Safety First! Exploring Risk Management Best Practices

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Aside from making sure clients are having the best experience possible at your club, you’re second largest priority should be ensuring visitor safety. However, as most club and facility owners know, this is no easy task. From establishing safety protocols and procedures; scheduling inspections; forms and contracts to sign, and making sure all other aspects of your business are running seamlessly, it’s a lot to handle. How can one person accomplish all of this? The answer is: you can’t, and you shouldn’t.

The key thing to take away from this is it takes a whole team. Do not assume all the responsibility yourself. Instead, create a risk management team and network made up of both internal and external sources of support. Having a team to delegate specific tasks to increases productivity and makes for a well-oiled safety machine.

Before looking for help outside your facility, consider your current resources. For example, do you have employees with a medical background? Do you have any individuals on staff with a law enforcement or engineering background? Look for individuals who can bring valuable knowledge and experience to the table. For this internal team, maintain a consistent meeting schedule to address risk management on safety concerns and protocols. These meetings should happen quarterly at the very least and should have a delegated leader to hold all members accountable for all current and new initiatives.

To further grow your risk management network, look to outside sources such as local fire departments, police forces and EMS teams. These resources can help you and your team practice drills for potential situations you may face as well as keep you up-to-date on local incidents.

You can also consult your insurance agent and carrier for resource and educational materials regarding risk management best practices and procedures. Some carriers also have loss prevention professionals who can be brought in to advise your team on proper safety measures and protocols.

Another great option to pull resources from is your local American Red Cross or other local agencies. American Red Cross assists businesses both small and large with educational materials, seminars, and guides for keeping your members safe in the case of an emergency.

The key thing to take away here is that you have a multitude of resources you can pull together to make the best risk management strategies possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and make sure new staff members are trained on all safety measures put in place at your facility.


Cryotherapy: What's All The Fuss About?

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When you hear the words whole-body cryostimulation, an image of Han Solo slowly and dramatically freezing in carbonite while princess Leia watches along in horror may spring to mind. The act of “freezing” is involved in this process; however, (thankfully) it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. While the chemical reactions within the body may seem straight-up science fiction, many elite athletes swear by it. According to recent studies published by, Cryotherapy has proven to be extremely successful for treating not only inflammation in muscles after excessive exercise, but a variety of other ailments including chronic pain, arthritis, and even mental ailments such as stress and anxiety. However, the question remains: How safe is this method and should you offer it at your facility?

What is Cryotherapy and how does it work?

It’s not new. In fact, Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) was first used in clinical settings, to treat patients with medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Over the years, it has been adopted by many professional athletes–most recently the Green Bay Packers American football team—as well as both elite and recreational athletic training facilities. Health and wellness spas have also expanded their offerings to include Cryotherapy.

The idea is similar to that of ice and heat therapy used by most athletes–and anyone who’s experienced sore muscles–to reduce swelling (think ice baths and the ol’ go-to “icy-hot” packs). However, a Cryotherapy chamber can reach temperatures as low as -264 degrees. Clients strip down and don a protective bathing suit as well as socks, gloves, and mouth and ear guards to protect them from the subzero temperatures. Only a few clients can go through a session at a time as they are guided through a series of chambers filled with nitrogen. After a few seconds–or a few minutes if you’re a real daredevil–you move to the next chamber with each being colder than the last. The cold temperature shocks your body into “survivor mode” as capillaries expand to hastily push more blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout your system and to your vital organs. Essentially, this process removes toxins and inflammatory components from your blood and then, once the body reaches normal temperatures, the new nutrient-rich blood flows back throughout your body.

Okay, so it still sounds a little like science fiction.

While there has been a significant spike in Cryotherapy users and advocates, it remains a very controversial method as the Food and Drug Administration does NOT recognize the benefits of Cryotherapy chambers and does not regulate the devises. The safety of this treatment is still under scrutiny, and many agree that more testing should be done to find hard scientific proof that this method provides quantifiable health benefits for treating pain. Among the many new fitness trends for 2016, injury prevention and recovery will be just as important as how we train. So, if a facility is looking to cash in on this growing trend, it would be wise to learn all it can about the Cryotherapy process and all safety procedures involved. Do your research and know your facts. Before incorporating this method into your facility, look up professional, scientific journals on the subject. You can also talk to facilities that already offer this method and find out how to properly maintain and operate Cryotherapy chambers. Make sure your staff is fully trained to operate the machines properly and safely. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to require a pre-training class with your clients before they begin use to ensure all safety measures have been taken. And lastly, stay up-to-date on news and testimonials about Cryotherapy. If you see a rise in accidents or injuries, make sure you have an emergency plan prepared. Your clients’ safety is of the utmost importance so be sure to keep that in mind when you are doing your research and deciding whether or not offering Cryotherapy is right for your facility.


ACE Urges Congress to Focus on Prevention

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Recently, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) submitted a letter to Congress, urging the governmental body to redefine the U.S.’s approach to healthcare. Rather than focus on treating people who are ill, our healthcare system should emphasize illness prevention, ACE argued, while also empowering sufferers of chronic disease to manage their discomfort. As the letter put it: “[O]ur healthcare system needs to shift from one almost solely focused on responding to people who are ill to investing in preventing people from getting sick in the first place and empowering those with chronic conditions to helping themselves when they can.”

Among the intriguing policies that ACE enjoined Congress to adopt is this one: “Allow for financial incentives through tax policies to encourage increased participation through physical activity to reduce the chances of incurring preventable chronic diseases.” What this amounts to in plain English: “Reimburse people who pay to work out!”

In addition to benefitting large swathes of the population, ACE’s proposed financial-incentives plan could, of course, have beneficial effects for the fitness industry. The plan is ingenious. If individuals are reimbursed through tax policies for payments they make to gyms, sports centres, and other fitness facilities, then those individuals will have the opportunity to work toward better health at a lower cost. The facilities they sign up with will enjoy the benefits of a growing membership along with, ideally, built-in incentives for members to stay on-board. And, as citizens become healthier, managing their chronic illnesses and preventing the onset of new disease, the government, over the long term, will begin to see the overall cost of healthcare fall. Everybody wins.

Other proposals in ACE’s letter are equally hopeful. “Make science-based, interdisciplinary coaching, counseling, and support for sustainable behavioral change a functional, integral component of the nation’s healthcare system.” Elsewhere in the letter, ACE describes its members as “advocates for extending the clinic into the community with science-based preventative services delivered by well-qualified professionals not necessarily thought of as healthcare providers.” Put these two together, and you have a movement to enable greater health and healthier decision-making through the involvement of a population of workers not as overburdened as doctors and other medical professionals but qualified to provide health-related guidance — that is, personal trainers, nutritionists, physical therapists, masseuses, and others who make the fitness industry their home.

Another policy ACE pitched to Congress articulates this even more directly: “Extend the healthcare team into the community by tapping well-qualified health and fitness professionals to deliver preventative services and programs focused on behavior change directly in the community, reimbursable by health insurance.” A side benefit of a policy like this one is that health and fitness professionals could be held in greater esteem by the population at large, their knowledge and their services valued for the truly life-transforming elements they are.

All in all, ACE’s letter to Congress is one to read, promote, and actively support. As one of those health and fitness professionals who stands to benefit so much, call your local Congressperson and make your feelings about the letter known. Echo ACE’s words: “The single most effective path to manage rising healthcare costs is to reduce the cost of managing choric disease.” Then explain how your work has proven to you over and over again the truth of this statement.

Keeping Your Facility Germ-Free-- And Your Members Happy

Keeping Your Facility Germ-Free—and Your Members Happy

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In 2008, IHRSA published the Guide to Health Cleanliness, which highlighted the startling results of a survey: More than 90 percent of survey participants said they were more apt to renew their membership with a health club facility if the facility was clean. That might not be so surprising, but here’s the shocking part: Only slightly more than half said they would renew if the facility was not clean.

Keep in mind that this was six years ago, before the Ebola scare, before enterovirus D68, before super-strong strains of the flu were floating around. With these threats around us, and with media hype that frequently blows such threats out of proportion, it’s little wonder that health club and sports facility users are even more cautious than they used to be. Add to that the fact that we’re smack in the middle of cold season, and you’ve got potentially a lot of skittish members on your hands who want assurance that their health is protected when they’re using your facility.

What can you do to reassure them? First of all, make sure you’ve got a plan for keeping your place as clean as possible. Review your cleanliness policies and procedures. Are they up to date? Do they follow best practices? Are they generally in keeping with standards set by the Centres for Disease Controls (for example, wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or rub an alcohol-based sanitizer on hands for 15 seconds before and after workouts; shower after workouts; avoid walking barefoot across exercise floors and locker rooms)?

After you’ve polished up your policies, start thinking about your staff. Do they know the policies? Do they know what to do if they’re sick (best practices say they should stay home)? Do they know what tasks they should take responsibility for in order to help maintain the highest standard of cleanliness possible? Organize a mandatory staff meeting solely around these issues and make sure everyone is on board. Do frequent walkthroughs with a cleanliness checklist to make sure rules are being adhered to.

Finally, communicate directly and explicitly with your members about cleanliness in your facility. Send out an email explaining your concerns during the season, highlighting the steps your club is taking to stay as germ-free as possible, and asking members to remain aware of ways in which they can help contribute to a cleaner club environment. List specific tips, like the Centres for Disease Control standards shown above. A post on IHRSA’s blog describes an email Newtown Athletic Club recently sent to its members. Linda Mitchell, Newtown Athletic’s director of PR and Marketing, devised a letter with the subject line “Healthy Facilities Initiative.” She and her team carefully worded the letter, avoiding making any promises but being sure to explain procedures. They assured members that maintaining a clean facility is a top priority. Then they described new procedures being implemented and outlined member responsibilities. Mitchell told IHRSA that the email had an unheard-of 35 percent open rate—to her a clear indication that members were hungry for information about facility cleanliness.

Ultimately, you want to make your members feel secure, and you want them to know you welcome their questions and can answer them satisfactorily. Over and above that, you want to keep your facility as germ-free as possible — for your members’ sake, but also for your own and your staff’s. Provide a safe environment, clearly communicate the details about how you’ve done so, and keep everyone feeling strong and healthy all winter long.

Planning for Emergencies

Planning for Emergencies

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My son is eight years old, the age at which curiosity, acquired knowledge, and a total fascination with disaster scenarios come together beautifully and lead to all kinds of thought-provoking (and sometimes horrifying) what-if questions. What if the house blew up just as we were about to step inside of it? What if a tornado ripped through town unexpectedly while summer camp was in session? What if we went to watch a baseball game at Yankee Stadium and an earthquake happened in the first inning?
That last one gave me pause. What if an earthquake did happen during a baseball game? What if you run a sports facility or a recreation complex or, for that matter, a gym, health club, or fitness center and you’re faced with a major emergency? How do you prepare yourself? How do you even begin to think of something as massive, and as potentially devastating, as an earthquake?
Kevin Bryant, a senior facility manager for the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro, Oregon (which boasts a 3,700-seat baseball stadium, a 7,200-seat football/soccer stadium, and six softball fields) addressed such questions in a recent article for Sports Venue Safety, a supplement to Athletic Business. Bryant has encountered a number of extraordinary situations at his facility: a drunk and belligerent spectator, drug-use by a semi-professional sports team in the locker room, lights going out during a stormy, night-time, high-school football game. None of these are on the scale of an earthquake, but they got him thinking about the importance of being ready should a major emergency occur.
In order to frame out a coherent emergency plan, including an evacuation strategy, Bryant and his team—full-time and part-time staff—engaged in a months-long effort. Starting with the simple plan they already had (and you no doubt have at least a simple one of your own), they called upon the expertise of police and fire first-responders, city staff, and school district personnel. They researched actual emergencies that had happened at other facilities, used virtual reality software, and good, old-fashioned brainstorming to imagine potential situations. At the end of the process, they produced a carefully crafted, solidly tested, emergency and evacuation plan.
Bryant offers some useful advice. The first step, he says, was getting practical training for all full-time staff so that, at the very least, everyone knows how to administer basic first-aid and everyone has some AED and CPR training. Whether you run a sports facility or a gym or health club, you’ve probably prepared key staff members for simple emergencies in similar ways. But it’s worth asking yourself whether you’ve trained enough staff and whether new employees need training. Do you have a plan for yearly refresher sessions?
After training, Bryant and his team made a list of the exact types of emergencies they might encounter at their facility and then researched preferred ways of dealing with those emergencies. They looked into bomb threats, critical operations shutdowns, fires in and outside the stadium, extreme weather situations (including, yes, earthquakes), medical emergencies, and even nuclear fallout. They outlined, among other things, what the immediate reaction to each type of emergency would be, who would be responsible for what, and how the city and first-responders would be involved. The take-away here is that different kinds of disasters require different kinds of responses. At your facility, you must have a specific plan for each kind, and all the players must be clear on their roles.
Once you’ve got your written plan, you need to start another round of training—this time stepping through the actual plan as if an emergency had occurred. Bryant’s staff went through a fire drill. On a day when there was no event, they pulled the fire-alarm, role-played responses, and then discussed how it all went. The exercise revealed the importance of communication in the midst of chaos, noise, and stress, and showed Bryant that, while a written plan is crucial, realistic training is the only way to get all players on board with how to manage an actual situation.
Another great thing about eight-year-olds is that they’re convinced they can overcome any disaster scenario they might have to face; when my son explains how he’s going to deal with the tornado-at-summer-camp, or any other similar situation, he always describes his own deeds of daring and his phenomenal, heroic triumphs. I love his confidence and optimism, but I always try to remind him that he has a good chance of succeeding as long as he has a carefully thought-through plan.

Risk Management

Don’t Forget Risk Management

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Don’t Forget Risk Management y son calls me a scaredy-cat because I’m constantly throwing warnings out at him: “Don’t run on the ice, you could fall and hurt yourself!” “Be careful on those rocks; they look slippery.” “Please don’t climb any higher up that fence; if you fall and crack your head open, you’ll be sorry!” I’m not a scaredy-cat, I tell him; I just have to give the warning because if something actually happens, I’ll feel even worse about it if I failed to alert him to the danger beforehand. The better tactic, I know, would be to remove the ice, the rocks, and the fence before he can even test them, but out in the world that’s just not possible.
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