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How Do I Handle an Injured Participant, Problem Solver

How do I handle an in-class injury? I know the injured person needs immediate attention, but what are the logistics of dealing with the rest of the group? How can I be responsible to both the class and the injured person? Any ideas that will keep me out of legal hot water plus handle the situation effectively?

Shirley Archer, Palo Alto, California

The best way to approach any emergency is to visualize your response plan before an emergency arises. Be familiar with your facility’s emergency action plans. Know where the nearest first aid kits, emergency call buttons and emergency exits are in case you need to evacuate. Know where the incident report forms are and how to complete them. Make sure you introduce yourself to other facility staff, such as front desk assistants or lifeguards (if you are working out in a pool area). Think of them as part of your response team.

I also highly recommend being certified in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Many common incidents require a first aid response, although a cardiac emergency is certainly more life threatening.

Now consider the event: A person becomes seriously injured or ill during your class and needs immediate attention. If you need to keep other class participants moving, ask a regular class participant to step in and lead the class while you attend to the injured or ill participant. The chosen class leader should move everyone away from the injured person and then bring the class to a safe cool-down. In a situation involving a less severe illness or injury, such as a twisted ankle, enlist a reliable class participant to help by getting someone from the front desk who can then assist the injured participant. But first, you should immediately move the class away from the injured party. Here again, you can have a reliable regular class participant take over the class briefly while you attend to the injured person’s needs. If a participant faints in class, you should immediately contact emergency medical services. In this case, I recommend that the instructor stay with the injured person and have a reliable person call 911.

Following any incident, you must complete an incident report form. Such a form should include the signatures of witnesses to the event, the full name and contact information of the injured person and a factual explanation of the events. Record objective facts only. The report form can later be used as evidence in a legal proceeding, so you must fill it out completely, accurately and immediately.

Kamla Hoekstra, Surrey, British Columbia

One way to prepare for an accident is to begin each class with a brief review of the events that should take place if something happens. Educate your participants about the importance of a proper cool-down so you can reduce or eliminate that explanation if an emergency occurs. Suggest that your director place a “What to Do in an Emergency” poster close to the fitness studio so everyone is aware of the standard protocol. Then before each class, make sure you know the name of at least three participants so you can quickly call on them if you need assistance.

An in-class injury will most likely occur during the
cardiovascular component of the class. In the event of an injury, your responsibilities are twofold: Give the injured participant immediate attention and avoid further emergency situations by gradually lowering the group’s heart rate. Turn the music down or off. Quickly and effectively delegate one of your participants to make sure the group keeps marching on the spot for at least five minutes. Let the group know that at the end of five minutes, class will terminate if you are still occupied.

Promptly attend to the needs of the injured participant. Be aware that the hurt individual may be embarrassed.
If you can safely move the person to a more private setting, then do so with the person’s permission. Before you return to the class, confirm that the injured participant is receiving proper first aid care from others on staff.

Having documentation showing that safe and proper teaching techniques and proper action were taken during the emergency situation will help in your defense if a lawsuit is filed. So document the incident! Then forward a copy to your insurance company for review.

Michelle Klee, Sprockhoevel, Germany

Let’s take the case of a participant who slips off her step in the middle of the cardiovascular phase of class. Imagine she is sitting on the floor in obvious pain, awaiting help. You seemingly have several options for handling the situation:

1. You can let her sit in place until you finish class because you are almost done, then attend to her injury.

2. You can ask one of your regular participants to check out the situation for you as you continue with your grapevine-pivot-over-the-top combo.

3. You can bring your group to a basic march or step-touch, go to the injured person, assess the situation, then send one of the regular participants to fetch another staff member.

I hope none of you chose answer 1 or 2! Decision making follows a specific pathway: First, assess the situation. Second, decide on a plan of action. Third, take that action. Fourth, reassess the situation, which leads to one of two final options—either you have reached your goal or you need to create a new plan of action and restart from the second step. If the action does not achieve the desired goal of taking care of the person and continuing with the class, then you need to reassess the situation. Maybe the injury requires more attention or the room needs to be cleared. As long as you are clear in your desired goal and use the decision-making process, you will be able to handle any emergency.


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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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