Current headlines in 2018 have the fitness industry, like most businesses in America, concerned about sexual abuse or cyber liability claims. We should take those exposures seriously because when they happen they do hurt people and cost a lot of money in settlements and damages. The reality we see every day in the fitness industry is that these high-profile claims are few in number and there are a vast number of claims that do not make the headlines but can still put a fitness business out of business.
Some of the largest claims over the past year are ones that fitness professionals and fitness business owners often overlook but can take steps to prevent.
Equipment and facility maintenance is a huge means of preventing claims. Worn treads on stairs or on group exercise steps lead to slip-and-fall claims. Cardio or strength equipment that is not serviced regularly or not taken out of service when not working properly can lead to claims. Any loose piece of fitness equipment, such as a pull-down bar, or building fixture, such as a rack, shelf or shower bar, that can fall on someone or cause someone to fall is a risk of a significant claim in today’s world. Perform regular maintenance in all areas of your facility and keep maintenance records. Use a qualified vendor to perform service when needed. Replace any worn or broken equipment promptly. Keep records of purchases and vendors.
Equipment should always be used as intended by the manufacturer. Allowing clients to walk backwards on a treadmill or sit on the floor to use a leg extension as an upper body machine or to stand on a piece of equipment that was not designed to bear bodyweight, are real examples of specific incidents that occurred this year that can lead to expensive claims. When a trainer instructs a client to use equipment in any way other than how it is intended by the manufacturer, they not only have their own professional liability exposure to consider regarding the appropriateness of the instruction itself, but they have also negated the product liability coverage provided by the manufacturer. This can cause a claim to fall entirely on the fitness professional and the facility where they train if a participant is injured. Proper use of all equipment is critically important to prevent claims and to mitigate the cost of a claim.
WHAT YOU DON’T SAY
It’s true! In our litigious society, professionals are concerned about what they say to clients. Making sure that clients are not offended in any way is of the utmost importance. However, for fitness professionals it is still critical to communicate comprehensively with clients. “Failure to instruct” is still a very common claim. A fitness professional is responsible for ensuring that clients know how to use equipment properly and how to perform exercises safely. It is also a key element of a fitness professional’s job to ask lots of questions when working with clients. Everything from, “How do you feel today?” or “What have you been doing today?” to “Do you have questions on any of the exercises that we have gone over today?” is important when working with a client. If a trainer does not ask how the client is feeling each day before they begin the workout they may miss key information about a client’s health, energy level or what other activities that they have already engaged in that day that might impact their workout. Ask questions and be prepared to change a client’s workout accordingly to prevent injury. Fitness professionals should not hesitate to back off on a workout and recommend that the client see their physician if the individual is not feeling well. Being cautious is the best way to prevent claims. When chatting with clients, however, always remember to keep conversation encouraging and professional.
All wet areas are a potential source of claims every day in the fitness industry. Wet areas include showers and changing areas, as well as group exercise floors and hot yoga rooms that get wet from sweat. Fitness business owners need to make sure that all shower areas have appropriate non-slip flooring and/or mats in place every day. Group exercise and yoga instructors need to check the floors and wipe up wet areas continuously throughout the day and even during classes to prevent injuries. It is important to understand that a slip-and-fall claim can be very expensive and even fatal for fragile participants or those with medical conditions. A broken hip can cost well over $100,000 in medical costs plus more for physical therapy. Anytime an individual is hospitalized other complications can occur that can increase health risks and expenses as well. Document safety precautions that you take for the wet areas in your business.
Preventing claims before they happen will save your business a lot money and potentially save your business’ reputation as well. Implement the use of maintenance plans. Regularly train employees on proper use of equipment. Verify that fitness professionals have current certifications. Document the purchase of safety equipment and train all staff in safety procedures. Prevention is always the best plan to protect your clients and your business.