I run a hotel which has a small gym. We don't employ anyone full-time to police this gym as it has only a couple of pieces of equipment. These machines have instructions and some fairly obvious warning signs. However, after a guest dropped a dumbbell on their toe and complained, we are considering monitoring the facility more closely. What can we do to make sure we are covered in case a guest is injured in the gym?
Owners and operators of gyms have a duty to their guests at both common law and under the Occupier's Liability Act 1957 to ensure that they take reasonable care to ensure that the guests are reasonably safe when using the gym. The extent of that duty will depend on the circumstances of each gym and the circumstances of any injury which arises through using it.
Gyms obviously incorporate a range of equipment which can cause injury if not used correctly. Whether it is injury caused by weights being dropped, as in the question, strain injuries arising from poor use of rowing machines, equipment having missing pins or treadmills malfunctioning and throwing runners off, there are a number of ways in which guests can be injured while undertaking activity in a gym.
In the scenario described, it is doubtful whether any precautions would have prevented the incident. However, the courts are ready to uphold liability when an operator hasn't taken reasonable steps.
In the recent case of Ruth Ireland v David Lloyd Leisure, the claimant lost the tip of her finger while placing her hand on a stopper on the rail of a Smith weight-training machine that was being used by others. The judge found that the additional stopper served no useful purpose, that it could foreseeably act as the base of a guillotine if a user placed their hand on it, and that warning signs of the dangers in using the equipment were neither clearly visible nor dealt with the specific danger created by a user placing their hand on it.
â- In staffed facilities, ensure that staff circulate to observe behaviours and ensure guests use the equipment correctly.
â- Train and empower staff to remove guests who are not using the equipment correctly. They are a danger to themselves and others.
â- Avoid unmanned 24-hour gyms where possible. The risk of anyone injuring themselves and not being discovered for several hours is substantial.
â- Carry out a full risk assessment in respect of all the equipment and activity conducted on site, and from this prepare a health and safety policy for the premises. Consider what the risks to health are and how each risk can be minimised.
â- Ensure that each item of equipment is checked at the start of each day to ensure that it is in correct working order, and that all parts of the equipment are in place.
â- Repeat such checks as often as possible throughout the course of the day, and train staff to observe any problems during circulation.
â- If equipment is not fit for use, ensure that it is removed, or disabled and clearly marked not for use.
â- Ensure that each piece of equipment has clearly written, visible instructions to assist the user in the correct method of use and all the foreseeable dangers in using the equipment - a chart showing do's and don'ts. These should include any advisory instructions from the manufacturer as well as any other advice which the gym operator feels would be useful.
â- Require all guests to sign in and out of the facility.
â- As part of the signing-in instructions, include a declaration that the user has used, and been instructed on, such equipment previously.
While comparatively rare compared with other premises that use equipment, prosecutions and civil claims against gym operators can be costly. In the David Lloyd Leisure case, the claimant was awarded £12,000.
Also, a gym owner was fined under the Sunbed Regulations Act 2010 for allowing an underage girl to have access to such equipment - the maximum fine being £20,000.
Peter Forshaw is a partner at national law firm Weightmans