Feature Article - August 2010
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Risky Business

The Ins and Outs of Risk Management

By Dawn Klingensmith

Inherently Risky

"Where there are fitness, recreation and sport activities, there are injuries. And unfortunately where there are injuries, there are lawsuits," said Doyice Cotten, professor emeritus in sport management at Georgia Southern University and owner of Sport Risk Consulting, Statesboro, Ga.

A risk management program is a proactive approach to protect your organization from legal action as well as guarding against injuries in the first place. Risk management involves making decisions and implementing plans and policies so as to minimize injuries and loss and their effects on your organization, facility or event, Nohr explained.

Risk management consists of risk assessment (identifying and analyzing the risks or loss exposures that are involved in your sport or recreation program and then considering ways to reduce those loss exposures), risk control (putting initiatives in place to address risks and loss exposures) and risk financing (preparing and budgeting for the eventuality that someone will get hurt and file a lawsuit).

In her book, Nohr uses as an example a hypothetical football stadium that attracts many older spectators. After a risk assessment reveals, among other things, that three people have had heart attacks in a year's time, risk control measures are taken including making automatic external defibrillators available throughout the facility and training staff to use them. Other risk control measures might include having more ambulances on-site and providing better signage leading to first aid stations.

The results of risk control measures must be monitored and your risk management plan revised as needed, Nohr said.

Nohr recommended appointing a risk manager as well as a risk management team, but cautions that people within an organization usually lack the expertise to develop a comprehensive risk management program without legal counsel or help from a consultant. An organization should also continually offer training to employees in risk management and stay abreast of relevant court decisions and changes in the industry, Nohr said.

Put it in Writing

To reduce and prevent losses, every sports facility, organization and event should have in writing carefully thought-out safety plans, safety rules and emergency procedures. Specifics will vary from one sport or recreational pursuit to another.

"Before reinventing the wheel, check with the applicable national governing body for your sport and with other organizations to see if they have established standards," Nohr writes in her book.

For example, USA Swimming has safety action plan samples on its Web site, usaswimming.org. And the Red Cross provides plans for lightning safety and other useful information on its Web site, redcross.org.

Risk control techniques will differ from one activity to another, but certain control measures apply broadly if not across the board. According to Nohr, the measures include: improving organizational attitudes regarding safety; inspecting facilities; cleaning, maintaining and repairing facilities; preparing facilities for play; managing crowds; requiring players or participants to wear protective gear; and inspecting, maintaining and repairing equipment.

Inspecting facilities is an important means of loss prevention and reduction. Inspection can take place at regular intervals or before and during events; for example, a soccer field should be inspected for holes and foreign objects before practice or a game, Nohr said. Documenting each inspection helps in your defense in the event a lawsuit is filed. In addition, each area of a facility should have a documented cleaning, maintenance and repair schedule.

Sports and recreation equipment should be regularly inspected and tested for damage or defects. Until necessary repairs are made, a piece of equipment should not be used, and it's safest to obtain replacement parts from the same manufacturer who made the equipment. Helmets repaired using face masks from different manufacturers allegedly have caused injuries or increased their severity, Nohr said, and have given rise to litigation. As with facility inspections, it is important to document equipment cleaning, repairs and maintenance.