Feature Article - August 2008
Find a printable version here

Safety First

Proactive Approaches Prevent Problems

By Dana Carman

egardless of the activity, whenever you undertake any sort of recreational endeavor, there is an inherent risk associated with it. There are the obviously riskier endeavors, such as swimming or climbing, and there are those that don't seem particularly risky but still pose the opportunity for injury, such as running on a treadmill or playing tennis. Consider the alternative, however—the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle far outweigh those of engaging in recreation.

Where safety is concerned, industry professionals express similar sentiments: Vigilance is the foundation upon which any good risk management or safety plan is built.

Safety is a mindset, said recreation consultant Leonard Lucenko, Ph.D. "From the moment you drive into the parking lot to work until the moment you drive out at the end of your tour of duty, you are thinking about safety," he said, "and asking, 'What can be done safer here? What can we do better?'"

As with anything, there are risks that can't be foreseen, and let's be honest, sometimes really unbelievable stuff happens, but the most important thing facilities and programs can do is assess the inherent risks in the activities and opportunities offered and prepare as best as possible to address problems—before they happen.

In the Club

Walking into a gym, it isn't terribly hard to see where injury can occur, but there's a difference between a member dropping a weight on his or her foot and someone flipping off a trampoline and landing where a mat should have been. The keys are common sense and a safety-first attitude.

When it comes to safety in fitness centers, Douglas Baumgarten, owner of SportFit Consulting, a fitness safety and risk consulting firm based in Stone Ridge, Va., said it basically comes down to two things: the facilities and the staff. "The facilities need to be safe to begin with—well designed, well maintained," he said. "The staff should be well hired and well trained. If you do those two well, you tend not to have problems."

With fitness a booming industry and gyms clamoring for new clientele, cardio and weight rooms are becoming more and more crowded—not just with patrons. Room space is a premium, so fill it wisely. Baumgarten suggests making sure you're purchasing the equipment that's right for your audience to eliminate unnecessary crowding. Too much stuff makes it easy for someone to trip, fall and whack their head on whatever else is right next to them. With headphones, cell phones and giant televisions blaring, it's painfully obvious that people aren't often paying attention, so stage pieces of equipment at respectable distances from one another, making sure pathways are clear. That goes for the trajectory of the exercise path also. Baugarten said that manufacturers may specify the clearance on a given piece of equipment. If someone is leaning far back on a rowing machine, for example, are they going to get their head knocked by the person pedaling on the bike behind them?