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AB Conference: Risk Management

Sustainability, technology, the troubled economy. These are among the hot topics at this year's Athletic Business Conference & Expo. But year in and year out, a topic that remains one of the biggest draws among the thousands of attendees is risk management.

As Nathan Martin, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis, pointed out to attendees of a seminar he led on legal standards for fitness professionals, the reason for the topic's popularity is because it is an ongoing issue in any facility. "Risk management is a process and I want to reiterate that constantly," said Martin. "It never ends."

That was the message Martin and his speaking partner, University of New Mexico professor Todd Seidler, strove to communicate to attendees, who ranged from operators of large recreation centers to small health clubs.

Seidler shared the story of a former student who was injured by a handicap-accesible ramp built into an outdated YMCA swimming pool. After a trip to the emergency room, the student returned to the Y to let them know the underside of the ramp had sliced his forearm, requiring 12 stitches. The reply from the manager of the Y? "You're number 10," recalled Seidler, adding that facilities that don't respond to such foreseeable injuries "may as well just open their checkbooks."

Martin showed slides of numerous news stories discussing fitness-related lawsuits of all kinds, whether related to personal trainers, malfunctioning equipment or lack of supervision. He also showed a headline that read, "Health Club Release Form Bars Suit From Injured Member."

"These are the headlines we want to see," said Martin.

Naturally, the financial consequences of liability remains a big concern for facility operators, but Seidler stressed that it shouldn't be the only consideration as they craft risk-management plans. "This is part of a defense but it's also the right thing to do," Seidler said. "Sometimes we work with municipal agencies, and they'll say, 'We have immunity.' But that doesn't mean they're doing the right thing.'"

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