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Health clubs are potentially hazardous facilities. Between the heavy weights, cumbersome equipment and wet floors, there are dozens of ways someone could injure themselves while at the gym. As a result, club operators must make it a priority to manage risk and limit liability wherever possible.
Where should you start? According to Eric Hoffman, the director of corporate insurance and risk management at XSport Fitness, which has locations in four states, keeping your gym clean is a great first step toward minimizing accidents. “It’s important to maintain a clean gym,” said Hoffman. “People often forget to put equipment back in its proper place after use, creating trip hazards with free weights, medicine balls, battle ropes and even water bottles.”
To ensure a spotless and hazard-free facility, Hoffman advised making it clear to club staff cleanliness is a top priority. “Employees should take pride in maintaining a clean gym and help when they see something out of place,” he said. “It is helpful when management leads by example — if your general manager is picking up loose items, the employees are more likely to follow their lead.”
“Communicate with employees and managers on projects you are working on to minimize risk,” said Mary Frank, the sales and marketing manager at Cincinnati Sports Club in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Stress the importance of documenting incidents and train other department managers on filling out those incident reports.”
Communication is especially important during gym inspections. According to Hoffman, you should be clear as to why you’re identifying potential issues. “When we conduct inspections at the gyms, it’s not only important to point out things that need to be addressed, but take the time to explain the thought process behind why they need to be addressed,” he said. “When someone understands the end goal, their work is more effective.”
To further establish a culture of risk management, Frank advised hosting drills on various emergency scenarios. The more you simulate emergency situations with your staff, the more prepared and alert they’ll be. “We do fire drills, tornado drills, missing child drills, unresponsive person drills and active shooter drills,” she said.
A little incentive to study never hurts. “We reward employees if they read through our emergency action plan and pass a quiz on the emergency procedures contained in this action plan,” said Frank. “Once management buys into that culture, it is fairly easy for the rest of the employees to follow suit.”
Once you’ve established a culture in your gym that values risk management, ensuring there are the proper risk protocols and preventative measures in place is the final step to protecting your club from liability.
“Work with your insurance providers to minimize risk,” said Frank. “We meet with our insurance underwriters three times a year, analyze our incident reports twice annually, and go over current claims with our insurance company twice per year. When we meet, we ask them to give us any news on claim trends in the industry and how to best minimize the risks that cause those claims.”
And in the event you do have a serious accident occur at your club, it’s important to make sure you have a direct line to local law enforcement and the fire department. “Develop positive relationships with local police and fire, and document any incident — small or large — that happens when it happens,” added Frank.
Another helpful practice can be employing security cameras — to provide clarity on an incident, and also deter theft if a few are placed out in the open for everyone to see.
“Video cameras on your premises are recommended,” said Frank. “There is a lot less ‘he said, she said’ when you can review video of the incident and extract the truth from that.”
The bottom line is this: the more precautions you take, the fewer accidents you have.
“It takes time to instill risk management into your employees’ routines,” said Hoffman. “However, it can have an extremely positive effect on your business, not only through lessening claims and lawsuits, but also member experience and customer satisfaction. To us, the member experience is always most important.”