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Avoid Risks


Clubs must protect themselves and members from potential problems. Your club’s risk management protocol is vital to your club’s survival.

“Having the highest standards, and not wavering, is the key to a successful risk management program,” said Meredith DePersia, the director of club operations for Club One. Developing those standards and implementation will keep your claims and premiums low.

Getting sound risk management advice is the first line of defense for protecting your club. An insurance broker can help you shop around for the best rates. “We employ an insurance broker that provides us with claim advice, analyzes the company’s risk, negotiates rates and communicates with insurance providers,” DePersia said. “We work with insurance providers that manage specific claims and provide financial coverage. It is important to work with a worker’s compensation insurance provider that will take an active role in guiding your company in risk prevention and safety promotion within the clubs.”

Another way to protect a club is through a local agent. Elite Sports Clubs are insured by a company whose owner and some employees are members at the gym. “It’s convenient,” said Tom Karrels, the vice president of Elite Sports Clubs. “They’re in the club all the time and can give us tips and ideas on what we can do better.”

“A club should take a comprehensive look at the activities they offer and any contractual obligations they have with its leasing agreements,” said Michael Swain, the senior loss control specialist at Markel Insurance Company. “Know the risks associated with equipment and the latest exercise trends. Club owners and staff should be well versed on a club’s risk management philosophy and be held accountable for adhering to it.”

Truly, any part of a health club can pose a risk for injury or concern. However, there are some areas that are more problematic than others. “In traditional clubs, basketball courts and swimming pools drive up premiums,” said Adam Sedlack, the senior vice president at UFC Gym. “In my years of experience, 90 percent of issues were on basketball courts. There’s fighting on the courts, injuries and trash talking from people being so competitive.” While the UFC gyms do not have basketball courts or pools, Sedlack advised clubs that do, have someone monitor the courts and pools if possible, as well as set up cameras in both areas as a safety precaution. Routine maintenance in both areas is needed as well to avoid injury from slips and falls from a worn basketball court or wet pool area.

In Karrels’ experience, during the later evenings or on the weekends is when claims tend to be more frequent. In these situations, normal full-time staff members may not be at work, causing protocol to not be followed as closely due to staff members not being as familiar with different scenarios.

DePersia noted that areas containing chemicals can pose a risk without proper storage and maintenance — especially volatile chemicals such as pool and spa chemicals. “Understanding the proper way to manage the different chemicals in the facility is key in protecting not just members, but employees and the facility itself.”

A preventative, proactive approach is needed to keep claims at bay. Hiring the best staff possible and training them to be able to deal with multitudinous scenarios will ensure that even if problems do arise, they will be handled effectively and professionally.

“Anyone that works with customers must have all of their certifications,” Sedlack said. “We make sure they are right for the job, not just ‘can they do a good job,’ and then we educate and certify them.” All employees at UFC Gym are AED (automated external defibrillator) and CPR certified as well as passing background checks. Having good fundamentals and protocol in place, and ensuring everyone understands what they need to know has helped UFC have next to zero claims. While UFC Gym does teach some combative techniques and classes, there has not been a liability issue because of the caliber of instructors they hire. “They know how to instruct someone so that they can progress someone safely through routines,” Sedlack continued. “We hire black belts or the highest professional caliber, even Olympic caliber instructors. When done correctly, there are no injuries to members progressing.”

The same goes for Elite Sports Clubs that have extensive tennis programs. Tennis pros have the experience and training to properly instruct members at all different levels, Karrels explained. The staff needs to be properly trained in all areas of the club including those that deal with what to do in case of an incident and emergency. “Once you establish a training program you must be diligent in managing the delivery of the program,” DePersia said. “The trainings must be consistent in content and regularly delivered. Topics cannot be short cut, expectations cannot vary from site to site, and education tools must be the same across the board. Knowledge is power and while safety training can feel repetitive, repetition is the key to an employee remembering how you want them to handle safety, security and emergency situations. An employee not being prepared for these types of situations can be costly, not just financially, but physically and in regards to reputation in your community.”

There are extra ways clubs can be protecting their members. Sedlack said members at the UFC Gym get put through a fundamental class where they learn about different classes and their current experience level. This helps new members not to over extend themselves too soon and risk injury.

Having AEDs could save a member’s life. They are currently required in 11 states, but clubs that do not have one, run the risk of being seen as acting with indifference to the welfare and safety of its patrons and possibly negligent for any deaths that may result from a cardiac event, said Paul LeBlanc, the owner of Zogics. When looking to purchase AEDs, note that there are some differences. “Look for a unit from a well known manufacturer that is easy to use and provides clear instructions on what to do during a cardiac event,” LeBlanc said. “Some AEDs also provide CPR instructions, which can be very valuable in emergency situations. Most AEDs require a prescription. The Philips OnSite AED, however, is available over the counter without a prescription, making it easier and less expensive to own.”

Members’ personal information must be taken into account as well when discussing liability. Amy Bullock, a marketing associate at Affiliated Acceptance, suggested that clubs keep any paper records in a locked cabinet with limited employee access as well as restricted access to computerized records. “Consequences of not taking proper action could result in identity theft, lawsuit and/or fines from credit card companies,” she said.

Having security cameras in place also provides a sense of safety for members. “There are monitors in our café that show members they are being taped,” Sedlack said. “I don’t care who you are, people act differently when there’s a camera around. Whether it’s walking taller, or possibly changing their behavior.”

Karrels echoed the importance of security cameras. Elite Sports Clubs has cameras at the front desk of its aquatic areas that provide a second set of eyes. He also strongly suggested that clubs remember the importance of proper staffing — having the appropriate number of staff during peak hours.

Having the appropriate staff-to-participant ratio can save a club from claims. “We follow the state requirements for licensed childcare facilities in determining our childcare child-to-attendant ratio policies,” DePersia explained. “We are not licensed, but we feel that by maintaining a ratio that is approved by the state, we are operating at the highest level of safety and security required to properly care for children. The pools that require lifeguards are staffed based on the number of participants in the pool area at any given time of day.”

Being as proactive as possible will save your club the headaches that come later with insurance claims and any negative attention that may give your club a bad reputation. “If you have safe, well-built facilities, you hire the right people and you acclimate them to the organization and are proactive with their certification, then your claims and premiums should go down,” Sedlack said. “I think it’s just about doing the right thing.” -CS

By Ali Cicerchi

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