Gym and fitness centre owners are physical fitness champions who revel in helping people improve their health and wellness.

Although there are plenty of benefits to owning a gym, there are hazards, risks, and safety issues that threaten your small business.

Even the most organized and well-managed gyms and fitness centres are vulnerable to many liability exposures.

Here are the six most common risks gym and fitness centre owners face and how to mitigate them:

A woman exercising in a gym.

1. Accidents and injuries

Enthusiastic gym-goers are running and spinning, lifting and pumping, and they risk getting hurt if they lose their footing and slip or fall. Beyond sprains and broken bones, a client improperly using your facility’s equipment and injuring themselves can cost your gym an arm and a leg. Treadmills pose the no. 1 injury risk in any gym or fitness centre.

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How can you avoid this?

  • Institute proper training and use of documentation for all equipment users, trainers, and clients.
  • Ensure all equipment is in top shape and there’s adequate space between different exercise machines.
  • Monitor how your clients use your equipment and prevent them from suffering an injury by advising them to use it safely if you see them misusing any equipment.
  • Communicate clearly, and continually reinforce your safety rules to clients, ensuring staff enforce the safeguards.
  • Post all rules and safety signage in highly visible areas throughout the facility.
  • Keep your fitness centre uncluttered and clean, and ensure there are no trip hazards.
  • Investigate, document, and take action to correct any situation if one of your clients gets injured.
  • Commercial general liability (CGL) coverage can help shield you from costs associated with third-party bodily injury or property damage claims and lawsuits.
  • Require your guests to sign a customer liability waiver that releases you and your gym from injury liability upon signing up. Although you can still be held accountable if a client does get injured, the disclaimer is a recommended precaution to indemnify your gym against accident and injury claims.

2. Personal trainer and employee advice

Do you have employees who are personal trainers or permit independent fitness professionals to serve their clients at your facility? Be aware you can be held liable for damage or loss caused by advice given to one of your clients in your gym. 

For example, if a personal trainer encourages a client to over-exert themselves, causing them physical or emotional harm, you could be named in a third-party bodily injury lawsuit.

How can you avoid this?

  • Only hire qualified staff and personal trainers with the appropriate experience, licence, or certification.
  • As the business owner, if your gym provides fitness classes and personal training sessions, double-check to ensure your policy’s professional liability coverage protects your employees.
  • If you allow independent fitness instructors to work at your facility, ensure they carry professional liability insurance by asking to see their certificate of insurance.

3. Crime and vandalism

Where there are supplies, merchandise, equipment, and electronics, there is a risk of theft or vandalism. Plus, your clients usually show up at the gym wearing and carrying their belongings to stash in the locker rooms. Made to be private and discreet, these are also the conditions for damage and theft.

If your staff or clients are victims of property crime on your premises, you could be held liable for their losses.

How can you avoid this?

  • Install surveillance cameras at entrances, exits, and common areas. 
  • Offer lockable storage in the changerooms for clients and staff.
  • “Items left at user’s own risk” signage can forewarn your clients to be vigilant with their property.
  • Get business contents insurance.It provides financial support for damage or loss to your property and business contents for various issues, such as theft, vandalism, fire, flood, or damage because of extreme weather. It can also include coverage for business interruption to reimburse you for lost income.
  • Consider adding commercial crime insurance to your policy if you’re concerned about employee-related theft.

4. Harassment and acts of violence

The trainer-client relationship can be very close, and when that occurs, the potential risk of harassment, sexual or otherwise, is possible. Remember, any negligent act by a trainer hired at your gym or fitness centre can result in claims against you or your business. In general, you can be held financially liable for your employees’ actions or inactions through vicarious liability.

Furthermore, fitness centres and gyms, frequented by many, can be energy hotbeds. As a result, an event between your customers could turn violent.

How can you avoid this?

  • Ensure you have 24/7 monitored surveillance cameras onsite.
  • Develop and enforce gym rules and policies that prohibit harassment, make it easy for your clients to anonymously report unacceptable behaviour by employees or personal trainers to you, and take immediate action if you receive a complaint.
  • If two or more of your customers get into a violent disagreement, do not hesitate to call the police and report it. Get a copy of the police report whether or not charges are laid against anyone.
  • Professional liability insurance will help protect your gym in the event of allegations of harassment. Note that your policy may not automatically cover personal trainers, but you can add staff and trainers as additional insureds.

5. Cyber-attacks and data breaches

Small businesses are frequent targets of cybercriminals. Moreover, gyms and fitness centres are regular targets. It makes sense. Storing your customers’ personal and financial information — birthdates, home and email addresses, and credit card information — is common. If this data is not sufficiently protected, your business could be liable for the damage caused by a data breach or cyber-attack. 

It is your responsibility to physically and digitally protect your clients’ data. Shoring up your facility’s cybersecurity defences should not be an afterthought.

How can you avoid this?

  • Institute a strong password policy to protect all software-enabled systems and launch automatic inactivity timeout settings to close sessions.
  • Encrypt your data and back it up daily.
  • Keep anti-virus and anti-malware protection up-to-date.
  • Physically secure all records access points behind locked and monitored doors.
  • Shred any hard copies of sensitive documents on disposal.
  • Train employees on these procedures and underscore the significance of cybersecurity and the implications of non-adherence.
  • Regularly audit your procedures via a third-party cybersecurity firm, and improve as needed.
  • Get cyber liability insurance. It provides funds for recovery and restoration costs, legal fees, crisis management services, and credit monitoring.

6. Losses from natural disasters and emergencies

Natural disasters and extreme weather events typically strike without warning. Likewise, emergencies can happen to anyone and any business. 

How can you avoid this?

  • You can’t avoid disasters or emergencies, but you can be prepared. A business continuity plan (prepared in advance) will outline the steps you need to take if necessary.
  • Have a fire safety and evacuation plan documented and posted. Ensure your employees are familiar with it.
  • Install a monitored fire, smoke, and water damage alarm system.
  • Prepare a plan for dealing with power outages
  • It’s essential to have commercial property insurance to cover you for damages or losses related to fires, floods, and extreme weather.

Manage Your Gym’s Liability Risks

Running a successful gym or fitness centre means providing your clients with a safe, clean, and rewarding experience. You can’t do that without proactively addressing the liability risks your small business faces. Get a free gym liability insurance quote quickly and easily through Zensurance.

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About the Author: Shelly Petrie

Shelly Petrie is a Team Lead, Digital Solutions Team, Zensurance.