- To become aware of the liability that fitness professionals have for what they do and don’t say.
- To understand what a claim of “failure to instruct” is.
- To learn how they can reduce their risk for professional liability claims.
Fitness Professionals Are Responsible for What They Say
As a fitness professional, most understand that they are responsible for the words they speak with their clients when conducting training sessions. Many fitness professionals do not realize that they are responsible for everything they say to clients. By becoming a fitness professional, they are holding themselves to the standard of an expert in the field of fitness. As an industry, fitness has worked hard for many years for fitness professionals to be seen as professionals who can help change and improve people’s lives. There is, however, liability that goes along with being seen as a “fitness professional” that is called “professional liability.” Fitness professionals have liability for the instructions they give to their clients as well as the supervision that they provide while the client is in a session.
This means that a fitness professional also has liability for the guidance and advice that goes “outside” of the fitness center and back with their client to their homes and daily lives. Fitness professionals have liability for the nutritional advice and other activity advice that they may or may not give to their clients.
There is far more to being a good fitness professional than just knowing how to perform certain exercises correctly, demonstrating these exercises and supervising their clients as they work out; all of the fitness tips, from stretching to nutrition, to ice and heat therapy, to sleep recommendations are an important part of helping clients improve their health and fitness. Professional liability insurance protects fitness professionals from claims that can come from what they say to their clients as well as what they actually do with their clients.
What a Fitness Professional Can Do to Protect Themselves from Their Own Words
A fitness professional should keep the advice and recommendations that they give to their clients within the scope of their own qualifications and experience. This is called “scope of practice” in healthcare and ancillary health services and it applies to fitness professionals as well.
As much as most fitness professionals may know about nutrition, they may not be trained to give nutritional advice to all of their clients. If a fitness professional is not qualified to give nutritional advice to at-risk populations, they should recommend that the client see a registered dietitian or a physician.
Additionally, as common as it is for most fitness professionals to give advice about sports related injuries, a client may need to be referred to a physical therapist or physician. A more serious injury or pre-existing condition may be present that a fitness professional cannot determine. Diagnosis is for the docs!
Fitness Professionals Are Also Responsible for What They Don’t Say
The most common professional liability insurance claim that we see is a claim of “failure to instruct” or “failure to provide proper instruction”. This can be as simple as a client claiming that their fitness professional did not tell them how to stop a treadmill and they fell when getting off a moving treadmill. Or, it can be that client injured their lower back doing ab crunches at home and claimed their fitness professional told them to do them but did not properly instruct them how to do them safely.
These kinds of claims happen often and can be relatively small or, when combined with a deconditioned or fragile client’s condition, they can also be severe. We have seen cases of fragile clients claiming the fitness professional did not show them how to safely get off and on a treadmill on their own before or after their workout with the fitness professional. Simply falling off a treadmill can result in serious injury to a fragile client, requiring expensive medical treatments and long term physical therapy.
What a Fitness Professional Can Do to Be Protected from a “Failure to Instruct” Claim
1. Document Training Sessions
Fitness professionals should always make sure that they give instruction on the proper use of equipment that they recommend for a client to use on their own. Always ask if the client has questions. Document in the training record that the instruction was given on the date in question and that the client acknowledged receiving the instruction. In the event of a claim, documentation of the actual date the instruction was given and that a client stated that they understood and had no additional questions can help defend a claim of failure to instruct.
Fitness professionals should review all of their clients’ fitness plans regularly and ask if the clients if they have any questions about any aspect of the plan. Document their responses on the training log and address concerns right away. Thorough documentation can be as simple as one or two sentences for each training session and go a long way to help a fitness professional advance their career, lifting themselves above the professionalism of other fitness professionals.
2. Build Relationships
It is a fact that the more questions people ask and the better they listen, the better they will be at building relationships. Listening to their clients can also help the fitness professional reduce their risk for claims.
- Ask how clients feel.
- Ask what exercises and activities they like.
- Ask why they don’t like others.
Maybe a client doesn’t like an activity because it hurts in a way that it shouldn’t hurt or it frightens them because they fear a fall. By listening, a fitness professional can determine if a client needs more instruction on an activity or needs a different activity. By responding to their clients’ needs, fitness professionals can keep clients longer and gain referral business as well. Bottom line, by becoming a good listener, fitness professionals can become more successful!
3. Be Thorough
As a fitness professional, it is critical to ask lots of questions, respond to their clients’ needs promptly and document their files accordingly. Being thorough in communication, adjusting fitness plans as needed and keeping accurate and complete documentation, helps a fitness professional grow their business.
Discounts for PTontheNet Members
PTontheNet is proud to partner with Sports and Fitness Insurance Company to offer the best in Fitness Professional insurance. Through PTontheNet’s exclusive partnership, PTontheNet members can save $15 annually on their insurance premiums.
Not a PTontheNet member? You can still save $5 on your annual premium through the PTontheNet friends and family discount.