How to Avoid Potential Liability Pitfalls of Owning and Operating a Gym

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  • How to Avoid Potential Liability Pitfalls of Owning and Operating a Gym

One unfortunate reality all business owners must face is that the risk of being held legally responsible for accidents on your business premises is greater than ever. This is especially true for gym owners. In the fitness industry, where clients will be engaging in intense and possibly dangerous physical activity using equipment provided by your facility, you must take every precaution against potential liability pitfalls.

What are some gym liability risks you should be aware of?

Though an exhaustive list of legal risks would be nearly impossible to put together, the following are the biggest or most common problems gym owners may face:- Exercise injuries from members working out in the gym- Injuries that happen while working out with a personal trainer employed by the facility- Cardiac events that happen during workouts- Injuries of children in childcare facilities- Property damage or theft while members are working out- Failing to provide proper accommodations for gym members with disabilities

What are some precautions you can take to avoid legal repercussions for incidents in your gym?

Covering yourself legally doesn’t have to be an expensive or cumbersome process, but it will require some preparation, planning, and continuous upkeep. If you are just opening your gym or starting a new fitness business, the responsibility can seem overwhelming. Over time, however, your goal should be to include as many of the following points as possible into your regular business upkeep until they become second-nature.

1. You are responsible for your staff.

Make sure to hire competent trainers who enforce safety regulations. You can do this by extensively checking the certifications and background of each trainer you hire. Look for fitness certifications from reputable organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise or the National Academy of Sports Medicine, for example.

From time to time, double-check that each trainer’s certification status is current. Certifications can lapse if a trainer fails to complete enough continuing education credit hours. Having a trainer on your staff who trains clients without a current and active certification to do so reflects poorly on your business and opens you up to potential liability problems if an accident should happen under that trainer’s watch.

Additionally, keep track of the services your trainers provide to clients, and ensure that trainers only provide services for which they are qualified. For example, you would not want a trainer certified only for personal one-on-one training to lead a group class. If a member of that class were to be injured, that could spell trouble because that trainer was operating outside of his or her certification.

If any of your trainers provide nutritional counseling or supplement sales to their clients, check this qualification as well! Many fitness trainers offer unlicensed advice on nutrition and dieting which could get your business into trouble if this practice is discovered. On the other hand, having a licensed nutritionist on staff overseeing a nutrition class or dieting seminar lends credibility to your business and draws in more clients who are interested in those areas.

Your caution for hiring qualified staff should not stop at only fitness trainers. If your facility provides child care for members while they exercise, remember that these day care workers need to have their own assortment of qualifications and background checks.

2. Have proper emergency equipment and protocol in place before an emergency happens.

The best thing you can do to avoid liability in the case of cardiac events is to have plenty of AEDs on location. This includes providing emergency AED devices in easily accessible places, as well as doing regular checks to ensure that those AEDs have operational batteries.

Also, remember to enforce mandatory CPR/AED certification for your entire gym staff. Though your trainers will likely have this already as part of their fitness certification, it’s up to you to make sure your staff keeps current on this vital lifesaving skill.

3. Keep a sharp eye out for dangers on the gym floor.

This could be anything from gym members exercising with poor form to noticing when an area has clutter and trip hazards such as water bottles and towels on the floor.

Most importantly, however, you and your staff should be regularly checking your exercise equipment for wear and damage. Repair or replace all equipment that shows damage way before it could become a possible point of failure. Even if that damage does not directly contribute to an incident, someone could still try to claim that it did.

4. Make life easy for your gym members who have disabilities.

The most obvious accommodation your facility should provide is a safe way for members to enter and exit the premises in a wheelchair or with walking assistance. Additionally, keep pathways inside the building wide and clear, and, if possible, make each section of your facility as accessible as possible.

Remember that people with physical limitations will not exercise in the same ways as most other people in your gym. If you can, keep a trainer on staff who specializes in working with clients who have disabilities. Sending a client with a disability to a trainer who is not certified to handle those limitations is a situation you should definitely try to avoid.

5. Don’t skip the liability paperwork.

Have all members sign informed consent or liability waivers and any other releases you feel are necessary. Additionally, ensure that all trainers are having clients they bring in from outside (i.e. people who are not already gym members) also sign the same releases and waivers. That way, everyone in your facility and using your equipment has already agreed to release you from liability in case of an incident.

6. Purchasing gym insurance is an essential part of running a fitness facility.

A good insurance policy should cover injuries, medical issues and property damage, not just one. Remember, if you have concerns over an issue that your current insurance policy does not cover, you can purchase supplemental insurance to go alongside the policy you already hold.


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