Understanding Risk Management as a Fitness Professional

by Integro Entertainment & Sport
Career Series June 2017


There's risk in every business, but fitness professionals can often face higher risk than most. While personal trainer insurance can offer solid protection, fitness professionals can best protect themselves by understanding the fundamentals of risk management as they apply within the realm of sports and fitness. In this article, global insurance firm Integro Entertainment & Sports offers tips on how to best protect yourself and your business, defines common insurance terms, and provides an overview to understanding insurance conditions.

Article Highlights:

  Fitness professionals can best protect themselves with Certified Professional Insurance (personal trainer insurance) and an understanding of what risk management means.  
  Understand the consequences and identify potential risks; understand the different levels of insurance, and how your coverage works. 
  Oftentimes, local retail brokers do not understand the nuances of covering those in the sports and fitness industry.  
  Insurance is great and necessary, but to truly protect yourself, implement some risk management techniques such as documenting everything, avoiding one-on-one situations, etc.  

As a certified specialist or trainer, you appreciate the importance of technique. Every day, you emphasize to your clients the need for proper technique in order to achieve specific athletic results. As professional risk managers, we share your commitment to technique.

In the risk management world, proper technique is about mitigating and responding to risk to protect the bottom line. Here are six fundamental risk management techniques that will serve every NSCA Member well.

1. Understand What Is At Risk  
Your livelihood is on the line. It only takes a single lawsuit or claim to bankrupt you. We live in a litigious society. You are a professional with specialized training and certification; though you may not be ultimately responsible for an injury or damages, your role makes you a target. Even baseless claims require you to defend yourself and any legal defense can be costly. Here are examples of claims we have seen in your profession recently:

  • A client alleged that the fitness program designed for him by his trainer was not appropriate for his fitness level, resulting in bodily injury.
  • A client alleged that her trainer did not properly instruct her on the use of a treadmill. She suffered severe injuries when she fell on the machine after inadvertently increasing the speed. The claim was settled for a six-figure amount.
  • A facility filed a claim after a trainer moved a piece of equipment and damaged the facility’s mirrors to the tune of $1,000.
  • A client alleged that her trainer was negligent in not inspecting the fitness equipment he instructed her to use. The client was injured when a cable failed and fell on her head.
  • A client alleged that his trainer selected a space that was too small for the exercise being performed, resulting in the client sustaining a head injury. The claim was settled for a six figure amount.

2. Identify Your Risks 
All businesses have risks; inventory yours. They may include:

  • Clients pushing themselves to—and past—physical limits under your guidance
  • Supervising clients performing challenging athletic movements
  • Use of specialized equipment
  • Use of facilities owned/operated/maintained by someone else
  • Providing plans for clients to perform unsupervised athletic activities
  • Opportunity for misunderstanding about the intent of physical contact with your client
  • Client’s preexisting and unreported medical condition that manifests during training

3. Be an Educated Insurance Consumer 
A little insurance knowledge can empower you as a consumer and give you peace of mind that you have solutions that respond to your risks. Here is a start:

General liability insurance is designed to respond to claims brought by third parties (e.g., clients, facility owners, etc.) alleging bodily injury, property damage, or personal or advertising injury in connection with covered activities (e.g., client-training activities).

Professional liability insurance is designed to protect professionals from claims arising from errors or omissions in the performance of their professional services (e.g., training services).

An insurance limit is the total amount the insurance carrier will pay for a particular type of claim, usually expressed as “per occurrence” (e.g., per accident) or “in the aggregate” (e.g., all claims occurring during the insurance term).

Integro Entertainment & Sports has partnered with the NSCA to offer a custom solution that represents a combination of general and professional liability insurance. The limits and coverage are designed to respond to the likely claims given the position you hold as a certified professional in your industry.

To learn more, visit www.nsca.com/Membership/Member-Tools/Insurance.

4. Do Not Assume That Your Local Retail Broker Has You Covered 
Many local retail insurance brokers (often affiliated with national brands using athletes and actors as spokespeople) sell insurance products for small businesses. Most are not versed in the nuances of protecting a sport or fitness related business.

We regularly see general liability policies that have been placed by a retail broker (often a friend or relative of the insured) and are intended for a sports or fitness business but include a “Participant Legal Liability exclusion” for athletic activities. This common exclusion means that the insurance carrier will deny claims that allege injury from participation in an athletic activity. This is wholly inappropriate for a business like yours, in which participation in athletic activities is a core element.

Another common weakness we see is an exclusion for sexual abuse and molestation claims. Whether the alleged abuse or molestation is ultimately substantiated or not, response to that allegation requires a legal defense. With this exclusion in the liability policy, the insurance carrier will deny the claim and the insured will pay out of pocket to defend him/herself.

The NSCA is partners with Integro Entertainment & Sports because we specialize in sports business risks. We have the expertise and relationships with insurance carriers to avoid the pitfalls noted above and design an effective solution for NSCA Members.

5. Do Not Rely on Insurance Alone 
There are a number of risk management techniques that can help prevent insurance claims before they occur. Here are a few examples:

  • Require clients to execute a waiver and release form that articulates the risk assumed by participating in training and releases you from claims arising from your role as their trainer. Read contracts that facilities ask you to execute. Many will allocate all risk to you, including things out of your control (e.g., facility condition, actions of a facility employee, etc.) under the assumption that you will not read or negotiate the contract. Push back and demand that the facility take responsibility for those risks under its control.
  • Commit to documentation; record details of your sessions with clients and immediately document any incidents that you believe may result in a claim or lawsuit. Claims may arise years after an incident, when your memory of the details has faded.
  • Protect yourself from potential misunderstandings about physical contact. Ask clients for permission to use tactile spotting. Avoid one-on-one situations behind closed doors—work in a setting where others are present.
  • Conduct pre-screenings and thorough health histories. Consider requiring written medical clearance to participate in fitness training from the client’s primary care doctor.

6. Reevaluate Periodically 
Your business changes over time. Build a fresh look at your risks and risk management techniques into your business planning cycle on an annual basis at minimum.

Disclaimer: The risk management information appearing in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice. We urge you to consult with your own legal advisor before taking any action based on information appearing in this article.


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