Feature Article - January 2015
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Certifiably Safer

Why & How Certification Improves Safety

By Kelli Ra Anderson


Of course, safety concerns aren't limited to aquatics. Fitness trainers, too, if not properly trained and certified to accurately assess the physical condition and capability of a client, may prescribe a fitness routine that unnecessarily stresses joints, muscles and hearts. It isn't enough for someone to be smart, engaging or even experienced as a trainer. Lack of professional training that provides a knowledge of exercise, anatomy, physiology, exercise assessments and prescriptions (to name a few) put patrons at risk by having them perform unsafe exercises using bad form or giving bad advice. Fitness is about health, not just fitting into the right pant size.

Ensuring that your staff is certified and trained in safety not only reduces potential for injury (everyone's main concern), but also reduces the cost that comes with preventing claims in workers' compensation or litigation. "Managers have a responsibility to comply with the standard of care for training staff to prevent illness, injury and even death," Lachocki warned. "If they fail to live and prove compliance to the standard of care, they increase the likelihood that they and their facility owners would be held liable for damages if an incident occurred."

A Credit to Their Field

However, not all certifications are created equal. Just because someone is certified doesn't mean they have the necessary knowledge or expertise actually required to do their job safely. In fact, according to IDEA Health and Fitness Association, up to 45 percent of trainers who claim to be certified, aren't. (One way to know for sure is to access the U.S. Register of Exercise Professionals, a public registry to validate people's credentials at www.usreps.org.)

In the age of the Internet, a simple online test, a few hundred bucks or maybe a weekend of classes may be all it takes to hang up a "certified" shingle. "Buyer beware," cautioned Dr. Bruce A. Sherman, consultant, with a doctorate in exercise physiology and more than 30 years of industry experience. "What personal training certification should they have? Some are better than others. Some are comprehensive and quite rigorous, like ACE and NAFM."

Accreditation is the key. According to Anthony Wall, director of professional education with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), strong accrediting organizations like the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) essentially set the standard for third-party assessments for a number of associations within the fitness industry. They assess the professional competency and establish accreditation standards. They set a benchmark for an organization to stick to and adhere to, to ensure everybody who goes through a program has met basic competency.

"There are degrees of certification," Wall explained. "Our fitness professionals at ACE have accredited certification. There are lots of people out there that call what they have certification, but it's not a certification to demonstrate competency. There's a number of companies out there who put together a curriculum without the gold standard of ensuring it's peer reviewed or meets a role delineation for the job that the person is going to do."

Familiar accredited organizations like ACE, the American Council of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA), Starfish and AWI to name a few, however, are examples of those that provide the kind of rigorous certification managers can trust.

Among the characteristics of a quality certification are the inclusion of CPR and first aid training as part and parcel of a curriculum, negating any need for those certified to get that additional certification. These kinds of certifications also require renewal every few years to prove their members are in good standing, and require continuing education to remain eligible.

Safety for patrons, employees and a facility is also likely to be improved by administrative certification. The NRPA, for example, has long offered a Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) with more than 4,200 certified. Recognizing the value of demonstrating professionalism, they have recently added a new level of certification, the Certified Park and Recreation Executive (CPRE), which only 145 have successfully completed so far. But whether covering issues of finance, planning or risk management methods, safety is improved.

"I think all of our certification programs cover safety elements in one way or another," Boland said. "CPRP and CPRE approach safety from an aspect of maintenance standpoint, risk management plans, security plans, identifying safety concerns and general safety for patrons."