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Practical Loss Prevention Advice from a Fitness Insurance Veteran

Having your club39s staff provide adequate supervision of all fitness areas is one way to prevent injuries and potential insurance claims Photo by Thinkstock

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Don't let insurance claims put you out of business. They cost you money both in increased insurance premiums and loss of revenue due to dissatisfied members and negative word of mouth advertising in your community.

Below are the most common claims that we see in insurance programs that have specialized in the fitness industry over the past 30 years along with prevention techniques for each area.

Group Exercise

Most common claims:

  • Worker's compensation claims for instructors with knee and back pain. These claims are increasing in number and severity due to the repetitive motion injuries from teaching high to even moderate impact classes over long periods of time on hard surfaces. Members have also filed similar claims sighting flooring as the cause of their injuries.
  • Members slipping or falling on wet floors. Whether a floor surface is wet from a water leak, wet shoes or sweat, it becomes the liability of the fitness facility if a participant falls or injures themselves due to the slickness.
  • Members falling on steps/balls or mats with slick tread surfaces.

Prevention:

  • New and better floor systems are available to prevent repetitive motion injuries for both members and trainers. These will prevent claims that cost you money, and they also will help you both retain existing members and sign up new ones.
  • Keep the floor surface dry with regular inspection throughout the day. Instructors should be informed to put a priority on drying off the floor before, during and after class if it gets wet.
  • Inspect all accessories regularly and replace them when the surface is worn, torn or stretched (steps, balls and mats).

Strength Equipment         

Most common claims:

  • Injuries due to moving parts that are loose or come off, such as pull-down bars. This is by far the most common claim involving strength equipment, and it is almost always the fault of the facility for its lack of maintenance. If a machine's design flaw causes an injury the manufacturer can be held liable, but if failure to maintain equipment causes an injury then the club is liable.
  • Improper adjustment of seats or movement arms such as not securing the seat before putting weight on it. As the grooves and fastenings wear on machines, a seat adjustment can become more difficult to set in place or easier to slip back out of place. We are seeing more injuries from worn fastening on seat adjustments.

Prevention:

  • Perform regular maintenance per the manufacturer's guidelines. Keep maintenance logs. Always keep members off of broken equipment.
  • Replace torn or worn parts of equipment immediately.
  • Make any changes that the manufacturer has recommended for safety such as replacing the seat adjustment mechanism.
  • Update your equipment sooner rather than later, if there have been design changes by the manufacturer. Old equipment is causing more claims now than we ever saw in the past.

Accessories       

Most common claims:

  • Members using balls and balance boards improperly. It is very easy to go into clubs right now and see members and even some personal trainers performing unsafe activities with balls and balance equipment.
  • Exercise bands that "snap" and pop back on the member. These can result in significant injuries, especially to the eyes.
  • Falls due to tripping hazards. Tripping hazards are steps that are not clearly marked, electrical cords, free weights and other accessories that have been left in disarray.
  • Slip and falls due to worn surfaces. Mats, steps, flooring treads that are worn are all slip and fall hazards.

Prevention:

  • Provide adequate staff for supervision of all fitness areas. Empower your staff to intervene if they see an unsafe practice in the facility.                     
  • Replace worn, torn and dirty bands, mats and balls immediately. Pay close attention to bands.
  • Implement a schedule to replace accessories before they become worn or cause a hazard. This is easy and inexpensive and will both prevent injuries and improve member satisfaction.
  • Keep the stretching area and free weight area orderly.

Cardio Equipment         

Most common claims:

  • Stepping on or off of a moving treadmill. This type of claim has been around for the last 30 years, and it is still the most common cardio equipment injury. Although we are seeing members using treadmills inappropriately as they try to be creative with their training now as well.
  • Falls due to improper footwear. Injuries due to the use of nontraditional footwear on cardio vascular equipment are on the rise.
  • Falls due to elevated platforms. These injuries can be severe as they combine speed and height.

Prevention:

  • Safety signage is the best way to prevent injuries with moving equipment. In addition to the standard signs warning against getting on or off of a piece of moving equipment, it should be very clear that walking or running sideways or backwards on a treadmill is never permitted for the safety of the member.
  • Staff should immediately intervene and stop participants from using any equipment in any way other than how it was designed for use. It is never a good idea to sacrifice safety for variety.                
  • Require proper footwear in your facility. No sandals or flip flops should be worn in the fitness area.
  • Relocate cardio equipment if needed, so that there is not an additional distance to fall. Use additional signage for cardio equipment that is designed with a higher profile off the ground.

Summary

Taking the necessary steps to prevent injuries and insurance claims today is an investment in the future of your fitness business. The money that you spend on prevention will keep your insurance costs down for years to come. Member satisfaction and retention also increase when they see more staff on the floor, new accessories and equipment replaced regularly. Prevention is a win-win for you and your members. It also enhances the image of our entire industry.

BIO

Jennifer Urmston Lowe is the national accounts manager for Sports & Fitness Insurance (SFIC). She has been a licensed insurance agent insuring health clubs and fitness centers since 1998. As the daughter of John Urmston, former chief operating officer of Nautilus, chairman of the Fitness Products Council and member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Lowe grew up in the industry and began attending Nautilus seminars in the 1980s. Prior to joining SFIC, she was the general manager of two personal training fitness centers and three corporate wellness centers. Contact Lowe at [email protected] or 800-844-0536 ext. 2333.

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