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    August 2019

    Fitness Center Safety and Supervision

    Fitness centers at K-12 schools and higher education institutions keep students healthy and active, but they also can create the potential for serious injuries. In a review of United Educators (UE) fitness center claims, most injuries arose out of improper use of fitness equipment or equipment malfunctions. Claimants alleged they would not have injured themselves had the school provided adequate training, supervision, and maintenance.

    To reduce the risk of injury at your institution’s fitness center, consider the following practices:

    Develop Fitness Center Policies and Procedures

    Institutions should develop policies and procedures that protect users from injury and inform them of risks inherent to fitness centers.

    • Require a signed release for all fitness center users. Signees would acknowledge risks associated with exercise and fitness equipment. Releases educate users about the activity’s risks and transfer liability to users. Institutions should consult with legal counsel in preparing or reviewing waivers, releases, assumption of risk, and other types of agreements, since applicable statutes and enforceability vary by state.

      Local attorneys also are best positioned to advise on the correct forms and required signatures to effectively release the 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.

      Adults using the facility after hours (and parents of minors using the facility) should 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 allows minors to use the facility after hours, the release should require parental supervision.
    • Implement fitness center rules of use. Require fitness center users to review the rules prior to using the center and sign an acknowledgment of those rules. 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; and reporting procedures for incidents, injuries, and damaged equipment.
    • Ensure there is appropriate supervision. 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 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; and the location of on-site emergency equipment including emergency phones, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

      Conduct a dry run using emergency scenarios at least once each year.

      Provide telephone or other communications devices throughout the center so users or employees can summon help in an emergency. Institutions should also consider installing AEDs in the fitness facility. Some states require AEDs in fitness centers, so check state law.

    Provide Proper Training and Signage

    In UE’s claims analysis, many injuries resulted from equipment misuse. For example, a gym visitor at one institution severed his finger when an incorrectly secured weight fell off the barbell and onto his knuckle.

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

    • Display proper signage about exercise equipment and machines. This will 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 automated external defibrillator (AED).
    • Provide user orientations. 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 the orientation.

    Conduct Maintenance

    Equipment malfunctions resulted in losses for several UE institutions. In one instance, a weight machine cable broke without warning, causing a student using it to fall and injure her face. Regular inspection and maintenance can reduce the prevalence of equipment failures.

    Conduct routine inspections. Fitness center staff should inspect the facility for problems daily, including all machines and equipment. Document these inspections to show that the institution used reasonable care in operating the center. Staff should quickly warn users of any hazards and report those hazards to the institution for prompt repair.

    Create an incident reporting system for staff to document all fitness center incidents in writing. Reports should include the facility user’s name and contact information, details of the incident, and any 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, review your state’s statute of limitations. 


    Checklist: Drafting Effective Releases

    Electronic Waivers

    Minors and the Use of Releases

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

    Waterloo School District Fitness Center Rules

    SUNY Oswego Fitness Center Policies and Procedures

    Mellen School District Release of Liability

    University of Nevada, Reno Waiver


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