1. Post signage in every area in the facility in which members/users may be exposed to an increased risk of injury or jeopardized health as a result of their participation. In this regard, taking a three ‘‘I’s’’ approach can serve the club well. Inform individuals of the risks involved in engaging in particular activities. Instruct members/users about what constitutes safe usage of an area. Instill within all individuals an awareness of what they can do to reduce their risk of suffering an injury or incurring a health problem in a particular area.
<2. Make sure that every member/user receives a pre-activity screening before engaging in a fitness program at the facility. A preactivity screening can help ensure that individuals who partake in a facility’s program offerings, as well as the club itself, are aware of any potential health conditions that might impact a member’s/user’s safe participation in a particular activity.
3. Make sure that every member completes a waiver-and-release before engaging in physical activity at the club. A waiver-and-release is a document that essentially informs members/users what they are getting into, riskwise, and requires members/users to ‘‘waive and release’’ the facility from any liability that might result from their participation in the club’s programs and services.
4. Have a written emergency response system in place. It is absolutely essential that every health/fitness facility has an emergency response system (policies and procedures) in place. This system must be reviewed and practiced regularly, as well as documented.
5. Have a public access defibrillation (PAD) program as part of the written emergency-response system. The key element of a sound PAD program is an automatic external defibrillator (AED) - a device that can detect certain life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and can administer an electric shock that can restore normal sinus rhythm.
6. Have an incident report process in place. Life does not always unfold as everyone would like it to. Stuff happens. As such, facilities should have incident report processes in place to properly document incidents affecting the health and safety of members/users.
7. Ensure that all employees have the requisite qualifications and experience to safely and effectively perform the responsibilities of their job. Facilities can limit their risk of liability by making sure that all employees are qualified to perform their jobs in a manner that does not compromise the health and safety of clubs’ members/users or their employees.
8. Establish a preventive maintenance program for the club’s facilities and equipment. One of the major sources of liability claims against health/fitness facilities involves equipment that does not function properly or has been improperly maintained. Both elements can be substantially addressed if a club institutes a well-documented preventive maintenance program that is performed on a regular basis.
9. Have a properly documented, Occupational Safety and Health Administration - compliant system in place for the handling of hazardous materials and bodily fluids. At a minimum, such a system should include specific steps to ensure that all employees are aware of and understand the relevant issues attendant to dealing with these materials and fluids and are trained to properly handle them.
10. Focus, focus, focus. Sound risk management must be a focal concern of every health/fitness facility. To do otherwise is fiscally and ethically irresponsible.
James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.
Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.