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Fitness Center Safety and Supervision

Alyssa Keehan, Esq.
May 2021
Help reduce the risk of injury at your institution’s fitness center.

A fitness center at your K-12 school, college, or university might keep students healthy and active, but it also can create the potential for serious injuries. In a review of United Educators’ (UE’s) fitness center claims, most injuries arose from improper use of fitness equipment or equipment malfunctions. Claimants alleged they would not have injured themselves if the institution had provided adequate training, supervision, and maintenance.

To reduce the risk of injury at your fitness center, consider these practices.

Develop Fitness Center Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures protect users from injury and inform them of risks inherent to fitness centers.

Require Signed Releases for All Users

Releases educate users about the activity’s risks and may transfer liability to users. Signees should acknowledge risks associated with exercise and fitness equipment and undertake these risks voluntarily.

Since applicable statutes and enforceability vary by state, consult with legal counsel when preparing or reviewing:

  • Waivers
  • Releases
  • Assumption of risk
  • Other types of agreements

Your attorney also is best positioned to advise on the correct forms and required signatures to effectively release your institution of liability for minors using the fitness center. Given the wide variation of state laws, counsel can determine whether a release or alternative risk transfer tool, such as an assumption of risk form, is preferable.

Have adults using the facility after hours (and parents of minors using the facility) sign a specific and narrowly tailored release of liability. The release should require users to follow all regular hours of operation rules and any additional after-hours rules that have been imposed to increase safety.

If your institution lets minors use the facility after hours, the release should require parental supervision.

Implement Fitness Center Rules of Use

Require users to review the rules — and sign an acknowledgement of those rules — prior to participating.

Rules should include:

  • Orientation prior to facility use
  • Hours of operation
  • Age restrictions
  • Attire requirements, such as exercise clothing and athletic shoes
  • Equipment requirements, such as age minimums and cleaning after use
  • Reporting procedures for incidents, injuries, and damaged equipment

Ensure Appropriate Supervision Is Available

A front desk attendant should be available to sign in and monitor users and respond to emergencies. During peak hours, additional staff should work throughout the center, providing guidance, support, and equipment instruction.

Create an Emergency Action Plan with Instructions for Emergency Situations

Action plans should include:

  • Responsibilities of identified personnel and a chain of command
  • Contact information for emergency medical service providers
  • The venue’s address and access points
  • The location of on-site emergency equipment including emergency phones, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and automated external defibrillators (AEDs)

At least once a year, conduct a dry run using emergency scenarios. Place phones or other communications devices throughout the center so users or employees can get help in an emergency. Also consider installing AEDs in the fitness facility. Some states require AEDs in fitness centers, so check state law.

Provide Proper Training and Signage

Training and signage are quick, effective ways to educate fitness center visitors on the proper use of equipment.

This might reduce claims from equipment misuse, such as the claim filed when a gym visitor at one institution severed his finger after an incorrectly secured weight fell off the barbell and onto his knuckle.

  • Display proper signage about exercise equipment and machines. This helps make users aware of correct use and possible risks. Include rules, policies, and cautionary and danger information where warranted. If your facility allows after-hours access, include disclaimer language that users do so at their own risk. Signage also should reference relevant portions of the emergency action plan.
  • Implement staff training. Train all fitness center staff to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use an AED.
  • Provide users orientation. Post policies and procedures on a fitness center website. Offer an optional in-person orientation for first-time users on the fitness equipment and emergency resources. Document which users receive orientation.

Conduct Maintenance

Regular inspection and maintenance can reduce the prevalence of equipment failures.

This might reduce claims from equipment malfunctions, such as the claim filed when a weight machine cable broke without warning, causing a student using it to fall and injure her face.

  • Have fitness center staff inspect the facility for problems daily. This includes all machines and equipment. Document these inspections to show your institution used reasonable care in operating the center. Staff should quickly warn users of any hazards and report those hazards to your institution for prompt repair.
  • Create an incident reporting system for staff to document in writing all fitness center incidents. Reports should include the facility user’s name and contact information, details of the incident, and alleged injuries. A manager should review all reports daily and conduct another inspection of any machines or equipment included in the reports. To determine how long to keep reports, work with your counsel to review your state’s statute of limitations.

 

More From UE

Checklist: Drafting Effective Releases

Electronic Waivers

Minors and the Use of Releases

Additional Resources

American College of Sports Medicine: Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines (Excerpt)

Waterloo School District: Fitness Center Rules

SUNY Oswego: Fitness Center Policies and Procedures

University of Nevada, Reno: Waiver