Fire, Falls, Germs: Is Your Facility Safe?

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on Oct 20, 2011

We all understand that accidents happen. Unfortunately, in the fitness industry, lawsuits happen as well. And it takes only one small incident to put you out of business. As owners and managers, you must take every reasonable measure to keep your facility safe. The following risk management practices will help you protect members, staff and all property.

Educate Staff

Train staff to recognize impending dangers before accidents happen. Require employees to walk through the facility regularly, examining all equipment and surfaces for potential problems. This process should include a thorough check of every room in your facility, plus outside areas. Staff should be looking for anything that could pose a safety hazard, from wet spots in the locker rooms to weights left out in the open to an uncovered outlet in the childcare area (Eason 2007). In addition to scrutinizing equipment and surfaces, staff must regularly check that all exits are clearly marked, well illuminated and not blocked by either equipment or people. Staff should immediately remedy and document any problems found during these walk-throughs. Use a facility maintenance log to ensure inspections are done at regular intervals.

Gym injuries are very often caused by slipping and falling. Falls can occur on wet surfaces, around general clutter, on uneven surfaces created by unsecured mats or ripped carpet or on slippery stairs. Common causes of outdoor falls include uncleared ice or snow, debris, cracked pavement or potholes. Make sure your outdoor property and parking lot are a safe zone as much as the inside of your gym. Train staff to watch all exercisers closely. Many individuals overdo it when working out, thinking they will achieve better results. Employees must always keep their eyes open for warning signs that someone’s health could be in danger. Signals to look for are dizziness; swelling of the face, hands or feet; or signs that someone is in any sort of pain, no matter how little. If members are misusing equipment, staff should prevent injuries by talking to the members immediately and showing them correct form; staff should not wait until a member asks how to use a piece of equipment.

Educate Members

Educate not only staff but also members. Conduct regular sessions to instruct them on the importance of gym safety principles. In your safety classes, encourage members to do the following:

  • Keep all personal belongings in lockers. Do not leave gym bags or purses on the gym floor, even if they appear to be out of the way. Leaving belongings on the floor poses tripping hazards and increases the risk of theft.
  • Protect against germs and bacteria by frequently washing hands, wearing flip-flops in the locker room (instead of going barefoot) and covering any breaks or cuts on the skin.
  • Never share towels, razors, sweatbands, goggles or other personal items that could contain sweat or germs.
  • Warm up and cool down. Warming up before any physical activity stretches the muscles and loosens the blood vessels for better blood circulation. Equally important, cooling down gently after working out helps the pulse return to normal and limbers up muscles.
  • Maintain proper form when using weights and cardio equipment. Ask for assistance if unsure of proper technique or unclear on how to use a piece of equipment.

Legal Protection

Having appropriate gym insurance coverage and security cameras will also promote safety. These items are the bare minimum your facility should have. Ultimately, recording everything you do in the pursuit of safety is the most important step you can take. Detailed documentation–of all hazards found, all repairs undertaken, all procedures followed in an emergency and all medical care given–will make all the difference in the event that you are faced with a lawsuit (Cohen 2010). Regular maintenance reports, incident reports and signed waivers help prove due diligence and protect facility owners and staff from liability.

For information on creating an emergency action plan, please see “Risk Management” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager.

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About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she is a health writer for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at