Members get fit without getting hit

By Eric Spacek

Gyms and fitness classes are great perks, but make sure proper safeguards are in place.

Many churches are providing their members with more than a building in which to worship on Sundays. Some have coffee shops or offer business classes. Some have gymnasiums, fitness centers and on-site fitness classes.

While these are great perks in today’s age of wellness awareness, they also bring liabilities and require extra precautions.

Establish guidelines
No matter what type of fitness opportunity you offer at your church, it is important that the participants are physically capable of taking part in the activity. Post a statement urging all participants to be evaluated by a physician prior to beginning any exercise program.

Establish rules of conduct and have all members sign a form acknowledging they are aware of these rules. Post these rules at your facility to remind the participants what you expect of them while they are on the property. Include rules on attire, conduct, sanitation, hygiene, food and drink, valuables, and reporting of problems.

Facility procedures also should be established, including facility hours and emergency response procedures.

Having the proper staff is important in keeping your members safe. This means having an adequate number and keeping them appropriately trained, including training on CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) if your facility has one.  A church representative should be present at each activity in the gymnasium. He is responsible for implementing rules and responding to emergency situations. She also should be trained to respond to and report injuries.

For fitness classes, only hire certified instructors. If you are hiring an outside instructor, have a written facility-usage agreement with hold harmless language. Also, require a certificate of insurance, with the church added as an additional insured.

The exercise equipment in your fitness center is prone to wear and tear over time. Perform regular inspections of the machines, as well develop a plan to remove malfunctioning equipment from service.  After the fitness classes, equipment should be properly cleaned and stored.

Decide who will be allowed to use your facilities. There are certain liabilities that come with opening your doors to minors and outside groups.

By putting extra safeguards into place, the potential for an incident can be reduced.

Get release forms
If minors are allowed, establish a minimum age limit. Require the minor’s parent or guardian to sign a parental consent/release form and a parental consent to treatment.  When outside groups are allowed to use the facilities, put together a facility usage agreement with hold harmless language. Require a certificate of insurance from the outside group naming the church as an additional insured.

Offering fitness facilities to your congregation can be a great benefit, but it comes with additional liabilities for your church. Establishing guidelines, posting expectations and taking precautions can help reduce your chance of an incident.

Eric Spacek is senior risk manager at GuideOne Insurance, West Des Moines, IA, and a former liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.


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