How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits: Selecting & Training Staff (Part II) 

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  • How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits: Selecting & Training Staff (Part II) 

October 2023 Gym Owner’s Podcast, “The Power of Control: Dr. JES Returns”

Welcome back to How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits! As we discussed in Part I, negligence settlements are in the millions of dollars now and can take years to weave through the courts. Additionally, most negligence lawsuits occur due to employee error in instruction or programming. With this in mind, one of the best ways for your gym to avoid a negligence lawsuit is to properly train and prepare your staff. 

Put your new trainer through a hand’s on test – before assigning clients!

Don’t rely on certificates – test your instructors’ practical skills! 

Does your new personal trainer understand how to correctly conduct a skin-fold test? Or how to appropriately answer a medical question? The only way for you to find out is to ask and test the individual.

Gym Owner’s Podcast guest Dr. JoAnn Eickoff-Shemek, “Dr. JES”, is a professor emerita, University of South Florida, expert fitness and law witness, and national spokesperson. She reminds us that judges watch a professional’s conduct and actions when considering liability. As an owner, you have a duty to provide highly capable instructors and trainers. 

Prior to hiring a new staff member, ask:

  1. Situational questions to test knowledge
  2. To demonstrate practical skills
  3. Teach a mock class 

After hiring an instructor:

  1. Undertake a more formal assessment of their skills
  2. Require training under a master instructor before taking on classes/clients
  3. Provide very close supervision of new hires

We know all this costs bucks, but truthfully, if you invest money up front to make sure you have well-prepared and well-trained staff members, both your reputation and bank account will be rewarded. And, you might just avoid a lawsuit.  

Create a culture of safety in your gym.

Safety is a comprehensive goal for gym owners. It starts with a developing a risk-management strategy that can be seen and felt throughout your facility. To infuse your gym with a culture of safety, Dr. JES recommends:

  1. Give all new members a facility orientation and tour, pointing out safety policies and reinforcing expectations.
  2. Integrate safety topics into staff meetings, including pop-quiz style question-and-answer sessions. 
  3. Respond to problems quickly, and repair broken equipment immediately.
  4. Establish proper identification protocol for identifying downed equipment or unsafe areas. This could include using yellow tape to cordon-off problematic areas.

Again, as owner, it is your basic duty to inspect the facility, respond to problems, and repair equipment as soon as you are alerted to a problem. 

Listen to your employees through a safety culture audit.

Sometimes floor employees may feel uncomfortable bringing up concerns about the gym with management. Unfortunately, they are also the ones most likely to spot problems early. Overcome this obstacle with a safety culture audit. 

In this tool, managers or owners create audit procedures in which employees anonymously fill out a form on safety issues within the club. The managers then tally up results and bring the survey data into a staff meeting for discussion. The survey provides a clean and easy way to incorporate a team approach to safety issues. 

Provide progressive classes and instruction.

Well-trained instructors must be able to manage a class with individuals at varying levels of fitness. However, progressing members in their fitness journey is really the key from a safety perspective, Dr. JES urges. 

Group training pilates class

To progress members correctly, consider these steps:

  1. Offer beginner and advanced classes.
  2. Assess new class members. 
  3. Start new class members at the lowest level of intensity. 

Some programs, such as high-intensity interval training, may require participants obtain a modest to vigorous level of aerobic capacity prior to taking the class. You want to make sure beginners don’t feel so sore after their workout they can’t get out of bed the next day. A short assessment or a modified program can circumvent these types of extreme results. 

Keep learning through the ACSM’s website.

Dr. JES is a professional contributor to the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.  Within its resources, gym owners and operators can find easy-to-read, relevant articles written specifically for practitioners. Archived articles discuss finding, training, and evaluating group instructors, intensity and safety, and on minimizing legal liability across the fitness floor. 

Gym Insight

Thank you, Dr. JES, for your valuable information and participation in our Gym Owner’s Podcast. Gym owners, if your club is in need of a great new gym management system, call us! Our easy-to-use software makes managing your gym simpler and more effective. Watch sales, revenue, and costs closely through Gym Insight, and discover a 360-degree view into your club – at all times, and at all hours. Call us to learn more at 855-FOR-GYMS and ask for Anthony or Natalia. We’d be pleased to provide a product demonstration or just talk through your questions. Visit our Gym Owner’s Podcast on YouTube or social media platforms for more information. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Watch for our final Negligence Lawsuit blog next week:

            How to Avoid Negligence Lawsuits: Scope of Practice (Part III)