“It’s always funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.” -Bill Hicks
The problem is there are not many times when an injury in your own facility elicits laughter. Most times, the emotions run along the lines of shock and a sense of helplessness/panic/fear, followed by the overwhelming thought of, “What’s this going to do to my insurance?”
Like any unpleasant experience, we too often place the need for a written contingency plan on the back burner, but like that unwatched pot, sometimes events boil over.
Do You Have an Emergency Action Plan?
Many of us spend countless hours and dollars preparing our classes, one-on-one sessions, and special events for content, working tirelessly to make sure our customers receive the very best experience. But in addition to the material, what steps have you taken in case one of those folks with whom you’re working injures himself, or worse, has a catastrophic event like a heart attack?
How you prepare the basics of an emergency action plan not only protects you and the person involved in any emergency, but it also reflects upon you with those people left watching as the emergency unfolds.
- Too many times, an event has packed too many people into a room that can’t handle the numbers. A small room with a large group swinging kettlebells is like a smoking area near the dynamite storage room. Maybe there’s an explosion today, maybe next week or next year, but you know it’s coming. If you own the facility, you need to be aware of occupancy limits, as well as a business and communication plan if you experience exponential growth for one or many of your classes. It only takes one time for something to happen to change your life forever.
- If you’re traveling to do an event, make sure to visit the facility prior to the event to confirm that everything the manager/owner told you was accurate. This sounds cynical, but many times, a facility owner will tell you what you want to hear, or worse, won’t tell you much if you don’t ask the right questions.
- Does the facility you’re using have an adequate way of letting emergency responders enter and exit with a gurney and other equipment? Is there an area where an injured person can be taken and treated with privacy, away from the eyes of everyone else in the class? Here’s a simple example: you may have the city-mandated wheelchair lift at the front door that allows handicapped people access to your place, but is the lift big enough for two EMTs, a wheeled stretcher (carrying someone), and assorted oxygen tanks? Will the responders to an emergency have to figure out how to navigate a tight set of stairs to get someone out to an ambulance?
- Are the emergency exits blocked with unused equipment or broken machines that probably should have been trashed instead of being used as clothing racks? The time spent “clearing a path” is precious to the person who needs to get to a hospital quickly.
- Does the facility have adequate ventilation? Sure, we like to think all our students or clients need to toughen up, but not using the air conditioning in a facility during hot weather is not the ideal way to accomplish this.
- Finally, know and respect the facility’s limitations.
Tools of the Trade
- Check your first aid kit weekly, daily is even better. When was the last time you checked your basic first aid kit? This may sound strange, but people feel entitled to grab a Band-Aid, gauze, Tylenol, alcohol wipes, or anything else they may need as they use your facility. How many times have you really needed a Band-Aid or tape and gone to the first aid kit, only to find a rusted lance, two sticks of gum, a Band-Aid wrapper, and a pack of two Bayer aspirin tablets that expired during the Nixon administration, along with the obligatory empty roll of tape?
- An AED costs money, but it saves lives. Those who have taken a recent CPR course may have had instruction on the use of an AED. For what it might cost you for four hours’ time with your attorney, buy one. It’s just as important as the reverse-hyper machine you’ve always wanted. If you’re renting a facility, ask where their AED is located before you get there. If they say they don’t have one, reconsider using the facility.
- Have a clean, sealed blanket and a pillow ready in a closet or on a shelf. You may need to elevate someone’s head or feet. Yes, a foam roller or a striking pad may do in a pinch, but a few clean pillows or pads kept in a closet may be a little nicer and a touch more comfortable for someone in discomfort. Do you have something to cover the fallen student with until help arrives? Yes, a sweatshirt might do, but for a few bucks, you can put a clean, sealed emergency blanket on the same shelf as those two pillows or pads.
- Have clean, non-expired hot and cold packs ready. Do you have a supply of chemically-activated hot or cold packs ready? “I thought I saw those in the first aid kit.” Nope, just the two sticks of gum and Nixon’s Bayer. Once a year buy hot and cold packs and when you bring them in, throw last year’s away. If you’re using another person’s place, bring them with you. It’s your reputation on the line.
- Keep aids available for injured people. What aids are available for an injured person? Do you have a set of adjustable crutches or a wheelchair? Injured people don’t always leave in an ambulance. Don’t make them limp out to the parking lot or a waiting car. Have some type of aid available to them. If you have the room, get a used wheelchair from a thrift store.
- Post basic first aid signs where people can see and follow them. Is there a basic first aid sign on your wall or the wall of your rented facility? Here’s a hint: if there’s a sign on the wall, someone gave the safety of the facility’s visitors some thought. It’s a promising sign. More importantly, in those cases when you’re not watching everyone, such as you had to run outside to get something from your car or had to take a call and leave the floor, is there some basic instruction others can follow before you come back or a first responder arrives? I know the fascination with Uncle Rhabdo and the desire for people to train ‘til they puke, but a sign in the restroom (please, tell me there is a restroom available) notifying your students of the signs of rhabdomyolysis is not a bad idea. If you’re renting a place that doesn’t have these things, well, it’s another indication you may be in the wrong place.
- In very basic terms, it’s your responsibility to know the facility in which you train or teach people so that you never say, “But I thought…” or “I didn’t know that…”
There’s a great line that says the best battle plan falls apart when the first shot is fired. No, that’s not an excuse to avoid drawing up a plan of attack; it’s a reminder that in the fog of battle, or in the elevated emotional state of an emergency, a well thought out plan can mean the difference between an unpleasant experience and a catastrophic event. Spend a few moments and create your own battle plan for emergencies.
- Everyone has a role in daily safety maintenance tasks.Many of us are in facilities where we may work alone frequently or from time to time. Things can be a little easier when we have an extra set of hands or two when we’re dealing with an emergency, but alone or in a team, you’re going to have to get the job done when something happens. Having a repeatable, consistent plan for dealing with emergencies may be the best defense you can have after the ambulance leaves and the lawyers arrive.
- If you have a team of people working with you, assign each person a weekly responsibility. Earlier, I mentioned the need to check on a first aid kit on at least a weekly basis. That’s an example of a maintenance task, something that is done as a matter of course on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. These tasks also include checking for safety violations in the facility, blocked exits, equipment in need of repair or replacement, restroom cleanliness (listed as the number one reason people leave a gym in search of a new facility), or cleaning debris up from the facility or the parking lot. The last two jobs are probably the least glamorous, but they are the ones that pay the highest dividends in customer retention and safety. Having broken glass or asphalt chunks in a parking lot makes it unsafe and in many states constitutes an attractive nuisance. Filthy restrooms are great breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty stuff, and let’s be honest, if a toilet area is dirty, what are the chances people are going to wash up before they return to the floor and grab a piece of equipment.
- If you’re a sole proprietor, you have a choice to either come in an hour early each day and do the maintenance tasks yourself or hire a cleaning service to do the least attractive parts while you do the more important ones. Like brushing your teeth, maintenance tasks should become habits to avoid long-term problems.
Now that you have the non-crisis plan in place, what about the disaster plan?
- Let’s look at the multiple-person facility first. Each person who works in your facility should know what his role is during a medical emergency or after an injury, and should be familiar with the roles of others. Ideally, each person should be able to handle multiple roles. So, what are the roles?
- First, you need a director. This is the person who gives instruction to everyone involved in aiding during the emergency. The director tells whomever he or she is working with to get the first aid kit, support for the head or feet, call 9-1-1 or the injured person’s emergency contact, while the director stays with the injured person to observe their behavior or condition.
- Every one cannot be the director, there has to be a chain of command, and assigning these roles before the emergency occurs saves time as it eliminates arguing and second-guessing when time is at a premium. You may assign a director position on a rotating basis or simply tell everyone what the chain of command looks like when they start work.
- What do you do if you train people alone? In that case, you’re going to be the director and support staff all in one. If you work alone, keep a cell phone on you at all times. Turn the phone to silent so you’re not tempted to take incoming calls, but have it ready so if you need to call 9-1-1, you may do so without leaving the injured person’s side.
- Working alone doesn’t mean you can’t use others in an emergency. If you train group classes, make sure the people in your class know where the emergency supplies are kept (a centralized cabinet for the first aid kit, blanket, AED, and other items mentioned above is best) so if you need their help in providing aid, they can find your supplies quickly.
- Have a script ready. If someone faints, do you know what questions to ask when he or she regains consciousness? Do you know what medications that person is on? If not, ask him, so if he loses consciousness again, you can provide this information to the first responders when they arrive.
- In case something happens, get the details recorded as soon as possible. Regardless of whether you’re alone or part of a team, prepare and keep handy an incident form to fill it out as soon as practical. Details get lost, and memories get fuzzy after the adrenaline rush subsides, so it’s important to get as much information as possible down in writing as quickly as possible. Your insurance company will love you for this, and many times will require a copy of it when you or an injured party submits a claim. If you are visiting or renting a facility, your travel kit should include blank incident report forms just in case.
- Know the facility as if it were your own. If you’re using a facility outside of your own, the roles described above are the same. If you work as part of a team, define whom the director will be, who will call 9-1-1, and who will be responsible for bringing supplies. If you’re working alone, completely familiarize yourself with the facility before the event begins so, if necessary, you can direct people to help you and the injured person. Most importantly know the street address by heart, especially if someone has driven you there. The responders will need the facility address, not its name.
- Everyone fills out a liability waiver and contact information sheet—NO EXCEPTIONS! As a matter of course, almost all of us have new clients or members sign releases and provide emergency contact information. If you are using another person’s facility, these forms become even more important. Being a stranger or an outsider places even more responsibility upon you to be prepared and professional. If the injured person is from out of town like you, being able to reach their contact in a timely manner is not only the kindest thing to do, it also gives that contact the impression you are prepared and in charge. Prepared, in-charge people tend to get sued less.
Knowing you have an emergency plan and its required supportive activities in place is a lot like having a coin in your pocket. You may not need it, but you’re always aware you have it. That awareness may make a difference in someone’s life.