Appropriate signage and supervision are keys to keeping locker rooms safe. Also pay special attention to lockers, flooring and electrical outlets.

A luxurious locker room can help to sell facility memberships; but, while members want a beautiful and well-laid-out space, you want an area that is as safe and secure as possible. "[Locker rooms are] the No. 1 hazard of a fitness center," says Ken McKay, vice president of Fitness Pak Insurance, Chico, Calif. "You've got to take appropriate action to prevent accidents." There are plenty of hazards all over your fitness center, and locker rooms are no exception. Think of the wet areas (slippery!), the hair dryers (electrifying!) and the unlocked lockers (theft!). These lead to real safety and liability issues, so you need to do your best to prevent them so you and your members are not caught off-guard.

Floors

"Slip-and-fall accidents are the most common hazards associated with locker room wet areas," says Michael Swain of Markel Insurance Company, Glen Allen, Va. So, what is the best flooring for your facility to prevent such accidents? The predominant flooring in a locker room is a textured tile, which is usually required by state health departments. And, many managers are also choosing non-slip, porous, anti-fungal mats.

You may also find carpeting in locker rooms. While this isn't advisable in the wet areas due to drainage issues, it is becoming more common in locker and dressing areas. There is still a potential problem with traditional carpeting: It is difficult to keep clean and to disinfect, and powder, lotions and other personal care products can get into the carpet fibers. Vacuuming alone won't cut it for cleaning. However, there is a new polypropylene material in indoor/outdoor carpeting that is making locker room carpeting a more viable option. The fibers resist moisture build-up and bacteria, and can be cleaned with soap and water. This option is available in both woven and loomed options.

Electrical needs

Electrical outlets for hair dryers, curling irons, electric razors, etc., should be kept away from water sources. If outlets are at the sink area, consider having a contractor cap those wires, cover the outlet with a solid plate and add outlets in a separate "dressing" area that includes a counter and mirror space. Not only will this be a safety feature, it will also free up the sinks for those washing their hands, etc.

Insurance Company Tips

Markel Insurance Company recommends the following practices for locker room safety:
  • Document inspection and cleaning procedures for wet areas. These procedures should include an hourly inspection of showers and other wet areas for potential slip-and-fall hazards, validating that mats are in place and do not present a tripping hazard. Additionally, inspect all floor tiles and surfaces to ensure they are even and free of gaps, gouges and broken areas.
  • Have clearly visible indicators for steps and changes in elevation.
  • Use non-skid mats and/or vinyl floor tiles designed for showers and other wet areas.
  • Use caution signs to warn of slippery conditions.
  • Use non-skid wax on tile floors.
  • Have signage requiring swimmers to dry off in the pool area so that they do not track water throughout the facility.
  • Prohibit the use of cell phones in the locker room and pool areas.
  • Have procedures to educate all employees about the importance of keeping floors free of slip, trip and fall hazards.

For insurance purposes, "sinks and dressing areas are different from wet areas," says Jennifer Urmston Lowe of Sports & Fitness Insurance Corp., Madison, Miss. "For insurance purposes, wet areas are showers, hot tubs, whirlpools, saunas and swimming pools. There should not be electrical outlets in these wet areas, and there should be non-slip flooring or floor covering in these areas."

Newer facilities will certainly have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. Older facilities that do not have this type of outlet need to upgrade - today. This type of outlet ensures that if there is a power surge, the power will be shut off, protecting the member from shock and the building from fire. If your facility provides hair dryers, make sure those also have surge-protected plugs. Remind members that no electrical equipment should be used while they are in standing water.

Signs and waivers

It is imperative that you have signs posted for the safety of your members. While it may seem painfully obvious that valuables should never be left unsecured in lockers, and shower floors are slippery, to protect yourself from a litigious society, you must inform members of these facts.

Do you want to be responsible for lost or stolen items? If not, clearly and consistently post that your facility is not responsible, and that valuables need to be secured. If you have a hot tub or sauna, post age requirements (the Facility Development department of USA Swimming recommends a minimum age of 16 years) and pregnancy restrictions, etc.

Insurance underwriter Urmston Lowe also suggests that facilities post signage stating that the use of any kind of camera is not permitted in locker rooms. "So far, this has not been as big of an issue as was feared when the technology became widespread, but it is advisable," she says. Swain also recommends that "clubs post signage requiring swimmers to dry off in the pool area and shower stall, so they do not track water throughout the facility, [and] signage prohibiting running in the locker room."

In addition to posted signs, make sure your fitness center's waiver and informed consent contains language that will stand up in court. If you have specific issues that members need to be aware of, a separate letter sent to members' homes, posted to your website and bulletin board, etc., will inform members, and allow them the opportunity to take additional care. For instance, if your fitness center has had a rash of locker thefts, let members know so that they can take the extra step to safely secure their things.

Security and safety

There are many locker-securing options, and each mechanism has its pluses and minuses. McKay has found that the one type of lock that seems to work well, however, is the pin pad system. While "it is still susceptible to a large screwdriver," he says, it's a good choice. Swain suggests that fitness centers do not provide locks for member use, due to the possibility of opening the facility to liability. "Clubs should avoid providing locks, because, if a member's possessions are stolen, a club may be held responsible," says Swain. "I have seen some clubs provide pay-to-use lockers. With these lockers, once payment is made, the member receives a key that must be returned to the lock in order to open it. This type of locker is okay, as it transfers the security to the members until they return the key. As a side note, clubs should secure all lockers to the wall, so they cannot tip over. Lockers should be inspected periodically to make sure they are free of defects that can cause an injury to the user."

Any safety measure, however, is no substitute for good, old-fashioned footwork. Your manager on duty should walk through the fitness center to ensure the safety of patrons, their valuables and your facility. A staff member's presence will prevent the temptation for mischief, and ensure that you find any members with a medical emergency (or other need) in time. A good rule of thumb is to circulate the entire building every 15 minutes. Should you have a hot tub or sauna, you will likely want to circulate more frequently.

Adds Urmston Lowe, "Managers should make sure that all members and guests are offered appropriate instruction on the use of the facility and all equipment, including equipment in the locker rooms such as the sauna or whirlpool." In a court of law, you will need to prove diligence in orientations for new members, and presence in all areas of the facility. This includes not only proper supervision of members' usage, but also attending to necessary items throughout the day such as wiping up standing water, etc. Use a check-off system for security inspections, where you date, time stamp and initial all necessary information. Also, provide a place on that paper to notate any issues that needed attention and how you took care of them.

The exits to the locker room, shower room, hot tub and sauna always need to be clear. Provide clearly delineated space for personal items, and remember that you may need to "help" members remember to keep the aisles clear.

An excellent idea is to have an emergency assistance button in your locker room, hot tub, shower room and other areas of the facility that are not within easy and consistent view of your staff.

Practice makes perfect

Have you planned for any contingencies that may take place in your locker rooms? Theft, falls, cardiac emergencies, etc., can take place anywhere, and, with the many hazards in the locker areas, it is imperative to have a well-thought-out and practiced plan for every conceivable emergency. Create an emergency action plan, and have all of your employees practice it.

The most important things you can do to keep your risk of locker room issues low is to perform safety sweeps, document what you find and stay diligent.