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Photo: Vasiliki Millousi via Flickr.

Free-Falling with Style

Falls are usually not a good thing, but they can be purposeful and engineered for safety, such as in gymnastics.  With my daughter involved in the sport I couldn’t help but pay a little extra attention to the Olympic Games in Rio and the gymnastics coverage.  You can’t help but be impressed with the power and heights that both the men and woman achieve when they execute their routines.

While picking my daughter up from gymnastics practice at her training center last week I spied a book published by the USA Gymnastics (USAG) titled “Gymnastics Risk Management and Safety Course Handbook.”  The USAG is the governing body for gymnastics in the U.S. and sets the performance standards and skill progression requirements all participants, from toddlers to Olympic hopefuls.

As a safety professional I couldn’t help myself and had to take a peek at the book.  The book, it turns out, is the reference material for a risk management course that all gym owners/operators have access to in order to better understand risk and the liabilities that come with the sport.

As a parent it’s easy to place the wellbeing of your kid in the hands of others without much thought.  Just pull into the parking lot and drop them off—“see you in a few hours honey.”  That same approach plays out a lot in life where we place our faith in others, such as the manufacturers of engineered safety equipment, employers that are supposed to be fulfilling their regulatory obligations, and belief in our fellow workers that they are making good decisions, especially when it comes to health and safety.

Opening the USAG book I came to learn that the development and implementation of gymnastic risk management practices started in 1985.  Born out of necessity from the 1970’s, when the rate of a catastrophic injury, resulting in paralysis or death, averaged about 5 youths per year.  That number may not seem like a lot, but if it’s your kid that’s a different story.

From 1985 through 2010 the incident rate dropped to 0.52, and considering that the popularity grew tremendously during that same time, this is an impressive feat.  After all, it’s in the best interest of the sport to prevent these injuries.  The same thing’s happening to participation in football and soccer since the awareness of concussions popped-up several years ago.

The USAG resource book is impressive and accounts for risk in a very similar way that employers do in the working world.  Here are just a few of the sections from the Table of Contents:

  • A Model of Risk Management: assessment, selection, implementation, monitoring
  • Facilities: hazards, risk assessment, inspections, preventative maintenance, external grounds
  • Apparatus and Equipment: product liability, standards, training pits, rebound devices
  • Supervision and Instruction: communication, coaching techniques
  • Preventing Child Abuse: coach-athlete relationship, physical/sexual abuse
  • Ethics
  • Injury Prevention and Care: physical, technical, tactical
  • Sports Medicine
  • Responsibilities of the Athlete

Does all this look familiar?  The parallels to how industry operates are striking, and it’s a little more reassuring that a risk-based approach for the sport exists.

I know, a book is just a bunch of words on paper, and what makes the difference is how much of this is actually getting done and executed at the training centers.  Yes, I’m very tempted to ask for an audit or sit down with the owners and ask a bunch of questions to get a sense of how well their practices fall in line with the benchmarks set by the USAG.  But I’m sure I won’t be the favorite parent.

As an employer, you need to stay on top of things, too. Take a look at your risk management practices and be honest.  Do they keep pace with industry best practices or voluntary standards?  Have you had an outside party look at your safety management system, programs and procedures to give you feedback?  If not, consider these resources to reach out to for some input:

  • Industry associations that may have safety professionals on staff
  • Insurance carriers or brokers that have loss-control specialists
  • Private for-hire safety consultants
  • Peers or other professionals that you respect and will provide an honest opinion

dan hannan 620About Dan Hannan: Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years.  He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent  consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions.  Dan can be reached atdhannan@merjent.com.

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