Guest Column - March 2004
Find a printable version here

Potential Problems in Locker Rooms

IHRSA: Personal, Privacy and Security Issues

By Kristen A. Walsh

What do kids, perfume, theft and cell-phone cameras have in common? Well, they are each at the center of four hot issues, all of which relate to locker rooms, and are proving to be some of the most contentious topics in the fitness industry today.

Children in opposite-sex locker rooms

It's unwise to let unsupervised little boys run around in the men's locker room, but it may create a privacy issue for your female members if they use the women's locker room with their mothers. The same goes for little girls and men's locker rooms.

Here's how some facility operators handle this dilemma:

  • If a facility's layout and budget permit, offer a separate family locker room, or even a bathroom that can serve as a private changing area.
  • Establish a policy. Regardless of any age cut-off imposed in your facility, include a phrase such as "Under all circumstances, parents must be aware of the need to protect the privacy of others."
  • Consult a physician when deciding on any age cut-off. Basing a policy on recommendations from local experts gives it credibility.
  • Offer free, short-term baby-sitting (for example, a 20-minute limit) while a child's opposite-sex parent showers or changes.
  • Let parents know that a staff member is available upon request to accompany a child over the age limit into the appropriate locker room.
  • If an age cut-off is not imposed, create awareness by posting signs reading, "Parents: Bringing an opposite-sex child into this locker room may cause discomfort to other members. Please use discretion."
Chemical sensitivity

While some people are simply offended by any kind of perfumed product, a significant group suffers from an asthmatic-like condition triggered by chemicals. While not officially recognized by the American Medical Association, some studies indicate that multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) affects 15 percent to 30 percent of the general population, to varying degrees.

People with MCS experience a range of debilitating physical reactions, some even life-threatening, from chemicals used in a variety of products, including fragrances and personal-care products, cleaners, pesticides, wall and floor coverings, and building materials.

The following steps can help facility staff accommodate MCS sufferers:

  • Switch to cleaning products marked "without perfume." A product labeled "unscented" may contain a masking fragrance.
  • Avoid fabric softener and dyer sheets when laundering towels.
  • Remove scented candles, potpourri and aerosol room fresheners from locker rooms.
  • Replace real flowers with silk arrangements.
  • Designate a "spray-free" zone in locker rooms, if the layout permits.
  • Provide employees and patrons with advance notice of activities such as painting, wallpapering, carpet shampooing and extermination.
  • Post gently-worded signs, especially in vanity areas, and put notices in the club's newsletter and handbook asking everyone to keep in mind that some people are sensitive to chemicals and fragrances.
  • Consider implementing a fragrance policy, such as, "Patrons are requested to refrain from using perfume, cologne and other fragrances for the comfort of others."

Gyms have become a popular target for professional thieves. Property theft isn't the only concern; in some cases, thieves remove just one credit card or form of ID from lockers and proceed to "steal" someone's identity without the victim knowing until long after the damage is done.

The following tips can help prevent theft:

  • Front-desk staff should make eye contact with all entering and exiting patrons. The possibility of being identified is a powerful deterrent to would-be thieves.
  • Require that every guest complete a registration card. Once the card has been filled out, request (and photocopy) a photo ID, and check that the information on the documents matches. Document the time of the visit in case a theft occurs.
  • Have staff conduct frequent, random sweeps of locker rooms.
  • Remind patrons to lock their lockers and that valuable items shouldn't be brought into the club. Pay extra for heavy-duty locks, and discourage members from using combination locks, which are easier to pick than key-type locks. If you provide keys for lockers, put the keys on a wristband.
  • Ask patrons to report suspicious individuals to management. They may spot behavior that thieves wouldn't dare try in front of uniformed staff.
  • Membership tracking software can help identify thieves. When a theft occurs, study the roster and try to identify the possible perpetrators. Also, track when crimes occur and heighten locker room security and during those times.
  • When designing or renovating locker rooms, install lockers at a 45-degree angle to the walls. This not only creates a spacious feel, it also eliminates thief-friendly hiding spots that perpendicular locker rows create.
  • Though it is illegal in many states to videotape inside locker rooms, some gym operators place cameras at locker room entrances and exits. Which brings us to the fourth and final issue…

Video cameras located just outside locker rooms can be a deterrent for would-be thieves. Before putting cameras inside locker rooms, check with an attorney as some states' have laws prohibiting this practice.

Some cell phones now double as tiny digital cameras. As these devices become less expensive and more widespread, the potential for their misuse in the gym environment increases.

None of the respondents to a recent survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) indicated that camera phones had been misused in their facilities. However, privacy concerns have prompted many gym operators—especially those with celebrity clientele—to ban all cell phones in locker rooms and rest rooms.

While IHRSA knows of no cases involving the misuse of camera phones in gyms so far, club operators are wise to be concerned about future liability.

"It appears clear that a club operator who knows, or in the exercise of reasonable care should know, that camera phones are being used on its premises could be liable to those surreptitiously photographed," says Los Angeles attorney Anthony Ellrod of the law firm of Manning & Marder, Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez LLP. "It would therefore be prudent to address and prohibit the use of camera phones on the premises."

Kristen A. Walsh is a content editor and public policy manager for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). She can be reached at IHRSA is a nonprofit association dedicated to the growth, protection and promotion of the health club industry and represents more than 6,500 clubs worldwide. Its 2004 Annual International Convention & Trade Show will be held March 22 to 25 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information, visit or call 800-228-4772.