Tennis Industry magazine

 

Safe & Sound

Accidents, injuries, and lawsuits can devastate your business. Here’s how you can help reduce problems that might crop up at your facility.

By Mary Helen Sprecher

Is your tennis facility safe? No, that’s not a trick question. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to answer, either. And it’s getting more complex all the time.

Accidents can happen. Injuries can occur. Problems can crop up. And let’s face it, unlike swimming pools, tennis courts don’t have lifeguards who can keep an eye on players. We live in a litigious society, and simple problems don’t always have simple outcomes.

It’s easy to fall back on the old “we haven’t had any problems yet” response. But “yet” is the operative word. Your tennis courts are part of a facility into which a lot of money and time has been invested. Do you really want to leave them to chance?

So what’s a manager to do? Well, to rephrase a popular notion, the best defense is a good … defense. What does that mean? Simply put, being proactive can pay off for you, your users, and your facility. There are plenty of common-sense steps that can be taken to help lower risks and decrease the possibility of problems. Some you may have considered, and some might be new to you, but all deserve some thought.

The American Sports Builders Association, the trade association for those who design, build, and supply materials and equipment for athletic facilities, advises a proactive approach to the matter. Think for a minute about your risk factors, the potential threats to your facility and your players. There are two kinds: internal (those which exist, or which potentially can exist, within the facility), and external (those caused by outside forces). Now, let’s examine them and discuss how to lower the risks.

Internal Hazards

The best way to check for internal hazards is to make a regularly scheduled walk-through of your facility. Bring a notepad and a pen, and keep your eyes open. If possible, carry a schematic showing each court by number, so that if you see problems, you can note the court number and the location.

Encourage your staff to work in pairs, especially when doing difficult work or long, complicated, and challenging tasks. When such jobs are planned, conduct a safety meeting to review the potential hazards and to discuss necessary precautions.

Keep water available during long work periods and encourage the staff to take reasonable breaks in the shade, especially when it is hot. Within the limits of the law, ask your staff members to disclose any medical issues that may affect their health and safety on the job and assign their work appropriately. Request emergency contact information from all staff members and keep readily accessible.

Develop a proactive safety program using a safety handbook, job site safety posters, precautionary stickers and/or warning signs to identify hazards, including such simple things as flying balls in or near the courts.

In Case of Emergency

Despite all your precautions, an accident may occur. Develop an accident procedure and regularly review it with your staff. Train employees to respond appropriately to any accident — whether to an employee, a player, or guest.

Provide staff training on basic first aid (don’t move an injured person unless a danger exists, use pressure to stop bleeding) and Cardiac Life Support. Have them update their training on a regular schedule during the off season. The Red Cross and similar community organizations provide such training at very low cost.

When in doubt, assume the injury is serious and call for help. Make certain there is a telephone — land line or cellular — available at all times. Once you have called 911, position staff members to direct the ambulance to the injured person. Unlock and open your widest gate to allow immediate access to the emergency vehicle, with no obstructions in its path, if it must reach the injured person on the court.

Keep your facility’s insurance policies and forms up to date and, if appropriate, send a copy of the policy information with the injured person to the emergency room. Request contact information from the injured person and call the family; be certain to mention what actions you already have taken.

Document everything — the accident scene, the nature of the injury, date, time, weather, what actions were taken, how long it took the emergency vehicle to arrive, what actions were taken by emergency personnel on site, etc. Have a camera at hand and take pictures if possible. Have any witnesses complete a statement as to what they saw, where they were, what happened and how, in as much detail as they can recall. Get complete contact information from witnesses and emergency personnel in case you need to call back for more information.

Despite all your attempts to avoid accidents and injuries, such things do happen, so make a plan in advance and review it regularly. When someone has been injured, time is of the essence, but so is risk management.

External Factors

External factors are those forces that don’t come from within your facility, and which have the potential to cause harm.

Your facility hours are important. Whether the facility is open 24/7, open dawn to dusk, or open only during specific periods of the day is a matter of preference, and something your organization needs to decide for itself. There are many arguments — all valid — for each option. Just remember, if you do decide to close your facility at certain times, use gates that lock. It will cut down on the possibility of unsupervised use of, and possibly damage to, your facility.

Lighting is another way to increase the safety and security of your facility. If you will be hosting athletic events at night, lighting of your courts and the surrounding area is, of course, a must. Even if you don’t have night events, lighting can increase a sense of security among facility users. And generally speaking, a well-lit area of any kind is less likely to be a magnet for those who want to loiter or cause trouble after hours.

In facilities open all night, lights can be set to operate on a timer, or they can be operated by a push-button system that the person entering the facility can manipulate. Generally speaking, it is also good to have some motion-activated lights in and around the facility, to allow for safe entry and exit. These lights are smaller than the big lamps that illuminate the court itself, yet still allow for increased visibility. They are also an excellent way to tell if someone is near the facility.

Does your club or facility have a security force? If so, can an officer be detailed to be in the area of, or near, the tennis courts? Particularly if the facility will be used at night, the presence of a security officer can be reassuring. If that isn’t possible, make sure phones are readily available in the event a user suddenly feels threatened or unsafe. Many campuses, parks and other areas are installing “panic buttons” that allow individuals to call for an escort, should the situation present itself.

If your facility has its own rest rooms, consider locking these at night. Regardless of whether users complain, it’s safer for everyone involved if those facilities are only open during hours when there is a high traffic volume. In some cases, the “safety in numbers” rule should always be followed.

If your facility can be used unsupervised after hours, remember to safely lock away all athletic equipment, such as ball machines, squeegees, etc.

If the facility owner is not the operator, adds Pettit, “The parties should enter into a written lease or management agreement that clearly allocates responsibility for maintenance and repairs, with special attention to those that affect health and safety issues, and identifies the party responsible for carrying liability insurance.”

If your tennis facility includes a youth program, or if players often bring their children, Pettit advises facility owners and managers to exercise extra caution, since “claims for injuries to children are generally governed by different rules relating to understanding and accepting risk of injury.” The facility operator, he notes, should be particularly vigilant to supervise the activities of minors in order to maintain a safe environment for them.

Remember that your facility represents a huge investment of time. You want to keep it as safe as possible. Do a night walk-though every week or so. Look for lights that might be out, dark, shadowy areas where players might feel unsafe — anything that needs fixing — and have it addressed immediately.

Keeping it a safe facility — and therefore, an even more attractive one — will pay dividends in years to come.


Thanks to SportsField Management magazine, which graciously authorized the use of material from its publication dealing with work-site safety and emergency planning. For information on SportsField Management magazine, including advertising information or a free subscription, visit sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com.


The American Sports Builders Association is a non-profit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators, and users understand quality sports facility construction. The ASBA offers meetings and publications on running tracks, tennis courts, and indoor sports facilities. Available at no charge is a listing of all publications offered by the Association, as well as the ASBA’s Membership Directory. For information, call 866-501-ASBA (2722) or visit sportsbuilders.org.

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About the Author

Mary Helen Sprecher  is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.

 

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