More than a quarter of fitness professionals in Australia are not aware of the emergency evacuation plans and other emergency procedures in their facilities.

According to CQUniversity’s Dr Betul Sekendiz, a lecturer in Exercise and Sport Management, who has recently broached the issue in the International Journal of Business Continuity and Risk Management, fitness facility staff might be used to dealing with the odd squashed toe or twisted back, but they also need to prepare for a much wider range of emergencies, beyond medical situations.

“Emergency situations at fitness facilities can occur at any time when it is least expected,” Dr Sekendiz says. “They can strike in the form of not only medical emergencies, but also fires, explosions, bomb threats, armed confrontations, and natural disasters.Therefore, it would just make sense to have an emergency plan regularly revised and rehearsed as part of a comprehensive risk management program that outlines what staff, visitors, and users at the facility should do in the unlikely event of an emergency.”

“This would also ensure that we can satisfy our duty of care under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation. However, assessed against industry best practices and national WHS requirements for emergency preparedness, it was found that more than one quarter (27%) of fitness facilities did not provide in-service training on emergency plans for their employees, and only 37% of the fitness facilities properly revised and practiced their emergency plans and procedures.”

Dr Sekendiz says the national AFIRM Project also found that more than one quarter (27.4%) of fitness professionals in Australia were not aware of the emergency evacuation plans and other emergency procedures in their facilities.

“Low compliance with emergency training, plans and procedures in fitness facilities can have a negative impact not only on the resilience of the fitness industry, but the community who depend on its services to keep physically active and healthy. Dr Sekendiz’s recent study, published in the international journal, has audited fitness facilities to analyse their emergency preparedness and interviewed their fitness staff and managers to identify sustainable risk management strategies.”

“The observational audits showed that the majority of participating fitness facilities were equipped for emergency situations with accessible fire equipment, first aid kits and emergency exits,” she says.

“However, a lack of operational emergency risk management practices was uncovered relating to emergency response plans (73%) and emergency evacuation procedures (55%). Meanwhile, emergency telephone numbers (91%) were not clearly displayed in most of the audited fitness facilities. Besides, almost half of the fitness facilities did not have maintenance records on their fire equipment to ensure that such equipment can work safely and properly when needed in an emergency. These observations suggested a lack of emergency response planning and training in the fitness facilities.”

“It is crucial for fitness facility operators to acknowledge that emergency equipment alone does not save lives. Appropriately and adequately trained staff prepared for all kinds of emergencies are critical to handle such situations professionally and successfully. As the in-depth interviews in this study suggested, training for emergencies at fitness facilities could be in the form of staff inductions and regular training during staff meetings.”

“Some of the fitness professionals interviewed in the recent study indicated that their facility checked currency of insurance of staff as one of the strategies they used to ensure compliance with legal requirements. It is not uncommon that many fitness facility owners and operators perceive insurance as the most important risk management practice to be covered for the costs of all legal liabilities,” Dr Sekendiz says. “However, most liability insurers do not offer protection against criminal liability such as breaches of WHS requirements. Even if they do, it is unlikely that the courts will decide in favour of such claims.”