As fitness professionals, our first and foremost concern for anyone that we are working with should be his or her safety. It’s just the basis for being ethically responsible as a professional. If we are delivering safe, effective programs and services then everything else should take care of itself. A risk management plan will allow us to rest easy and those people that we are working with can trust that we are doing what is in their best interest.
Managing risk is also vitally important to our integrity and we must uphold professional standards. Obviously in managing risk we also want to protect ourselves from liability. Many people think that carrying fitness liability insurance is all you really need to do to cover yourself. Unfortunately they are misinformed and that is actually the last step in managing risk. If you implement the following steps, you can be confident that you are taking the necessary precautions and making safety a priority for those who you work with.
1. Safe Environment
We no longer operate in what we once knew as traditional gym spaces. From outdoor classes to adventure races and “boxes”, we have to take care of our spaces and the equipment in them. Using an organized, methodical way to check-up on our spaces being in good working order is important. Besides, as a gym member, there is nothing more annoying than showing up to use something only to find that it’s broken. Professional organizations like the ACSM provide comprehensive checklists that can be easily implemented and allow you to be proactive instead of reactive to environmental, space, and equipment problems. As you expand your scope and move your services around, you need to realize that risk will expand as well.
2. Laws and Standards of Practice
Obviously we are not all experts of the law. If you are an entrepreneur you absolutely must have access to a professional for legal advice. If you are working for an employer, you still need to be on top of the law and this can vary greatly from state to state. Standards of practice are often times outlined by professional organizations through Code of Ethics and Position Stand Statements. These are examples of places that you can start to look to as you familiarize yourself with basic standards of care. Working within your scope of practice is important here as well.
3. Qualified Staff
How do you define qualified? Good question. For some professionals it’s formal education, for others it is experience and certifications. The bottom line is, you need to make sure that you and your staff hold the necessary credentials to support and defend what you are practicing. If you are faced with any type of litigation your (and your staff) credentials, skills, and experience will be scrutinized. If you don’t have a basic standard of qualifications for you or those you work with, it might come back to haunt you. Imagine a judge asking a question about your qualifications. They don’t care how many followers you have on Instagram. They want to know whether or not you were qualified to be working with someone in the first place.
Be proactive and comprehensive with screening clients and members for health risks or dangers. Unfortunately, our global population is suffering from chronic disease and with that brings huge risk when working with people who are sedentary and unhealthy. But we must also realize that we cannot judge a book by its cover and even those who appear fit or healthy may be an accident waiting to happen. We must practice due diligence in screening individuals to make sure that they are ready to begin or continue an exercise program. Sometimes that means working with a clients medical provider to determine what type of modifications need to be made to get them ready to participate. All too often there are accidents, injuries, and even death due to the fact that a thorough review of risk was not conducted. The ACSM has a very methodical and comprehensive standard for conducting risk assessments.
5. Emergency Action Plan
Hopefully emergency situations are rare, but you need to have a plan for when something does happen. And beyond that, you need to train your staff on what to do and PRACTICE it! Being trained on an emergency procedure is great, but if you don’t review and practice how to handle those situations, you can easily forget what to do when there is a real emergency.
Let’s face it, no one likes paperwork but you absolutely must have proper paperwork and documentation in place to have clients understand and assume responsibility for their actions. Before they do though, make sure that you are taking the time to thoroughly explain the potential risks that are associated with whatever it is you are doing with them. Having someone sign-off on waivers and informed consent does not give you a blank check. There are many examples of professionals and organizations being sued even after paperwork has been signed. Explain things to people. It helps build rapport and trust.
When all else fails, you do want to have insurance. There are different types of insurance based on the work you are doing and whether or not you are responsible for physical space. This is where that legal professional helps. Hopefully all of the steps that you have taken prior to this will be in place to prevent any legal action against you. But it’s always good to be prepared and there are several resources for reduced rates on liability insurance available to fitness professionals through their professional memberships.