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As a personal trainer or anyone else who works in a fitness centre, you’ll know how important gym health and safety is. Without proper knowledge and training, the chances of someone getting injured are high.
You probably look around your work and see weight benches, running machines, and yoga mats. Think about these in terms of hazards in a gym and they become a potential crush injury, someone falling backwards off the machine, and a trip hazard.
Although that might sound dramatic, one study suggests that 41 per cent of gym users have suffered an injury whilst training in the UK. A study in the US that looked at gym-related A&E admissions found that around a third were treadmill related.
Working in a gym is a dream for many, helping people to achieve their goals every single day. You have responsibilities that go with the role, too. Everyone who works in a gym is responsible for creating an environment that’s healthy and safe under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
There’s a lot that can go wrong in a gym, but there are also gym regulations that should keep you as a worker and your guests safe. Whatever your level of experience in the leisure and fitness industry, it’s worth refreshing your knowledge.
To that end, we’re going to be covering:
- Why a risk assessment is important in your gym.
- What steps to take to conduct a gym risk assessment.
- Reasons why everyone needs a gym induction.
- How to introduce new members to your gym.
- The training you and colleagues should have for working in a gym.
- Maintenance requirements for a safe and healthy gym.
Giving you everything you’ll need to know about gym regulations and your responsibilities.
Conducting a risk assessment at your gym
Final responsibility for health and safety in a workplace lands with your employer. This is as true for a gym as anywhere else. Employers are responsible for the health and safety of gym workers as well as anyone on site, whether using the facilities or not.
It’s never going to be possible to remove all risks, particularly in an environment like a gym. With heavy weights, excess water, and moving machinery, it’ll never be completely risk-free. That doesn’t mean gym health and safety can just be ignored. Gym owners and managers must create as safe a space as practical.
A gym risk assessment needs to be carried out to understand what your risks are and to see if any can be minimised or mitigated. Hazards in a gym are plentiful and you’ll need to record all the things you notice as well as what actions you take about them.
There’s no set timeframe to re-evaluate your health and safety assessment at your gym. The guidelines say that risk assessments must be done “on an ongoing basis”. Consider making a fresh risk assessment when:
- New equipment is installed at the gym.
- A new class or activity is being introduced.
- Equipment is rearranged around the gym.
- You repair or replace any equipment.
- An accident or injury occurs.
Along with any other time you feel circumstances have changed on site.
Who can conduct a gym health and safety risk assessment?
An employer or business owner doesn’t need to carry out the risk assessment at the gym themselves. It’s perfectly fine to appoint what’s known as a “competent person” to do it. That can be an employee of the company if they have relevant health and safety training.
It can also be an outsourced function if the business isn’t big enough or ready to train in-house. Advice can be sought from a range of people and organisations, such as:
- Trade associations such as the Fitness Industry Association.
- Safety groups.
- Trade unions – there isn’t an industry specific one in the UK at the moment.
- Consultants registered on the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR).
- Local councils.
- Health and safety training providers like CPD Online.
- Health and safety equipment suppliers.
As the owner or manager of a gym, you’ll need to be sure anyone you seek help or advice from is indeed competent and well trained to be able to carry out a risk assessment or part of it.
The steps for carrying out a risk assessment at your gym
Has your employer charged you with carrying out a risk assessment? As long as you’ve had sufficient training in health and safety, you’re able to carry out an assessment. Even if you’ve not been asked to make a formal assessment, it’s really useful to know what you should be looking for.
Take clear and specific steps when making a risk assessment and be sure to record everything you assess and the problems that crop up. If it’s the first risk assessment, you might just have to make your own notes. From here you can develop your own gym health and safety assessment checklist.
Spot the hazards
Take a walk around the gym and look at things that could harm or hurt a guest, your staff, or colleagues. Look out for:
- Activities such as stacking weights.
- Processes like setting up a room for a class.
- Substances such as cleaning chemicals.
And try and see your gym through fresh eyes to spot these things.
Other sources of information about hazards in your gym include:
- Manufacturers’ information about your machines and any cleaning chemicals.
- Your accident book – we’ll cover what this is in more detail later.
Also consider actions that aren’t routine but have risks involved in maintenance and cleaning of items. Long-term hazards need to be considered, such as Legionnaire’s disease which is an issue with standing water.
Consider the consequences
Before you can mitigate a risk, you need to think about who is at risk. In your gym, any member using a treadmill might encounter a risk on one, but only your staff or contractors would be at risk of pool chemicals stored in a locked room.
You should consider the risks to:
- The people who work in the gym.
- Gym members.
- Guests of members, if allowed.
- Freelance personal trainers.
- Special groups like new employees or pregnant women, or disabled users.
It’s worth consulting other people working at your gym. They might think of other people or risks that’d you’d not considered.
Once you’ve figured out what the risks are and who might be affected by them, you need to make a judgement of the risk. Can the risks be removed fully? How can the risks be minimised to an acceptable level?
Legal requirements for gyms are the same as other workplaces – you must do what is “reasonably practicable” to reduce risk. This can be measures like ensuring there are adequate instructions and advice about using equipment, sanitising products available, or using non-slip yoga mats.
Record the steps you take to reduce the risk to health and safety in the gym. You’ll need to check on them often. Signs can peel off, non-slip flooring can get worn out, or you could change your pool chemical supplier.
If you work at a small gym and there are less than five on the team, then legally you don’t need to record anything, It’s good practice, though. Your gym could grow and you’ll need to start recording at some point.
Your records need to reflect:
- That you did a proper check of your gym.
- You considered who was going to be affected by risks.
- All obvious and significant risks were dealt with in accordance with the chance of there being a problem.
- Your mitigating actions were reasonable and things are now low risk.
- Everyone working at your gym was consulted during your risk assessment.
Introducing new members to your gym
“But I’ve been going to the gym for years, do I really need the induction?” How many times have your heard that whilst working in gyms?
Every gym is different – machines made by different companies, fire exits in different locations, dirty towels put in different places. Your new members need to be told the key elements of how to use your gym safely. There’ll be differing positions on weight machines and changing weights won’t always be the same.
Another key element of a gym induction is to make sure that your members have a safe and healthy training plan. Not everyone understands about cardio and weights and each person will have different goals. It’s important to understand what your new member is looking for.
What you need to include in your gym induction
Although it’s not a legal requirement for every new member to go through an induction, for the reasons we’ve just gone through, it’s really helpful. We’ve put together a step-by-step guide on gym inductions – be sure to refer to the specific details of how to use the kit in your gym.
Step 1 – Initial tour
When you customer first arrives for their induction, you should show them around the gym and point out any general health and safety features. This includes showing where the fire exits are and where they can go to seek first aid.
It’s also your chance to understand what your customer wants from their gym membership, helping you target the rest of your induction. You can assess how much help they will need with a training plan. At this point you may need to give guidance on stretching and warming up before heading to the equipment.
Step 2 – Medical questionnaire
Known as a PAR-Q, a physical activity readiness questionnaire should be completed by every new member. Asking every member to complete the questionnaire will cover the legal requirements for your gym. It gives you general health advice as you need to know if your customers are ready to exercise or need to speak to their GP first.
Step 3 – Cardio
As some of the biggest hazards in a gym, you need to make sure your customers know how to use cardio equipment safely. Be sure they know how to get on an off safely. Showing them the emergency stop features are also important. Check manufacturer guidelines and be sure that all warning and information stickers are easy to read.
Step 4 – Resistance equipment
These machines have potential to do harm if your customers don’t sit right or know how to pull or push correctly. Depending on the goals you’ve discussed, you may also want to talk about free weights if the customer needs it.
Step 5 – Gym etiquette
Another vital element of gym health and safety is keeping equipment clean. This prevents the spread of germs and can reduce slipping hazards if sweat pools. Be sure your customer knows where to get towels to dry down equipment and where any cleaning or sanitising chemicals are, too.
Staff training when you work in a gym
It’s a legal requirement for gyms to have trained staff on hand. There are different types of training that everyone will need to undertake, and this will vary across different positions.
Everyone who works in a gym should undergo basic health and safety training. It’s everyone’s responsibility to create a safe place for people to train so it’s important to know what that actually means.
Fire safety training in also important. With a lot of electrical equipment around the place, there is a higher risk of fire than in some other workplaces. Fire safety training isn’t a legal requirement but it should make you feel much more confident dealing with a fire at work.
For all customer-facing staff, first aid training is very useful. The law says that first aid provision should be “adequate and appropriate”. The risk of someone getting injured on site is much higher than in a supermarket or a call centre, so it’s practical for there to be a first aider on site. The more first aid trained staff there are, the better for the gym.
To deliver inductions and create training plans for customers, you’ll need to be a qualified fitness trainer or instructor. You can take college courses or private training to become a fitness instructor, and apprenticeships are also available.
Do we need an accident book?
As with all companies with more than ten employees on site, accident books are a legal requirement for gyms. An accident book is a legal document where all serious accidents and near misses should be recorded.
What constitutes an accident for your gym’s accident books? First, the accident needs to be work related. That means that it happened because of one of three things:
- How your or your customer’s activity was being carried out or supervised.
- If any substance, plant, machine or equipment in your gym was involved.
- What condition the gym was in at the time the accident happened, e.g. wet floors.
Once you’ve decided the accident was work related, you need to establish if the incident is reportable. If someone dies due to an accident in your gym, that needs to be reported. There are other factors that would make an accident reportable too. When referring to employee accidents, the following things need to be assessed:
- A fracture to anything that’s not a finger, thumb, or toe.
- An amputation of any extremity.
- Permanent loss or reduction in sight.
- A crush that causes internal organ damage.
- Burns to more than 10% of the body or affecting eyes, breathing, or vital organs.
- Scalping that requires a hospital visit.
- Losing consciousness due to a head injury or asphyxia.
- An injury because of being in an enclosed space that needs more than 24 hours in hospital.
In terms of an injury to a customer on site, you need to complete the accident book if the injury is work related and requires the person to go direct to hospital for treatment. You don’t need to ask what treatment they received and if they go to hospital “just in case”, you don’t need to log it in the accident book.
Having an accident book is useful for two main reasons. Since you’re working with the public, having a record of any serious injuries will ensure that you’ve fulfilled your legal requirements. Further, the information in an accident book will feed into future risk assessments.
You may choose to carry out a new risk assessment after an accident to a staff member or a customer is reported. This will help prevent the same thing from happening again, hopefully.
Maintaining the building and equipment
As part of gym health and safety routines, you should make sure regular maintenance is conducted. Even if it doesn’t feel like it’s your job, you should report to your manager any issues that need to be fixed.
Areas that need to be regularly assessed and maintained include:
- The building – Entry and exit points should be clear and easy to use, check for any trip hazards. Inspect roofs and windows for potential leaks and that internal walls and doors are sound.
- Temperature – There are no specific gym regulations on temperature, but Sport England recommend 16-18 °C in summer. Make sure your customers are comfortable and adjust heating and cooling where needed.
- Equipment and machinery – These need to be checked regularly for faults or wear and tear. Every piece of equipment will come with manufacturers’ guidelines that you should follow. It can help to create a chart to log how frequently everything should be checked. Call for professional maintenance where necessary, don’t try to fix something you’re not qualified for.
- Gym layout – There should be adequate space between machines so that people can get on and off safely. There also needs to be safe access around the gym so fire exits are easy to get to. Encourage your customers to return free weights to racks to keep the floor clear and have this checked throughout the day.
- Testing fire alarms – Fire alarms should be tested weekly in gyms, just like other commercial buildings. Fire drills should be completed and recorded regularly and any issues that arise should be fixed as soon as possible.
- Evacuation routes and assembly points – Make it part of your risk assessment to check that evacuation route and assembly point information is clearly displayed. Every time new equipment arrives or the gym layout changes, assess whether you can still pass evacuation points.
- Cleaning procedures and schedules – Have a rota for daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning, including who is responsible for each task. Make sure you use the right products and that they all have the correct hazard labels on them.
Health and safety at the gym you work at is really important. It will keep you as an employee safe, ensure that your paying customers are safe, and protect the reputation of the gym. Who wants to train somewhere with sweaty equipment and dirty changing rooms?
Hazards in a gym are everywhere, much more so than in most workplaces. You need to be vigilant, even if your job isn’t specifically to monitor health and safety. By reporting problems you spot, you’re looking after everyone you work with – staff and customers.
Whether you’re a trainer who needs to safely induct new customers or a cleaner who needs to check COSHH labels on cleaning products, everyone has a part to play in maintaining health and safety at your gym.