Most injuries to club participants or members occur in the areas where equipment and free weights are located. Many times members are hurt while doing something as simple as racking weight plates and they drop one on their foot or toes. Some injuries are from improper use of equipment such as circuit equipment, as the members haven’t learned proper use of the machinery. Other common accidents include people falling off of treadmills or tripping over cords when walking to treadmills.
Clubs must conduct a regular safety inspection walk through to be effective in liability prevention. Utilizing checklists to make sure each area is as it should be is highly recommended to maintain a consistently safe club. When designing a new club or remodeling older clubs the design can impact safety and reduce the risk of accidents. Consider installing video cameras to record all areas of the club so accidents can be properly investigated. Regular safety meetings should be held and documented.
One of the most important ways to limit a club’s potential liability for an accident or injury on the premises is to obtain a signed waiver and release form for every member and guest who uses the club or participates in activities. Since each state has its own judicial climate, an attorney familiar with your state should review your proposed waiver and release forms. Clubs must have in place policies and guidelines that members and guests acknowledge before they participate in activities. When prospective members and guests come through the facility, having a brief orientation which includes safety information will serve the club well in reducing liability.
Some clubs require new members who perhaps haven’t worked out in a while or may be high risk for injury to obtain a physician’s statement stating their ability to perform physical activities. Posting of safety signs and general rules for equipment use is extremely important in limiting liability when incidents do happen. Documenting these risk management and loss prevention practices are important when it comes time to defend against litigation or to reasonably settle a claim.
I believe one of the top mistakes clubs make is to assume members and guests know how to use the equipment because they say they do. Sometimes people don’t follow the safety rules because they don’t know the rules or haven’t been reminded of the rules in a while. For example using a spotter, or collars and clips, when bench pressing free weights should be required at all times. Many injuries we see occur in the bench press areas when people over exert themselves and drop the weights — sometimes they drop them on their face.
Many club members and guests, and some club owners, don’t really understand what makes a claim against a club viable. There are four components that must be met in order for your insurance company to be “legally obligated” to pay a claim for damages. Those four components of legal liability are: Duty Owed, Duty Breached, Proximate Cause and Damages. This basically means — did the club have certain responsibilities that it failed to meet? And did its failure to meet the responsibilities cause the accident or incident, and are there damages as a result? If the answer is yes to all four components, then a claim has “merit” for recovery by the injured party.
Bill Coons is a Sr. Loss Control Specialist with THOMCO A Markel Company and has a degree in Risk Management and Insurance. Bill has been working in the insurance industry for approximately 25 years. You may contact Bill by e-mail at Bill.Coons@thomcoins.com or by phone at 1-888-546-4042.