Gym Hazard Identification Guide
As a fitness club owner or manager this brief guide will help you with the hazard identification process that is required within the occupational health and safety system in New Zealand.
Keeping your club safe and your documentation up to date can help immensely if there are any issues on your shop floor.
A Guide to Gym Hazard Identification
Employers/Principals must identify and regularly review hazards in the place of work, whether existing, new or potential, to determine whether they are ‘significant hazards’ that require further action. Employees and Contractors also have a duty to take an active part in this process.
What is a Hazard?
A hazard is an activity, arrangement, circumstance, event, occurrence, phenomenon, process, situation, or substance (whether arising or caused within or outside a place of work) that is an actual or potential cause or source of harm
- Situations where a person’s behaviour may be an actual or potential cause or source of harm to the person or another person
Example: A customer’ performing an exercise in a dangerous fashion
- Situations resulting from physical or mental fatigue, drugs, alcohol, traumatic shock, or another temporary condition that affects a person’s behaviour
Example: Injury resulting from a ‘customer’ overreaching and tripping due to fatigue
What is a Significant Hazard?
A hazard that is an actual or potential cause or source of:
- Serious harm; or
- Harm (being more than trivial), the severity of whose effects on any person depends (entirely or among other things) on the extent or frequency of the person’s exposure to the hazard; or
- Harm that does not usually occur, or usually is not easily detectable, until a significant time after exposure to the hazard
What is Harm?
Harm means illness, injury, or both; and includes physical or mental harm caused by work-related stress. In fitness, harm may include a minor muscle strain or bruise.
What is Serious Harm?
Serious harm is any condition that amounts to, or results in, permanent loss of bodily function, or temporary severe loss of bodily function. Serious harm could include head injury resulting from a snapped cable on a lat pulldown machine.
Other examples of serious harm in fitness environments could include:
- Noise-induced hearing loss (from repeated exposure to unchecked sound system volume)
- Communicable disease (from poorly cleaned exercise equipment)
- Poisoning (unfiltered water supply, out of date supplements)
- Penetrating wound of eye (frayed cable on weight machine)
- Bone fracture (slipping off a step in a group fitness class)
- Laceration (slipping on wet floor in changing room)
- Crushing (dropping a heavy weight on your foot)
- Amputation of body part (toes have been known to be lost when heavy weight plates have been dropped on feet without shoes on)
- Burns requiring referral to a specialist registered medical practitioner or specialist outpatient clinic (check to make sure customers do not fall asleep on the sunbed!)
- Loss of consciousness, or acute illness requiring treatment by a registered medical practitioner, from absorption, inhalation, or ingestion, of any substance
- Any harm that causes the person harmed to be hospitalised for a period of 48 hours or more commencing within seven days of the harm’s occurrence (e.g. broken ankle falling off a treadmill, heart attack)
Categories of Hazards
You should look for hazards which you could expect to cause harm under the conditions particular to your organisation. The following provides a guide as to the groups of hazards you are looking for.
- Slipping/tripping hazards (e.g. equipment not returned to racks, spilt water not mopped up, children running in the free weight area or group fitness studio during a class)
- Fire (e.g. from flammable materials, towels left on hot surfaces on a sauna, overloading of multi-plugs to power equipment)
- Chemicals (e.g. cleaning fluids left in open cupboards in close proximity to child minding facility)
- Moving parts of machinery (e.g. belts on treadmills, handles on cross trainers)
- Vehicles (e.g. ensuring car parking for customers with disabilities is kept available for these customers or, excessive speed in the car park)
- Biological hazards (e.g. exercise participants not wiping equipment down after use risk spreading Hepatitis B and other nasty bugs, control of bleeding when a client is injured)
- Electricity (e.g. Power sockets close to water fountains, power cords partially severed as equipment rolls over them, power sockets in crèche without child proofing)
- Ergonomic hazards (e.g. heavy free weights left lying on the floor, or machines left fully loaded with weight)
- Social hazards (e.g. alcohol/steroid abuse, eating disorders)
- Psychological (e.g. stress and fatigue)
Dealing with Hazards
It sometimes seems that just about everything in fitness is a hazard of one form or another, so what can we do to ensure our facilities are safe for those in them?
Take these steps when dealing with significant hazards:
- Eliminate the hazard where practicable
E.g. Replace a frayed cable on a weight machine
- If elimination is not practicable, the hazard must be isolated. When an appropriate person is not available to replace the cable the machine should be placed ‘out of order’ and the appropriate person (normally the principal/manager) informed immediately that this machine needs repair.
- In the case of the hazard being impractical to eliminate or isolate the hazard completely, then the hazard must be minimised and monitored.
For example: When a leg press machine is left fully loaded with heavy weight plates it is a significant hazard. We can minimise this hazard by ensuring customers unload this machine after use and placing signs on it that remind customers to do this, this also requires us to monitor this potential hazard to ensure customers do unload their weights after use.
Occasionally it will be necessary for staff to unload equipment when they monitor the facility. The storage of heavy weight plates can also be a hazard. Minimising this could include storing heavy weight plates higher on a ‘weight tree’ than lighter weights so customers do not have to bend down to the lowest rack in order to pick up the heaviest weight.
Use these three common methods to identify hazards in the gym.
1. Physical Inspections
This is the traditional method of identifying hazards by walking around the place of work with the aid of a check list. In fitness this may involve completing daily maintenance check list of equipment and the facility to ensure all is safe. This is often referred to as ‘preventative maintenance’.
2. Task Analysis
Look at the tasks in each job (fitness instructor, cleaner, personal trainer etc) and observe that person performing their tasks. At the same time identify the hazards involved.
For example a key task of most group fitness instructors prior to each class is to ask whether participants have existing injuries or medical conditions and present options to these customers to ensure they can participate safely in the class.
Do personal trainers unload all their weight machines after use? Do the cleaners put up ‘wet floor’ warning signs after mopping the floor?
3. Accident Investigation Details
Investigating accidents can help to identify hazards that may have been overlooked or that need constant attention.
For example reminding customers to securely fasten collars on weight bars, and wipe their sweat off equipment after use. See the later section on accidents and incidents.
Hazard Risk Assessment
A hazard risk assessment is a careful examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people, so that you and your employer/principal can weigh up whether they have taken enough precautions or should do more to prevent harm.
The aim is to make sure that no one gets hurt or becomes ill. The important things you need to decide are whether a hazard is significant, and whether you have it covered by satisfactory precautions so that the risk is small. You need to check this when you assess the risks. You can assess the risks using a Hazard Identification Form
Hazard Identification Procedure for Work Sites
1. Look for the Hazards
Identify hazards using any or all of the three methods explained above, identify what the potential harm is (what injuries/illnesses may occur) and to whom, and using the definitions provided earlier determine whether the hazard is significant.
Remember if the hazard has the potential to cause injury or serious harm, or has delayed or cumulative effects, then it is a significant hazard and must be controlled.
Complete the Hazard Identification Form identifying the hazard in Column 1, the nature of the harm and who it effects in Column 2 and ticking Yes or No to record if the hazard is significant or not.
2. Rate the Risk
Hazards will vary in severity. Ask yourself what will be the effect if someone was injured by this hazard?
- Slight, resulting in minor or nil injury (minor cut, bruise)
- Moderate, resulting in injuries where people may be off work (broken toe, back strain)
- Serious, resulting in death or serious injury (heart attack, unconsciousness, loss of limb)
Write down the number corresponding to the severity level you have chosen i.e. 1, 2 or 3.
Harm may not always arise from exposure to a hazard. In practice the organisation of the work, the effectiveness of controls and, the extent and nature of exposure to it, dictates the probability of harm.
Again ask yourself what is the likelihood of harm occurring as a result of this hazard?
- Unlikely, where harm will seldom occur
- Likely, where harm will occur more often than not
- Very Likely, where it is certain or near certain that harm will occur
Now write down the number corresponding to how likely harm will occur as a result of this hazard. To estimate the risk of this hazard multiply the two numbers that you have chosen and the total figure is your risk rating.
Risk = Hazard Severity x Likelihood of Occurrence
By multiplying together the severity of a hazard and the probability of occurrence, you obtain a single figure, which allows you to compare risks. At this stage you have a risk rating for each hazard to be used for prioritising purposes only.
Where hazards affect more than one person you can multiply the figure by the number of people exposed to obtain a better comparison.
The rating of risk can assist you in deciding which significant hazard to deal with first – a high score before a low score. Complete your risk rating by writing your score on the hazard identification form in Column 4.
3. Establish Controls
What you have to decide for each “significant hazard” is ways to eliminate, isolate or minimise the risk. You can do this by introducing controls. Controls can take the form of physical controls or management controls.
Physical controls include:
- Warning devices
- Personal protection equipment
Management controls include:
- Check lists
If you can get rid of the hazard immediately (eliminate it) then do so. If not you should consider isolating or minimising it.
An example of isolation would be locking the door to the cleaner’s cupboard to prevent public access to chemicals. Minimisation may be providing a sign in the weight room that prohibits children from entering.
Please note; Monitor the hazard if you are only able to minimise it. For example as long as children have access to the facility a process for monitoring them must exist.
Write down in detail the proposed controls on your hazard identification form in Column 5 and sign and date the form in Column 6.
4. Pass on Your Findings
Once you have completed your Hazard Identification Form you should consult with the employer/principal about your findings. They will keep the record for future reference or use. You can also ask an inspector what precautions have already been taken for a particular hazard.
It can also remind employers and staff to keep an eye on particular hazards and precautions and it helps to show that you have done what the law requires.
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