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Gym Owners: Can You Afford to Ignore the Health and Safety Revolution? |
Gym Owners: Can You Afford to Ignore the Health and Safety Revolution?
10/11/03 by Michael Smyth
If you are a gym owner, when was the last time you put your gym through a fitness assessment? You advise your customers to have fitness assessments every 6-8 weeks, but how does your gym rate for fitness? Is it as safe for your customers and staff as it should be?
An accident waiting to happen?
I regularly use my local gym and push myself quite hard on the equipment. Sometimes, I do interval training on the running machine which is located on a mezzanine floor overlooking the swimming pool. The mezzanine floor is fenced off with some railings, which, when I'm standing, come to my waist. When I'm on the running machine though, due to the extra height, the top railing only comes up to my mid thigh. That means my centre of gravity is above the top of the railing. Now the law of gravity and moments being what it is, if I were to lose balance I may topple and land on the concrete edge beside the swimming pool.
The consequences can be catastrophic
I estimate the fall to be about 10 feet, so the injuries could range from broken limbs to death, depending on how I landed. However, not only would I be in a bad state but so would the gym owner. They are presently failing to take proper care for my safety. To avoid such an accident all they have to do is raise the fencing a few feet - a minimal cost in comparison to the likely fine they would receive once prosecuted.
Am I to blame for other people's carelessness?
It's true that most people are held legally responsible for their own actions. However, in some situations the law says that others may also be responsible. In the gym scenario, an accident may occur through the stupidity of a member doing a workout. However, the gym owner may also be partly responsible for the accident by not providing a safe environment to train in. So shifting the blame may be possible but it may not absolve you completely from responsibility. You can't assume that everybody is as safety conscious as you, especially in situations where members are pushing their bodies very hard and the risk of accident is high.
How safety conscious are your trainers?
Another area of danger is where your gym instructors do something that cause an accident to one of your members. If your gym instructors are employees, then you are responsible for their actions, irrespective of whether you are directly at fault or not. The situation is slightly different if your trainers are self employed. If you're not sure which they are then you ought to find out soon.
Are we really at risk (or is this just scaremongering)?
It may be, that up until now you've had a great safety record. Is that a reason not to be concerned? Very few had even considered the risk of planes being flown into buildings before September 11th, but now every precaution is taken with air travel to prevent a repetition. Don't wait until you are prosecuted before you do something, and here's the reason why you shouldn't.
Why New Zealand is different to other parts of the world
In New Zealand Health and Safety standards have traditionally been lower than in other parts of the world. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that New Zealand is the only country to adopt the ACC scheme of accident compensation. This means that an individual's ability to sue someone for personal injury is virtually non existent.
Consequently, compensation awards are lower for victims and there is a decreased incentive for organisations to implement proper standards of risk management. We may laugh at some of the law suits brought in the US, but they do promote a greater awareness of health and safety issues. The second reason is that the fines imposed by the old Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 were very small with the average fine being a mere $6000. Some organisations even insured against this risk making their exposure only the cost of the premium. Where is the incentive to take proper care?
Why it's going to change
In response to New Zealand's poor health and safety record, the government has now introduced a new Act which is going to have a profound effect on all business owners. Gym owners will be particularly exposed due to the nature of their business. Here are the major changes in a nutshell.
Huge fines: The maximum fine under the new legislation is $500,000. Whilst this will be reserved for the most serious of offence it still represents a tenfold increase from the old Act. We can expect therefore that the average fine under the new Act will be nearer $60,000 than $6,000.
No Insurance: Under the new Act it is illegal to obtain insurance for health and safety fines. That means gyms will have to self insure: in other words take all possible care to prevent accidents.
More criminal prosecutions: Under the new Act there will be spot checks to ensure compliance with health and safety standards and also private individuals will be able to bring prosecutions. This may prove a popular option for some victims given the inability to sue in the civil courts.
3 Tips for keeping your gym in shape
Tip #1 - Obtain an independent safety assessment: this is equivalent to your fitness assessment. You need to do this right at the outset so you know where the hazards are and what to do about them. You can do it yourself but you're more likely to miss things in your own environment. Doctors are advised never to carry out self diagnosis and lawyers are always told that their worst clients are themselves. The same principle applies here.
Tip #2 - have comprehensive health and safety procedures and policies: this is a must, and if you don't have them, or they are inadequate, you leave yourself very exposed. The risk of an accident can't always be eliminated but if you have well drafted health and safety policies then you may be able to avoid subsequent prosecution and conviction.
Tip #3 - ensure that your staff are trained in health and safety issues: no matter how good your policies and procedures may be, if your staff don't implement them they are useless. A health and safety induction should be an essential part of their training. This will not only minimise the risk of accident, but, if an accident does occur and a prosecution follows, it will at the very least be a good mitigating factor to reduce any fine awarded.
Fitness trainers beware too!
If you are a self employed fitness trainer then the obligation to take care of your clients falls upon you as well as the gym. Are you alert to health and safety issues? Have you been fully trained in what you are instructing? Don't forget your neck may be on the line as well.
Is it time for a check up?
With the new Act still fresh on the statute books maybe now is a good time to get a check up. Can you afford to wait for an accident to happen?
SRMG can help in the following areas:
- Advising on health and safety assessments
- Drafting policies and procedures
- Advising on maintaining a health and safety programme
- Providing health and safety alerts to notify you of changes to existing legislation and how they affect you
- Advising on the employment status of fitness trainers and drafting their contracts
- Representing clients in health and safety prosecutions
To find out more about our expertise click here