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AFIRM manual aims to improve gym safety

AFIRM manual aims to improve gym safety
September 6, 2015

The Australian Fitness Industry Risk Management Manual provides the fitness industry with materials that will help fitness facility operators, fitness professionals and fitness service users navigate their legal risk management and risk management obligations.

Released as part of the ExerciseSafe initiative last year with minimal fanfare, the significant document was based on a three-year study that looked into areas where fitness industry safety could be improved.

Led by La Trobe University Head of Law School Professor Patrick Keyzer, the Australian Fitness Industry Risk Management (AFIRM) project that culminated in the manual aimed to enhance safety cultures within the fitness industry.

Commenting on the initiative, Professor Keyzer explained “it is important for Australia to have a healthy population and for Australians to know fitness services will be provided in a safe environment.

“It is also important for fitness services to avoid unnecessary legal liability and the costs associated with defending claims.

“The fitness industry in Australia has some really high-quality operators and this manual is about having protocols available that point to the safer use of machines and services.”

The aim of the project – which was the result of an Australian Research Council linkage grant - was to identify the regulation that governs risk management in the fitness industry and to improve safety practices.

The cross-university research group included Bond University Professor Joachim Dietrich, Federation University Professor Caroline Finch, University of South Australia Professor Kevin Norton and Central Queensland University Dr Betul Sekendiz.

From a series of focus group research meetings,t he manual identifies the following as top safety concerns in the Australian fitness industry:

Education, competency, knowledge and courses
Participants expressed concern that some fitness professionals are ‘under-educated’, and expressed dissatisfaction with fitness trainer courses, which were seen to be too short and/or too easy. 

Concern was expressed that there is minimal or inadequate training in risk management in current educational offerings. Participants said that fitness professionals often lack experience, that there was a lack of support for new trainers, and that there was also a need for further, post-qualification professional training and development to ensure that people have the necessary skills to be effective and manage risks.

Pre-exercise screening and management of de-conditioned clients
Participants expressed concern about the adequacy of pre-exercise screening in the fitness industry, particularly in relation to unconditioned or de-conditioned clients. Participants expressed a lack of confidence that pre-existing injuries or conditions were being captured. Some participants complained  that there was no uniform pre-exercise screening tool (despite there being one available in Australia) and that the tools that do exist are not easy to implement.

Poor supervision and incorrect use of equipment
Participants expressed concern about what they regarded as the generally low degree of supervision of clients undertaking exercise in fitness facilities. Concern was also expressed that some facilities may be inadequately staffed and that trainer fatigue might create risks in fitness facilities. Participants also identified ‘improper use of equipment’ by clients as a significant issue. Participants commented that risks in fitness facilities can arise from client performance of incorrect techniques or failure to follow instructions, and also poorly educated fitness trainers teaching incorrect techniques.

Scope of practice, nutrition and managing client expectations
Participants expressed concern that personal trainers and fitness facility employees often operate outside their scope of practice and expertise, e.g., providing advice about diet or speaking with clients about personal problems. Concern was also expressed that fitness professionals might give inappropriate or misleading information in this context. Concern was expressed that some fitness professionals may not manage the (often unrealistic) expectations of their clients properly, creating a risk of injury and adverse health outcomes.

Equipment
Participants identified a number of issues in their discussion of the topic of ‘equipment’: expressing concern about the lack of maintenance of equipment, faulty equipment or the poor quality of equipment, equipment hygiene (machines not being wiped down or cleaned), and problems related to the positioning of equipment too close to other equipment or hazards.

Environment
Participants identified a number of issues including lack of space in gyms and hazards created by clients (e.g. leaving bags or weights lying around, creating tripping hazards), concern about poor layout of fitness equipment in fitness facilities (specifically, space, overcrowding and ventilation issues), and concerns about the risks posed by using outdoor areas as venues for the provision of fitness services, e.g. the provision of services on wet or uneven ground, and/or in weather that was too cold, too hot or too wet.

Click here to view the Australian Fitness Industry Risk Management Manual.

Click here to view the academic paper on which the Manual was based.

Click here for more information on ExerciseSafe.

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