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Risk Management Procedures for the New Normal

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As the industry finds its way in the new normal, clubs are taking into consideration enhanced cleaning procedures, increased ventilation and revised liability forms when it comes to risk management procedures.

“Gyms aren’t safe.”

Those three words were heard all too often in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple news organizations, from The Washington Post to the New York Times, raised the question, “Is it safe to go to the gym?”

That question alongside the pandemic has shifted club risk management considerations in the areas of member safety, liability and operational guidelines.

Some risk management steps, like face mask wearing, are new. Aaron Moore, the director of operations for VIDA Fitness in Washington D.C. and Virginia, said all six locations require face masks to be worn. “It’s a non-starter for us; it’s a business decision,” he said. “Everybody is in a face mask at all times. That’s how we are going to keep people safe; that’s how we’re going to get through the pandemic.”

Active Wellness also requires masks to be worn. Michele Wong, the chief operating officer, said their additional safety protocols include daily health screenings of employees, social distancing of equipment and proper signage.

Enhanced cleaning has shifted the risk management landscape as well.

Ken Reinig, the president of Reinig Insurance Solutions, said the standard of cleanliness in the gym will never be the same. “It will be vitally important to maintain an ‘over the top’ protocol for sanitation,” he shared. “All employees need to be onboard with the new normal concerning gym safety.”

Increased cleaning isn’t just benefiting risk management; it is also benefiting retention. “Clubs that have been known for their cleanliness and have maintained virtual programs have a better chance of retaining more of their members, as well as adding new memberships,” said Wong. 

Another large piece in risk management is ventilation. But it isn’t a new piece. Moore explained many jurisdictions have building code requirements regarding air changeover rates for gyms, which is something not talked about in the media and only known by facility managers. 

“These are ways gyms have kept people safe for years and years and years, but nobody knows about it,” said Moore.

Reevaluating your ventilation system, and adding items like portable HEPA filter air scrubber units can help manage risk and make your club a safer place. 

Beyond the physical space and operational risk management procedures, there are also considerations that have shifted when it comes to liability. Reinig said club owners need to be updating their waivers or assumption of risk forms. “These forms should now include warnings and hold harmless wording, letting the member know the club is not responsible if a member alleges they contracted an illness at the gym,” he said. “The waiver should also warn the member of the dangers involving off-site events and virtual training.”

Wong agreed with the waiver changes concerning exposure to communicable disease and participation in virtual programs. Active Wellness has configured its member management system to require every member to sign an updated waiver the first time they join a virtual program or visit a club. 

The reality is, things aren’t getting any easier. Wong said it’s unlikely the industry will see favorable changes in business interruption coverage. She expects the insurance market to be hardening and the choice of carriers will decrease. 

“Managing risk, reducing claims exposure and maintaining partnerships with carriers is going to be important for managing increases at renewal time,” said Wong. “Protecting the sustainability of the business requires balancing revenue and expenses with safety placed at the forefront of the new member value proposition. It is not only important to look at sustaining relationships with members and employees, but with suppliers and industry partners.” 

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