School’s out and teens around the country are looking for fun ways to spend their free time. Many of these teenagers will be looking to exercise and get in shape and a fitness center is the perfect location. Some fitness centers, such as Planet Fitness, have already started tapping into this market by offering deals and even free memberships to teenagers for the whole summer. However, with the increased volume, there are a number of risks for which managers should be prepared.
Teenagers can be reckless; and, if gyms aren’t careful, they can be held liable for damages and injuries suffered at their locations. Also, certain services and facilities within a fitness center are not meant for teens and without careful restrictions and directions, these amenities can open up dangerous situations. Fitness center owners need to pay careful attention to their risk management plans to avoid costly claims.
There are several best practices that fitness center managers can employ to mitigate some of the risk to which their facility may be exposed this summer and beyond. These include:
- Waivers – Waivers are the backbone of the protection plan for a fitness center. For adults, having a detailed waiver that covers a variety of risks is extremely important because it limits or prevents claims. However, the situation is a little different with minors. A child under the age of 18 cannot sign a waiver as it will not be enforceable. Further, even when signed by the appropriate adult, a waiver will not completely absolve the gym of liability in many states and situations. Twenty-one states in the US do not recognize parental waivers. The signed forms can still be used as proof that parents and caregivers were aware of the dangers of exercising in a public gym, however a signed waiver is not a guaranteed defense from a claim.
- Experienced Trainers – Most gyms have trained staff designed to help members properly work out. These experienced trainers should monitor how teenagers are using the equipment at fitness centers to make sure they are exercising caution. Employees that understand proper exercise routines are a critical factor in keeping younger members from injuring themselves.
- Gym Tours and Information Sessions – Gyms can hold introductory sessions where they walk teenagers through the different parts of the facility, educating them on how each machine works and the potential risks associated with them. They can also discuss gym etiquette and proper habits, such as resting in between sets, not over exercising, and sanitizing equipment after use. Many clubs have a fee based or free program to “certify” the teens as authorized fitness floor users.
- Restricted Areas – Some parts of a fitness center are designed for older members. These areas, such as the sauna or a hot tub, should be carefully restricted from younger guests. Having membership cards or keys that only permit access to these facilities to people 18 and over would be one solution. Another would be to have a staff member stationed outside or walk through these areas as part of regular inspection protocols. They can monitor if only authorized adults are utilizing these areas.
While fitness centers cannot absolve themselves of all liabilities, by following these strategies they can mitigate potential risks at their facilities. Expanding your clientele base by incorporating teenagers is an important step toward growing your business, but the proper steps must be taken to ensure that your establishment is prepared. In addition to following these tips, make sure to contact your insurer to understand what your plan covers and obtain a customized risk assessment of your facility. Insurers who specialize in the fitness niche, can be a powerful ally in working to keep your facility safe for all patrons, including younger guests.
Brian Rawlings is Practice Leader for Venture Programs and has spent his career working in fitness and insurance. At Venture, Rawlings is leading the new FITLIFE® program, which insures fitness, wellness and spa facilities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.