short period of time. Cracks and chips in the tiles, dings and scratches on countertop edges, tears in the mats, streaks on the floors, and marks on the finish of doors are inevitable, and they happen much sooner after construction or renovation than you would expect or like. But there are some steps you can take to prevent damage and keep your facility looking, well, maybe not brand new, but at least younger than it really is.
1) Expect and plan for deterioration. Certain features of your facility will age faster than others, like the tiles, countertop edges, mats, and other things listed above. Toilet seats, showerheads, the pads on workout benches and machines, handgrips—these and other frequently used things are items you can expect to show wear and tear. And if you can expect it, then you can make plans to guard against it. Take efforts to predict which areas will suffer the worst by identifying high-impact spaces and observing changes in those spaces over time. Note how long it takes for items to begin showing damage and document the timeframe—along with repair and replacement costs—so that down the road you’ll know when you need to take action and begin purchasing new items.
2) Design your operating and capital budget to accommodate refurbishing on a regular schedule. Your annual operating budget should include room for small improvements and repairs, and you can use your budget to step up into larger capital remodeling projects. Like dining venues that use a 7- to 10-year agenda for overhauling their spaces, fitness and sports facilities should plan for regularly scheduled updates within relatively small timeframes. They should also consider renovations that will need to occur in longer timeframes, and plans for such renovations should be updated annually. The goal is to ensure that the look and function of your spaces will still be relevant in 15 years, 20 years, and beyond.
3) One thing you probably already can’t do without (and if you are doing without it, you should stop everything and get one set up immediately) is a personal service reference guide. This is a notated list of professionals who installed elements of your facility and designed its features. The myriad small details that go into putting a space together can get lost over time, and if you begin refurbishing a space, you might find information about those details crucial to your project. You’ll need to have at your fingertips the names of the engineers, subcontractors, carpenters, and electricians whose work went into creating the original space. When little things start to go wrong—breakers begin to trip, remote controls no longer work—this reference guide will be priceless. Include everything you can think of, down to the names of the carpet and tile suppliers. You’ll be really glad you did.
4) Another key strategy is developing a vigorous cleaning routine. Imagine your mother there everyday, asking whether you’ve cleared your dishes and put your things away, and then multiply that by a thousand. In any building, and especially a high-use facility, it’s the accumulated grime and grit that can lead to premature aging. Don’t rely only on standard custodial care; in a health club or sports facility, you need specialized housekeeping of particular areas. And you need it daily. Also consider the cleaning that can be outsourced to specialists: power-washing entryways, keeping windows sparkly, scrubbing tile and grout.
If you’re still in the planning stages, waiting for your facility to be built or renovated, there are other steps you can take too: choose materials made for high-impact use, select finishes that will be easy to clean, note warranties and product limitations. The main point is this: From the very beginning, you want to imagine how your facility should look thirty years from now; then work to make sure that it looks that way. And if there’s some wear and tear that’s unavoidable, consider that a sign that your facility is well-used and well-loved, and be glad.

Five Steps to Safeguard Your Sports Facility Against Liability

5 Steps to Safeguard Your Sports Facility Against Liability

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Ever had an athlete twist an ankle on your field, or worse: break a leg, dislocate a shoulder, or sustain a head injury? Ever had someone run into a brick wall? I’m serious here — at one football field, a brick wall was placed just beyond the end zone, and a player ran full speed into it. Be glad you weren’t the owner of that field when the question of liability arose — because, when you run a sports facility with a field, the question of liability always arises. You have to be vigilant about it, and take constant measures to both protect players from injury and yourself from litigation. What can you do?

  1. Start with common sense. There are no published industrywide standards for all aspects of sports fields, but there are generally accepted expectations. Is your playing field level? Is it free of debris, holes, depressions, and other potential safety hazards, such as loose seams and worn patches? Is there a risk of rocks rising to the surface, and is the field playable when wet? Your field maintenance efforts should focus first on safety, while your common sense should guide you in terms of what is safe and what isn’t.
  2. Next, take a look at your field as if you’ve never seen it before. If there are liability issues, you’ve probably become so accustomed to seeing them that you don’t really notice them anymore. Take the brick wall, for instance: Any field manager who has stopped to think about it would have realized the danger. However, it’s easy to not think about things when you’ve got a routine and a checklist of tasks to accomplish. Step onto your field and look around. Are there poorly placed walls? Are there ridges or lips on the field?

    If it’s an expanded field, such as a soccer field, is there sufficient space for athletes to slide without hitting fences? Is there room to comply with American Disability Act requirements? See everything as if it is for the first time and make assessments. If you’re too busy to consider all of the potential problems, or are just too familiar with your field to be able to see it with a fresh eye, don’t hesitate to have an outside firm audit safety issues. If you don’t have the budget for an outside inspection, consider asking a fellow sports field manager to inspect your facility in exchange for you to inspect theirs.
  3. Do your paperwork. Make sure you have contracts, insurance documents, and anything else you might need in place, in order to manage any financial and legal liability. If anything unfortunate ever does occur, you’ll need to have the paperwork ready on hand.
  4. Don’t delay. When you identify a potential problem, fix it right away. No, scratch that: First document it by noting the problem, how and when it was discovered, and what the strategy for resolution is. Then go ahead and fix it.
  5. Finally, after an issue has been discovered, documented, and dealt with, schedule regular re-inspection times (document your re-inspections!). Then take the time to analyze: Why did the problem occur in the first place? Could it lead to other problems? Are there ways to avoid such problems in the future? Remember, the best way to reduce risk is through prevention. This way, any time and resources you invest into large-scale improvements now will pay off for you down the road.
Data Security

Protect Your Customers’ Data

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The recent and ongoing Target credit card debacle shouts out a loud and clear warning to anyone who operates a business that involves credit card transactions: Protect your customers’ data! When 40 million or so Target shoppers had their credit and debit card data stolen because of problems with the store’s security procedures, the company was sued in multiple lawsuits, its shares fell precipitously, and it was left struggling to placate customers with apologies and discounts. The legal and financial threads will take months — or longer — to untangle, and the store will have to fight to win back its reputation.

For health clubs, sports facilities, and fitness centers, protecting data is especially crucial, because business depends so heavily on relationships with customers. The key to successful protection is the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard, which provides an actionable framework for developing a strong security process — including prevention, detection, and appropriate reaction to breaches.

Here’s what you need to do to become compliant with PCI Data Security Standards:

  • Use a firewall to build and maintain a secure network. Also, consider changing all system default passwords to create unique employee user IDs.
  • Encrypt all credit card numbers. This one is a no-brainer.
  • Install industry-standard antivirus and malware security programs. These will perform scans and provide feedback, confirming that your systems are protected and letting you know when a concern arises.
  • Restrict employee access — on the network and physically — to cardholder data. You want to make sure only specific employees have permission to access it.
  • PCI compliance audits are your friends. Participate in them regularly in order to monitor and test systems that process and store cardholder data.
  • You have an information security policy, right? If not, what are you waiting for. Establish — and maintain — one immediately.

When data is compromised, so much is lost. The last thing you need is to have customers lose faith in your club or facility, to feel insecure about your ability to protect them. If a security breach occurs, they will wonder if their faith is misplaced. A store like Target probably can survive such a blow — it’s big enough, and offers enough conveniences, that customers will begin to trust it again eventually. But with a fitness center or sports facility, the stakes are higher because of the personal and emotional investments your customers make when they trust you to help them shape healthier selves, to provide a refuge from the more stressful parts of their lives. If your systems are breached they’re going to feel the pain more keenly than customers in other industries.

So take the necessary steps — and then let your clientele know you’ve done so. If you communicate with them about the security measures you’ve taken, they’ll be reassured, and a reassured customer is likely a retained one.

Risk Management

Don’t Forget Risk Management

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My son calls me a scaredy-cat because I’m constantly throwing warnings out at him: “Don’t run on the ice, you could fall and hurt yourself!” “Be careful on those rocks; they look slippery.” “Please don’t climb any higher up that fence; if you fall and crack your head open, you’ll be sorry!” I’m not a scaredy-cat, I tell him; I just have to give the warning because if something actually happens, I’ll feel even worse about it if I failed to alert him to the danger beforehand. The better tactic, I know, would be to remove the ice, the rocks, and the fence before he can even test them, but out in the world that’s just not possible.  In the gym – it is!

Because of the nature of the fitness business, the level of risk is much higher than with other businesses. In order to make sure you’re protecting your clients — and yourselves, should any unfortunate accidents occur — it’s good practice to run frequent risk management checks. At least once a quarter, do a walk-through of your facility. Identify potential risks, ensure that you have adequate warning signs posted (you can probably leave out the part about cracking your head open), and evaluate whether you’re doing everything you can to reduce (or, better yet, eliminate) the risk.

What are the highest-risk areas? Well, the free weights and the machines carry risk of injury, of course. Your cardio court and other workout rooms should be carefully supervised at all times, with appropriate signage offering instructions, warnings, and advice about what to do if an injury occurs. You already know this, of course, and you know about the other danger spots too, but until something actually happens, it’s easy to become complacent about what could go wrong. So let’s review:

  • The Pool: There’s always the danger of slipping on a wet surface. Strictly enforce a “no running in the pool area” rule: Your lifeguards and pool attendants should aggressively monitor running and blow the whistle whenever they see it. Make sure many signs with big lettering announcing the rule — and other pool safety rules — are visible. Also make sure there’s nothing adding to the already risky fact of just having a pool — no algae or mats that could cause slipping, no hoses or cleaning equipment that could cause tripping.
  • Shower Facilities: As with the pool, showers are dangerous because of water. Your members sign a waiver when they join, but it’s your responsibility to make sure water-related dangers aren’t exacerbated by soap, oils, or other potentially hazardous shower-area materials. Train your locker room staff to keep a sharp eye out for anything on the floor that could cause harm.

All this is just for starters. Think through your own facility and the unique risks it might present. Do everything you can to prevent an accident from happening, and constantly check to make sure your safety measures are in place. Trust me on this one. If your mother were writing this blog, she’d tell you the same thing – don’t forget risk management.

Preventing and Handling a Tragedy

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In February 2012, a tragic event occurred: A 22-year-old woman collapsed in a stall in the women’s locker room at a Planet Fitness in Bay Shore, New York. An hour later, she was dead. The family of the woman is now suing Planet Fitness, claiming that the sole staff member on site at the time did not help her. That staff member, according to reports, was male, and when he was alerted by a female member of the gym that a woman had collapsed, he replied that he was not allowed to enter the locker room.

Her death is a horrible and unfortunate thing (it turns out she had a heart attack, caused by an underlying condition that had never been diagnosed). It would have been horrible and unfortunate no matter where it occurred – but what if it had been at your facility? What would you do if a tragedy occurred at your gym or health club, and you were facing a lawsuit? What steps should you take? And, perhaps more importantly, how can you prevent such a thing from happening in the first place?

Prevention begins with preparation. If possible, always have at least one male and one female staff member on site at a given time. More importantly, make sure that all staff members know emergency procedures. Make sure they recognize when an emergency situation, such as the collapse of a gym member, trumps the usual rules, such as no men in the women’s locker room. Also, have on site at all times an automated external defibrillator (AED) and an employee who knows how to use it. Train your staff in first aid. Teach them that, if they’re wondering whether to call 911, it’s better to err on the side of overreacting.

If the worst thing happens despite your efforts, your attorneys will work hard to achieve fairness and keep your business going (make sure you have good ones). Meanwhile, focus your energy on open and honest communication with your members. Try to make sure they find out from you, before they find out from the media or from rumors, what happened. Be clear about any oversights that might have occurred on the part of your facility and explain the steps the facility will take to avoid such oversights in the future. Reassure them that your business will recover from any blows and will be stronger from the lessons learned, and apologize for any discomfort or doubt the incident might have caused. Invite them to speak with high-level staff members to share any concerns they might have.
If the press gets involved, follow the advice of your attorneys, of course. Convey as much detail about the situation as you are able to, with an emphasis on steps you are taking to fix any errors. Deal with reporters straightforwardly.

The tragic incident at the Bay Shore Planet Fitness will be remembered and mourned. It will also be learned from, assisting other gyms owners in preventing and handling a tragedy in the future.