Weight Room Safety and Open Gym
By Matt Komac, MSGIA Assistant Director for Property & Liability Pool Operations
How many times when you’ve encountered students and community members in a school building after hours or on the weekend have you wondered, “How did they get in here?” and “Who’s making sure they’re being safe?" Of course, the first question is often impossible to answer; but, unfortunately, the second one is not, which is to say that in many – if not most – of these instances, nobody is taking steps to ensure safety. This pattern is a predictable and preventable problem and is particularly dangerous when it comes to those situations when people are in the weight room or gym unsupervised. These areas require trained adult supervision, especially when students are present. Accordingly, if community members are using these areas, staff should be instructed to ask if they have permission and if they have worked through proper channels to obtain access to the building.
Allowing non-school faculty and staff use of facilities increases liability exposure and the likelihood of a property loss. It is thus imperative that you take the necessary steps to minimize such exposures. This is especially pertinent to the weight room access. Allowing unmonitored use of a weight room increases the chance of injuries and even fatalities. So, if your district allows public use of your weight room, gymnasium, or fitness area, we suggest you take the following precautions:
- Have a policy that addresses public use of the facility, one that includes a signed acknowledgment of risk.
- Have a policy expressly stating that students are not allowed in any part of the school, including the gym or weight room, unless supervised by a district employee or approved volunteer.
- Ensure that nobody is allowed to use the facility or weight equipment alone.
- Limit use to a designated time that does not interfere with classes or extracurricular activities.
- Have a staff member present during those times open to the public.
- Restrict access to the remainder of the building.
- Set a minimum age requirement for non-students over the age of 21.
In addition to these recommendations, MTSBA Model Policy 4330 states that community members who use district facilities must abide by all school district rules and policies. If a school district is going to permit community members to use a weight room, fitness area, or gymnasium, that use should be conditioned upon submission of a completed facility-use agreement, acknowledgment of risk, medical insurance notification, and statement of conduct expectations. These documents must outline appropriate use specifics, including but not limited to safe lifting and use techniques, key and access code maintenance, supervision expectations, and compliance with visitor conduct policies included in MTSBA Model Policy 4310, 4315, and 4332.
Because basketball and volleyball vie for time in the off-season to conduct out-of-season practices, often the gym is the most sought-after space in the school. These practices must align with criteria set forth by the Montana High School Association (MHSA). In addition, every district should make sure that there is proper supervision at all times for any students present in the school. Unsupervised student use of the facility cannot occur. It puts the students and district at risk.
MTSBA model handbook language states the following:
- Coaches are responsible for the supervision of their participants while engaged in school-sponsored practices, workouts, and contests.
- Unless they are dealing with an emergency (and, as part of this contingency, have arranged for a surrogate supervisor), coaches should not leave their team/group unsupervised – this is particularly important when coaches are working with students in high-risk areas such as the weight room, whirlpool, gym, etc.
- Coaches may be held liable for financial damages if an unsupervised student-athlete suffers an injury.
- Coaches should always be the last person to leave the facility.
- Coaches are responsible for assuring their area is locked and secured before leaving.
The health, safety, and welfare of the students and public who access a facility to lift weights or use the gym should be a priority. Each school should have in place rules, regulations and policies to ensure the facility is used in a manner consistent with board policy. Finally, communication with students, staff, and the community regarding the policy and procedures for accessing the school facility are important to help prevent any unforeseen and potentially dangerous situations. Return to newsletter