NSF Health and Fitness Facilities Standard Withdrawn

NSF International has withdrawn the NSF 341 Health/Fitness Facilities Standard that was adopted in 2012 as an American national standard for fitness facility certification. The standard would have allowed club owners and operators to have their club certified under the guidelines of the standard, which included definitions of the components of a health or fitness facility as well as forms for a facility safety audit and a safety inspection.

The withdrawal comes after an appeal was made to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which directed NSF International to withdraw the standard. The decision was effective July 29 and was announced last month.

"NSF is disappointed and does not agree with the decision to withdraw NSF 341 Health/Fitness Facilities Standard as an American National Standard," NSF International said in a statement to Club Industry. "In fact, this is a reversal of a previous decision which was in favor of NSF. NSF maintains extraordinary rigor and integrity of its standards development process and will continue to work with stakeholders (including industry representatives, public health/regulatory officials and users/consumer representatives) to advance the NSF Standard."

NSF International, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization based in Ann Arbor, MI, adds that it plans to move forward with the standard and will continue to develop the certification program to support the standard.

The ANSI executive standards council made the decision upon an appeal. Attorney David Herbert filed a complaint with ANSI in October 2012 that was dismissed by the council in March 2013, according to a letter from ANSI obtained by Club Industry. Herbert filed an appeal, and the ANSI appeals board ruled in November 2013 that the standard warranted further review and requested a special audit.

At issue was the representation of the NSF joint committee and its affiliation with the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). In the audit, ANSI determined that 14 of the 21 NSF joint committee members were affiliated with or had some affiliation with the NCCA.

Herbert has opposed the standard dating back to when it was in draft form. One of Herbert's main problems with the standard was the definition of acceptable accrediting organizations for personal trainer certifying companies. The NSF definition listed the NCCA as the agency to provide third-party approval for certifying agencies.

Herbert said the definition also should have included the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, both of which IHRSA included in addition to the NCCA in its recommendation about certification companies for personal trainers.

"The industry has done an awful lot since 2005 to comply with IHRSA's recommendation," Herbert said in 2010. "At this point, to take those five years and throw them out the window, when all of these organizations have gone through accreditation in one fashion or another, would be contrary to what IHRSA recommended a long time ago."

Herbert and other applicants to the joint committee claimed that because the joint committee did not have members who are representatives of non-NCCA accredited organizations, the committee did not reflect a balance of interests and that its membership remained below the cap of 34 members. The special audit found that the NSF "handled applications inconsistently."

The NSF confirmed that the cap on the joint committee's membership was 34 and that there were 20 members on the joint committee at the time the vote was taken on the health and fitness facilities standard. It also acknowledged that the process for seating on the joint committee was flawed and that it would take steps to address the concern.

"While NSF provided a comprehensive corrective action plan to prospectively address most of the procedural concerns raised in the appeal, it largely conceded that substantial irregularities occurred in the development of NSF 341," ANSI wrote in the letter. "The [ANSI executive standards council] is very troubled by the record, despite NSF's corrective action plan, and reminds NSF of its obligation, as an ANSI Audited Designator, to ensure the integrity of its ANSI standards development process in all instances."

Jay Del Vecchio, president and CEO of W.I.T.S. Education, Virginia Beach, VA, approves of the decision to withdraw the standard as it relates to certifications for personal trainers.

"The recent ANSI-NSF ruling to not accept NCCA as a standalone standard of acceptance for the quality of fitness certifications says volumes," Del Vecchio says. "A certification of merit includes serious higher learning components to be valid for a health occupation. A psychometrically reviewed written exam is not enough. The ANSI-accredited International Association of Continuing Education and Training (IACET) is another such group that needs to be implemented as a formal review for a standard in our industry."

Herbert says the withdrawal of the standard will help ensure balance in the fitness professional certification industry through certifiers accredited by either the NCCA or the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC).

"DETC-accredited fitness professional certifiers have certified more than 500,000 fitness professionals to date in the United States and approximately 75 other countries," Herbert says.

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