Inspections Are Not Optional

Michael Burkart was injured when he fell from a Gravity Gym, on which he wasexercising while hanging upside down. He filed suit against Health and Tennis Corporation of America, alleging, among other things, negligence for failure to properly inspect the Gravity Gym. Testimony by an employee stated that she personally inspected the Gravity Gym daily. Further, the piece of equipment was listed on the maintenance list, indicating that it had been inspected. Also, inspection after the incident showed that the Gravity Gym was in good repair. The Texas court ruled for the fitness facility, finding there was no negligence.

The Burkart case illustrates the necessity of inspecting your facility and its equipment on a regular basis. Had there been no evidence of regular inspections, and the equipment been found faulty, Health and Tennis Corporation of America would probably have been found negligent in this case, and been liable for damages.

A facility’s obligation

Courts have determined that fitness center operators have an obligation to protect members from risks of which the operator is aware, or should be aware. This obligation for ordinary care carries with it the duty to inspect regularly for hazards or dangers. How often do you need to inspect? The courts cannot provide a rule that would apply in all situations, due to the varied types of activities involved, the ages and experience of the participants, and the number of clients using the facility. The standard applied by the courts is the reasonable and prudent professional standard — you should inspect as a reasonable and prudent professional would inspect under the same circumstances. Failure to do so could be deemed to constitute negligence.

Three types of inspections

Three types of inspections are recommended: daily, periodic and annual.

Daily. Each day, prior to opening the facility, a cursory inspection of the facility and the equipment should be conducted. In a high-traffic facility, this inspection may need to be conducted more than once a day. Obviously, this is not a detailed inspection, but it should reveal any obvious hazards. This type of inspection would identify such risks as broken glass created by vandalism, cluttered floors or puddles resulting from a leak in the roof.

Periodic.The second type ofinspection is the periodic, or weekly, inspection. The frequency of this inspection varies depending on the amount of traffic your facility receives. These inspections are much more detailed than the daily inspections, and should be conducted by a staff member who has been trained to conduct them. Each piece of equipment and each room (e.g., group exercise room, locker rooms, cardio area, strength area) is closely inspected. Frayed equipment cables, slick shower room floors, loose stair treads and faulty electrical wires are types of hazards that might be identified.

Annual. The final type of inspection is the major, or annual, inspection. This involves a thorough inspection of all equipment and every aspect of the facility — inside and out. This inspection should take hours, and be performed by one or more trained individuals, including the manager. It is highly recommended that this inspection be performed by an outside party, such as a professional risk manager, at least every two or three years. “New eyes” can spot hazards that might otherwise be overlooked.

Three final suggestions

1. Devise separate inspection checklists for each of the three types of inspections.

2. Following each inspection, have the person inspecting sign and date the checklist, and have a system for storing the checklists. Keep all checklists for at least one year (and preferably two or three years). You will need them if a lawsuit is filed two or three years later.

If an injury occurs, make a file of the injury that includes the incident report and all pertinent checklists, and keep them forever.

3. Establish a system for handling hazards found during each inspection. The system should provide for repairs, roping off equipment or areas to prevent use until repairs are made, and changing dangerous situations. If there are any problems, it is crucial that your inspection checklist not be filed away with no action taken.

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