Feature Article - March 2013
Find a printable version here

Protect Yourself

Effective Risk Management Needs Strategy, Supervision

By Deborah L. Vence

The Right Course of Action

Successful staff safety programs should include training and procedures for various types of risk.

An example of a staff safety program would be a "maintenance safety program that shows staff proper lifting techniques, first aid, safe equipment operating practices, connecting and disconnecting hydraulics or power-take-off equipment and similar," noted Bill Beckner, research manager for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).

Great Wolf Resorts in Madison, Wis., employs simple risk management strategies, said Franceen Gonzales, vice president of risk management for the resort.

They include:

  • Be best-in-class and prove it. Have great people on the team that are very competent in their area of expertise. They are the stewards of the strategy and leaders of performance-driven teams. Audit what they are doing. Have ways to measure performance and celebrate excellence.
  • Be process-driven. Have well-developed programs that make the operation predictably safe. Utilize the program consistently.
  • Be a nimble communicator. Have a communications plan and utilize a user-friendly system. When implementing a program or reacting to incidents, the team needs to act quickly and have information at their fingertips.
  • Be a values-based organization. Have a shared philosophy of dealing with situations with transparency, empathy and fairness. Quickly resolving situations and genuinely showing that you care builds trust that you will do the right thing. A values-based organization manages all facets of risk the same way at all levels of the organization.

"I think these strategies work well because they are based on simple principles," Gonzales said. "We want our people to be the best at what they do. We find excellent leaders that will take the plan and implement it well.

"They are driven to perform and we measure that performance. Any program developed has a higher chance of being successful when you have a proven leader driving it. Our programs and processes always have an objective," she said. "We have a vision of a positive outcome when implementing a new program. Anytime we are implementing a program, we have to be good communicators to make sure everyone is clear on the expectations."

Great Wolf Resorts also uses many different communication tools from incident reporting to posting new training programs.

But, "Most importantly is trust," she added. "When the team trusts their leaders, they want to put the strategies to work, even when they aren't looking."

To address risk management, in general, the strategy always should fit the need. For recreation, sports and fitness facilities, it's important to look at the various facets of risk, Gonzales noted. She suggested that facilities:

  • Address the common risks to the business with baseline programs. This could be off-the-shelf risk management programs that address compliance and industry safety standards.
  • Address the unique risks of the facility. This may take looking at incident trending, near-miss trending, or simply observing the facility at various times. Perhaps the facility has unique amenities or equipment and that may require a specialized policy, training or inspection process.
  • Address the clientele. Each facility may draw a different group. One may have a lot of retirees and others may have all kids. One may be an urban setting and another with different cultures represented. Identify what the risks are with the type of clientele and address it by managing behaviors through awareness campaigns, signage and staff reinforcement.

Meanwhile, Beckner said effective risk management strategies should include the following:

  • The closer a facility is to breaking even financially (recovering cost through revenue at 100 percent return), the more liability a facility assumes for injuries.
  • Ensure that all facilities have posted and easy-to-see rules of use and safety.
  • If staff has direct responsibilities for safety (lifeguards, pesticide applicators), be sure they are appropriately trained and certified.
  • Maintain records of training, inspections and details about equipment provided with participant signatures where appropriate.
  • Be proactive. If a customer is injured, visit with them at the first opportunity. With legal advice offer them any appropriate assistance.

To provide more details on the first point—that the closer a facility is to breaking even financially, the more liability a facility assumes for injuries—Beckner explained that "Until the mid-1970s state law and the courts were inclined to require injured parties to show that the department or facility operators had acted with gross negligence in causing the injuries incurred to an authorized user of the facility.

"After that time as fees became more common and departments or facilities charged higher fees and expected customers to pay the full cost of the experience, the state and the courts began to view them as having a higher-level of responsibility for the safe operation of the facilities," he said.

"Legal actions by plaintiffs were more favorably reviewed by the courts, and simple negligence was more likely to result in a positive finding for the plaintiff. This significantly increased the awards to plaintiffs as a result of common operating errors."

To boot, the types of systems that are more automated, leaving more opportunities for something to go wrong, such as "equipment hydraulics, chemical application systems and a myriad of maintenance and operation equipment can create problems." One example Beckner gave was of an automated mix valve that combined muriatic acid and chlorine malfunctioned in a swimming pool creating an overdose of chlorine gas [that] hospitalized several swimmers.