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How Health Clubs Can Keep a Lid on Equipment-Based Risk

Proactive protection is the best kind and your machines represent a great opportunity to cover your business before any accident ever happens.

“I generally start my sermon on reducing risk by stating that most club accidents can be prevented,” says Lance C. Brenn, claims litigation analyst at K&K Insurance Group, Inc.

There are a number of issues to consider when it comes to risk reduction in clubs: the potential for wet area slip-and-fall, the pitfalls often found in member agreements, and more. One area in which you can proactively protect your business is being aware of liability—and mitigating it—around equipment.

“Poorly maintained equipment can cause serious injuries and therefore increased claim experience and premium increases,” asserts Brenn. “Lawsuits lead to substantial legal expenses and uncertainties with their resolution. Responding to lawsuits takes significant time and resources on the part of club staff. Club membership can suffer and decline if equipment is not maintained. Clubs that have equipment continually out of service do not demonstrate a well-run operation.”

The types of injuries that can arise, he notes, can vary significantly, from minor lacerations and contusions to concussions and traumatic brain injuries. Most injuries involving lacerations also require suturing. Depending on how the member is using the equipment at the time, serious dental and facial injuries can also occur.

Minimizing Risk

Maintenance is critical and key to averting equipment failure.

“The majority of equipment failures involve cable snap-offs with multi-station and pull-down machines,” he says. “In most situations, cable frays are what eventually lead to failure. We also see nuts that connect to the cables become worn and, over time, fail. Carabiner clips that connect the pull-down bar is another common problem. But issues like these can be easily corrected by regular inspections and preventive maintenance, not to mention that they are inexpensive to repair or replace.”

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Proactively approaching equipment-based risk doesn’t need to be difficult. IHRSA’s How to Prevent Injuries in Your Health Club offers several tips to help you monitor and check the functionality of your equipment, keep club members safe, and decrease injury liability risks. It’s crucial to note:

  • How often equipment is inspected. Equipment should be regularly inspected and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some malfunctions or broken equipment are not immediately apparent to the eye. Club staff should keep maintenance logs for all equipment and create a regular schedule for equipment inspections.

  • Where and how the equipment is placed and positioned. For instance, take note of how much space is available between machines. If someone were to fall off a treadmill, where would they land?

  • How you can minimize the chance of tripping hazards. Do all pieces of mobile equipment have obvious storage areas? Are these utilized regularly by patrons? If weights have appropriate locations, but are left on the floor by patrons, you could be liable for resulting injuries.

  • How members use equipment. Improper equipment use is an obvious source of injury. Make staff members available to demonstrate proper use techniques.

  • How often equipment is cleaned. Create and enforce a strict cleaning schedule, in which all equipment and training areas are sanitized regularly to decrease bacterial risks. To ensure regular cleanings, keep clear records of when all cleanings occurred.

“Inspections should be regular and routine and logs should be kept,” adds Brenn. “An outside vendor should be considered to come in to make inspections, recommendations, and perform repairs and replace worn parts. Most equipment manufacturers will provide a schedule of inspections and parts replacements in their operation manuals. These recommendations should be taken seriously and complied with. Failure to do so can assign negligence to the club.”

In addition to maintenance, educating members in the proper use of equipment—and accompanying supervision and clear signage—can help shield a club from risk.

“We continue to see more and more treadmill fall-off claims and litigation,” writes Matt O’Malley in Is Your Gym’s Waiver Unnecessary?. “Many result in very serious injuries. The common denominator to litigation is defective equipment. I see many allegations alleging the treadmill motherboard was possessed and inexplicably sped up out of control causing the member to be ejected off. The truth is that the cause of these types of claims is usually user error and it comes in many forms, including inattention, distraction, and failing to learn the operations of the machine.”

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Insuring Protection Against Equipment Risk

K&K Insurance offers customized insurance programs for a variety of fitness facilities, based on facility size, annual revenue, and services offered.

The foundation for risk reduction for any facility is often a commercial general liability policy. It covers injuries or damages that happen on your premises; that occur as a result of services you perform, whether on or off your business' property; that happens because of work that you or an employee has completed, or that occur as a result of the products that you provided.

“The commercial general liability policy K&K offers provides excellent coverage as to member or third-party liability claims and injuries,” notes Brenn. “Also, some level of excess coverage should be considered to protect against a catastrophic claim.”

To learn more about the risk-reduction products and services offered by K&K Insurance, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to IHRSA.org.