Do You Have a Pandemic Plan?

by Ingrid Knight-Cohee, MSc on Nov 24, 2009

Take a calm, positive approach to flu protection in your facility.

With cold and flu season underway, and the added threat of H1N1, it would be wise for fitness facility owners and operators to take extra precautionary measures to protect their staff and members from exposure and infection. Fitness facilities can be breeding grounds for bacteria, and it is no easy task to keep equipment and facilities germ free—or to convince members to adhere consistently to proper hygienic practices.

At the YWCA Health + Fitness Centre in Vancouver, we pride ourselves on above-average cleaning and disinfecting practices. Even with these standards—and the presence of hand sanitizer stations throughout our facility—we decided this season to deploy a pandemic plan through a “Have a Clean Workout” blitz. Our positive approach—which drew the desired response from members—is one that your facility may wish to use as an example.

Have a Clean Workout

We first delivered the “clean blitz” message to staff, volunteers and contracted instructors through a formal letter, which outlined our concern for their well-being and the well-being of our clients. We knew that health authorities had already identified H1N1 as a global pandemic and that local expectations were that a large percentage of our population could become infected. The letter outlined the following points and strategies:

  • During pandemic activity, cleaning staff will increase the frequency and intensity of daytime cleanings in all public areas (including elevator buttons, turnstiles, door handles, etc.).
  • Members are encouraged to wipe down cardio and weight training equipment both before and after use during the heightened cold and flu season.
  • Yoga mats are to be wiped down before use (avoid wiping them after use unless there is time to let the mats dry before rolling them up).
  • Instructors are to receive and use their own personal wind screens for microphones (with the exception of the indoor cycling microphone, which should be wiped down with a dry towel).
  • Fitness coaches (weight training instructors) are asked to assist in wiping down equipment and educating members to do the same.

Additionally, our message also encouraged staff, volunteers and members to do the following:

  • Perform frequent hand washing (for at least 20 seconds).
  • Use hand sanitizer stations before and after workouts.
  • Cough or sneeze into elbows and avoid touching the eyes, mouth or nose.
  • Obtain the flu vaccine as well as the H1N1 vaccine.
  • Stay home if you have flulike signs and symptoms.

Member Involvement

The letter also informed staff, volunteers and trainers how to educate members and encourage them to enhance their facility hygiene through the Have a Clean Workout blitz. We offered these suggestions:

  • Place signage that reads “Pssst! Don’t forget to wipe me before and after use!” on cardio equipment.
  • Pass out fliers listing the same tips on hand washing, etc., that were stated in the letter.
  • Include hygiene reminders on the instructors’ weekly “Talk It Up” sheet, and read the reminders aloud, along with other announcements, before or after classes.
  • Offer tips for reducing cold and flu risk in a special section of the monthly e-newsletter.

The perceived inconvenience of wiping down equipment both before and after use was the only recommendation that garnered some grumbling from members. However, when framed as a healthy behavior for the protection and safety of all, people soon came around. Staff also made a point of circulating in the facility to assist with wiping down equipment—and of course followed the recommendations themselves in their own workouts. The positive example set by staff was effective in influencing behavior change.

We were conscious of not jumping on the “pandemic panic” bandwagon already fueled by the media, but we also felt it responsible and prudent to be proactive by stepping up our cleaning and sanitation practices, given a recent outbreak. It is our hope that both staff and members continue to be aware of how easily infection and disease can spread, and that we’re all part of the solution.



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About the Author

Ingrid Knight-Cohee, MSc

Ingrid Knight-Cohee, MSc IDEA Author/Presenter

Ingrid Knight-Cohee, MS, is the associate director of the YWCA Vancouver Health and Fitness Centre. She holds a master's degree in exercise psychology and specializes in inspiring individuals, corporate groups and teams to optimal health and performance through research-based innovative programming. Ingrid was BCRPA Personal Trainer of the Year in 2005 and co-finalist for the 2007 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Award.