Feature Article - January 2014
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Keeping Fit, Keeping Safe

Safety Elements Can Be Attractively Designed

By Rick Dandes

Live by the Rules, But Don't Overdo It

It is essential, Tharrett said, that facilities post rules, whether it's the weight area, cardio area or pool area.

"According to both American College of Sports Medicine and ASâ„¢ International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), there is certain wording and certain messages that you want to post in these areas," he said. You want to let people know that they should seek assistance before using any equipment, use a spotter if lifting in free weights. Examples of signage can be found in the ACSM Standards and also in a soon-to-be-released resource book related to the standards.

"As an expert witness," Tharrett explained, "I have been on multiple cases where the issue of signage has been a key point for the claimant's case. Signage plays multiple roles in reducing risk, but also increasing the enjoyment of the facility."

Having signage in the fitness areas that cautions people about lifting weights without a spotter or using unfamiliar equipment without asking for assistance can help reduce a facility's risk. Meanwhile, Tharrett continued, there are opportunities to provide instructional signage in fitness areas that will help people more effectively pursue their fitness regime (placards showing a beginners routine, placards demonstrating how to use a machine, etc.). Signage in the wet (steam and whirlpool) and heat modality areas (sauna) that provides warnings about the risks and then provides cautionary directions on how to lower or avoid that risk is essential.

On the other hand, cautioned Fabiano, if you have too many rules around the space, you probably have not done a good job in either educating or training members. If you have convenient towel drops where it makes sense to have one, it should be used. If you don't, people will drop towels all over the place. "Obviously," he said, "running, spitting and cleaning up the equipment you've just used is general etiquette. You can do that in your contract or orientation. It is important to post some rules in the locker rooms so people have a clear understanding of what is expected and what is not. Your attorneys will tell you that is a wise thing to do. But I'd be careful about posting too many rules when you are given a tour, or it might seem like this is a facility that isn't so much fun."

Safety as a Design Element

Being safe can add to the attractiveness of a space. There was a time when you'd check in and the whole floor was rubber with no delineated areas, no pathways or aisles. Most likely you walked through the equipment to get to the locker rooms. "We advocate being clear as far as pathways go," Fabiano said. "Why not use different materials with different areas? When you are selling memberships and doing a tour, having a pathway is a great way to introduce new people to what you have."

Safety should be a design element from the planning stage, Tharrett explained. If the right architect is hired, one who has experience with designing fitness facilities, then safety will likely be addressed. "Before designing any facility," he said, "you need to create a program plan that identifies the various functions you want to provide, and the scope of activity expected. A program plan allows you to properly allocate space based on expected usage levels and the activities to be offered." Knowing that you should provide 40 to 60 square feet per expected participant in a group exercise class provides for greater safety and comfort. From this an architect can address both form and function.

The aesthetic appeal of a facility can be achieved when an architect effectively uses lighting, colors, floor surfaces and non-linear lines to create an interesting space, all of which should not be negatively impacted by the requirements for safety, Tharrett said. "Safety involves providing sufficient circulation spaces and corridors, eliminating blind spots, having sufficient levels of lighting, using proper floor surfaces, like using 1 inch square high coefficient of friction tiles in wet areas, and having the proper temperature, humidity and air circulation."