Guest Column - March 2010
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Facility Maintenance

Combat Germs in the Gym

By Peter J. Sheldon Sr.

With an estimated 25 to 50 million flu cases reported in the United States each year, a facility manager's job becomes extremely difficult around the time the flu season starts. As a gym owner, manager or operator, you know that gyms are breeding places for germs. People sweat on shared equipment like machines, dumbbells and benches, and simply placing a towel over the equipment is effective only to a point. But short of ordering your members to wash their hands every two minutes, what can facility managers do to combat these rampant, often dangerous, germs?

In addition to the regular flu, the nation is in the throes of an H1N1 outbreak that leading health experts predict could affect as much as 50 percent of the population over the fall and winter. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), up to 20 percent of the entire U.S. population is afflicted with flu-associated illness annually, causing around 200,000 hospitalizations and as many as 36,000 annual deaths. These staggering numbers put extra pressure on facility managers, but a few simple steps could actually help them contribute to the solution (instead of the problem).

Promoting cleanliness is one conscientious way to quell the spread of germs. But do you really know how effective and in-depth your cleaning service or internal staff are? It's important to evaluate the most cutting-edge cleaning methods and technologies before you can really trust in the cleanliness of your gym.

Combating Flu Proactively

We all know that the responsibility for proactive health begins with managers and ultimately falls to customers. The responsibility on the facility manager's side is to educate customers on how they can contribute to the general health and welfare of other gym customers. Even if health measures appear to be common sense, gyms should find ways to advertise these policies. For instance, hanging a sign with health tips in the locker room can be an effective strategy for putting the right information out there.

While they may seem like common-sense suggestions, the following tips must be communicated to customers in one way or another:

  • Bring your own water bottles. Drinking fountains are cesspools for germs.
  • Try not to touch eyes, nose or mouth—germs spread in this manner.
  • Wipe off machines with disinfecting/sanitizing wipes before and after using equipment.
  • Following a workout, you should wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Bring your own exercise/yoga mat, and wipe it down after each use with a damp cloth.
  • Always wear flip-flops in the shower.
  • Never store damp or wet workout clothes in your locker or gym bag.
  • Hang your gym bag on a hook in the locker room. Putting your gym bag on the floor may result in your picking up bacterial matter. A study of handbags by Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona found up to 100 million bacteria per square inch on some bags—the result of being placed on floors including those in public restrooms.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Don't share towels.
  • Bring your own soap if you plan on showering.
  • If you are ill with the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you stay home from work, school and the gym, and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.