By Audra Krake, M.S., and Robyn Brinkerhoff, Ph.D., Special AFS Contributors
When performing any physical activity – whether at home, at work, or in a fitness studio – there is always an inherent risk of injury. In fitness facilities where people often have a goal of improving their physical condition – e.g., by lifting weights, stretching, or performing strenuous aerobic activity – injuries may occur due to the stress placed on the body while performing such activities (e.g., Waryasz et al., 2016; Quatman et al., 2009).
In addition, as in any environment, injuries may occur at fitness facilities due to mundane incidents such as slipping on a wet floor, bumping into an exercise machine, or tripping on a mat (Quatman et al., 2009). In order to provide the best service for their clients, it is useful for any fitness studio to consider what to do when an injury incident occurs in their facility, and how to prevent similar injuries in the future.
While some incidents may be unpredictable or unavoidable, your response to such incidents can greatly influence your clients’ perception of your facility – e.g., how attentive, prepared and thoughtful your staff and management are – and whether they continue to return to your facility after the incident. In this article, we provide some suggestions for steps you can take to improve your response to any injury incidents that may occur at your facility, based on our experience investigating fitness-related accidents.
It may go without saying that as soon as any staff member or personal trainer becomes aware that an injury has occurred at your facility, he or she should immediately and sensitively attend to the injured, assess his or her condition, and obtain appropriate medical treatment, whether that means applying an ice pack or bandage, or calling for emergency medical services. In addition, your staff should consider whether any area of the facility or piece of equipment involved in the incident requires further attention.
For example, if a slip has occurred, any wet areas may need to be cleaned up and marked with a wet floor sign. If there is any possibility that the incident occurred due to the condition of a piece of equipment, or that equipment was damaged during an incident, it may be wise to remove that equipment or rope it off until it can be inspected by a technician for damage or malfunction and repaired. This not only avoids the possibility of another client experiencing a similar incident, but also provides the facility with the opportunity to investigate what happened and remedy the situation, if possible.
Additionally, the responding staff should notify management about the incident as soon as possible, so that management may establish helpful communications with the involved client, address the incident, and potentially learn from it to improve future operations.
Documenting the injury incident with an incident report, no matter how minor, can be helpful not only to memorialize what occurred but also to understand whether there are any unanticipated situations or conditions in your facility that could be improved. For example, you might learn that multiple clients have bumped into other people when turning around a certain corner, and in response, one may choose to add a mirror to that hallway so that people can see if someone is approaching from around the corner.
Documenting the injury incident with an incident report, no matter how minor, can be helpful not only to memorialize what occurred but also to understand whether there are any unanticipated situations or conditions in your facility that could be improved.
A formalized incident report document is helpful to remind the reporting staff about all the important information that should be noted, which could include time and date of the incident; name, age, and contact information of the injured person; what he or she was doing at the time, with what equipment, and in what area; what body part was injured and how; and any witnesses that observed the incident and their accounts of what they observed. Photographs of the area involved equipment, and/or injury may also be helpful.
In addition, if a piece of equipment is involved, as discussed previously, you may want to remove the equipment (or barricade it off and place signage indicating that it is out of order/not to be used) to prevent further usage and preserve it for inspection for any possible malfunction or damage. Furthermore, maintaining documentation regarding any maintenance, inspection, repair, or part replacement activity for your fitness equipment can be useful for keeping track of the status and history of any piece of equipment, especially those involved in injury incidents.
Staff Training and Communication
While many fitness facilities employ personal trainers with professional accreditations and years of experience working with clients, they may not be aware of the incident response policies of your facility. Also, your facility likely has numerous other types of employees with many different backgrounds who may need to respond to an injury incident at your facility. Therefore, your safety and injury response policies and procedures should be explicitly communicated to all of your staff.
Your staff should all receive training on what specific steps to take when any injury occurs at your facility (e.g., obtaining treatment for the injured, securing the incident area or involved equipment, filling out an incident report, notifying management), where the appropriate forms or documents are (e.g., emergency contact numbers, incident report forms, reporting instructions, warnings signage), and who should be notified about an incident. When incidents do occur, discussion of these incidents can educate your staff on what situations to look out for, how similar incidents might be prevented in the future, and how responses to such incidents might be improved.
Documenting any such training that you do (e.g., with a sign-in sheet indicating the date and topic of training), can help you keep track of who has received this training, who has not, and when refresher training sessions may be useful.
In summary, you can never eliminate all accidents and injuries. However, by addressing injuries and facility or equipment conditions immediately, documenting what occurred, and providing thorough training to your employees, you can improve your response to such incidents, and potentially avoid similar incidents in the future.
More from these Authors:
Robyn Brinkerhoff, Ph.D. is a human factors scientist at Exponent, a science and engineering consulting firm. She earned her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from UCLA and applies her knowledge of human behavior, capabilities, and limitations to the study of how people perform in everyday situations and environments, such as while using fitness equipment or navigating public spaces. Dr. Brinkerhoff frequently acts as a consultant to investigate accidents, provide expert opinions for litigation, and advise on the development of product labels and instruction manuals.
Audra Krake, M.S. is a human factors scientist at Exponent. She earned her M.S. in Kinesiology from California State University, Long Beach, with a specialty in Exercise Science, and analyzes human factors and human performance in the context of use of consumer products, such as while using sports and exercise equipment. Ms. Krake utilizes her expertise in human movement and information-processing to evaluate issues related to motor control, decision-making, and the effects of inattention and distraction as they relate to accidents, injuries, product usage, fitness training, and technique.
Quatman, C. E., Myer, G. D., Khoury, J., Wall, E. J., & Hewett, T. E. (2009). Sex differences in “weightlifting” injuries presenting to United States emergency rooms. Journal of strength and conditioning research/National Strength & Conditioning Association, 23(7), 2061.
Waryasz, G. R., Daniels, A. H., Gil, J. A., Suric, V., & Eberson, C. P. (2016). Personal trainer demographics, current practice trends and common trainee injuries. Orthopedic reviews, 8(3).