Health and Fitness Clubs: Expensive Environmental Exposures to Watch

By, Sara Kooij, Assistant Vice President

Winter is coming, and while Game of Thrones fans may interpret this as a metaphorically foreboding sentiment, most of us just take the statement at face value — that it’s going to be cold and miserable for many months. But for the Health and Fitness industry, the opposite is true as business on that front will just be heating up for the year. On January 1st, like clockwork, optimistic patrons will crowd into gyms to honor their New Year’s resolutions of losing ten pounds by Spring.

To keep up with the market, many gyms now include pools, saunas, and showers at their facilities. But as club owners activate more membership accounts and continue to upgrade their amenities, they open themselves up to a host of pollution exposures, many of which they may be completely unaware, and many of which may be excluded under their General Liability policies. Insurance agents can help protect their clients in this industry by addressing some of the following environmental exposures with the right pollution insurance product.

Legionella

A good example of a prevalent pollution exposure is legionella – a type of bacteria that, when conditions are favorable, can contaminate various water sources including showers, water fountains, spas, pools, and hot water heaters. When a person inhales contaminated vapor droplets, they are at risk of contracting Legionnaire’s Disease, a form of pneumonia which can be deadly. Earlier this year, a customer of an LA Fitness club in Orlando filed a complaint against the company after he contracted the disease, alleging he was exposed to the bacteria when he used the fitness club’s water amenities. The customer cited damages such as bodily injury, hospital, medical and nursing expenses.  In a separate instance earlier this year, when 13 people tested positive for Legionnaire’s Disease, the Florida Department of Health released a report advising that legionella growth was found in a hot water heater at the fitness area of North Port’s IslandWalk Community. The Department said it believed those who contracted the disease were exposed via the community pool and spa.

MRSA and other Pathogens

Gyms tend to be high traffic facilities, and due to the types of activities people engage in at these facilities, patrons are at a higher risk of being exposed to a variety of nasty pathological agents, including MRSA. According to the CDC, MRSA is a type of staph bacteria which most often causes skin infections and is also resistant to some antibiotics. People can be exposed through skin-to-skin contact (such as with wrestling or team sport activities), but also can be exposed if broken or damaged skin comes into contact with a MRSA-contaminated surface (yoga mats, weights, ellipticals, etc). Pools and hot tubs also provide ideal conditions for other types of bacteria and parasites to flourish which can cause anything from gastrointestinal illness, to rashes and “swimmer’s ear.”

Pool Chemicals

An often-overlooked exposure involves the chemicals that are used in the daily operations of fitness facilities: pool disinfecting chemicals. Last year, 40 children, including six who were in serious condition, were transported to the hospital as a result of a chemical leak at a YMCA in Durham, North Carolina. The leak was believed to have been caused by a mechanical issue which allowed pool cleaning chemicals to react with each other. Reported symptoms of those affected included vomiting, respiratory illness, and skin and eye irritation. A similar incident occurred in October of this year at a swim school in Southern California, when 19 adults and children became ill from exposure to pool chemical fumes. Officials believed that the release may have stemmed from a problem with a pool pump.

While pool chemicals are designed to help avoid the spread of illness, when used improperly or when accidents happen, they can do just the opposite and cause serious injury to those exposed.

Most General Liability policies include some variation of a Pollution Exclusion. Many may also include Fungi or Bacteria exclusions. If you’re not sure if your client’s General Liability policy affords coverage for the aforementioned scenarios, Beacon Hill can help you review their current program and find a suitable environmental product to address gaps.

While the coverages we offer are designed to address these general issues, we make no guarantee or warranty that any individual policy we offer will respond to all issues as described herein. Please refer to the actual policy wording in each offered form to determine coverage applicability and acceptability.


Information for this article was obtained from the following sources:

http://www.mysuncoast.com/news/outbreak-of-legionella-bacteria-found-in-fitness-area/article_b2cefff8-262a-11e8-9991-2fd46217fced.html

https://flarecord.com/stories/511384266-customer-blames-fitness-club-s-negligence-for-his-illness

https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/

https://patch.com/us/across-america/watch-out-bacteria-parasites-pools-hot-tubs-cdc-says

https://waterandhealth.org/disinfect/flu-and-health/avoiding-mrsa-gym-2/

https://abcnews.go.com/US/19-sickened-chemical-exposure-los-angeles-area-swimming/story?id=58275016

https://abcnews.go.com/US/40-children-hospitals-chemical-leak-ymca-pool/story?id=48998354