Prior to becoming a full-time academician in 1994, Dr. Eickhoff-Shemek worked as a health/fitness manager in various settings (e.g., community, clinical, educational) for nearly 20 years. As a manager, she always believed the safety of members and participants was her #1 priority. The following list describes some the many risk management strategies she developed and implemented. The safety record in these facilities/programs was exemplary – no claims/lawsuits were ever made against her, her staff members, or the facilities. In one facility, the liability insurance provider even lowered the premiums due to an excellent safety record.
Developed and implemented a comprehensive, formal training program for group exercise leaders. The training program consisted of a 12-week classroom course followed by practical experience, i.e., working as a “trainee” (like a student teacher) in a class with an experienced teacher for several weeks. The professional staff then evaluated the trainee’s teaching performance to help ensure the trainee was ready to teach a class on her/his own. This resulted in a high-quality group exercise program that was well-received by participants and led to a huge expansion of the program. Note: This educational training program occurred years before certifications were available and before personal training became popular. If personal training had been offered at the time, Dr. Eickhoff-Shemek would have had all personal trainers go through the same type of formal training before being hired.
If Dr. Eickhoff-Shemek was a manager again today, she would still provide a similar educational program for all group exercise leaders and personal trainers. Possessing an accredited certification is important but more important is successfully completing a formal educational program that includes practical training. Improper instruction is one of most common liability exposures that fitness facilities face.
- Coordinated regular in-service trainings for fitness staff members.
- Developed and implemented a comprehensive Emergency Action Plan (EAP) called Be Aware - Stay Aware. Staff members were required to attend trainings and obtain First Aid and CPR certifications. Note: AEDs were not available at that time.
- Set policies to help ensure safe instruction and environment such as: (a) only “professional” staff members with a degree in the field could teach exercise classes for special populations, (b) prepared a written “policy and procedures manual” for staff members and volunteers to follow, and (c) developed “safety” policies for members/participants to follow.
- Initiated the formation of a Risk Management Advisory committee (e.g., medical, legal, insurance experts) who met on a regular basis to assist/advise the professional staff with safety and risk management issues.
Dr. Eickhoff-Shemek began her career as health/fitness manager in 1975. The above risk management strategies were made years before professional organizations began to publish safety standards and guidelines for fitness facilities. Fortunately, today fitness managers have many more resources to help them with their risk management efforts.