Implementing a Risk Management Program for Sports Organizations
For Administrators Only Video Link
By John M. Sadler
This training content is directed towards directors, officers, and other administrators of sports organizations who are interested in implementing an effective risk management program with the least amount of effort and expense.
Many of our insurance clients tell us that they’d like to implement a formal risk management program but don’t know where to start and need guidance. Others have purchased a book or attended seminars on sports risk management and are intimidated by the task of customizing their own written program with all of the forms and time-consuming documentation.
It’s been my experience that most risk management programs are too long, complicated, and never implemented to any great degree. For this reason, I believe its the best approach for most sports organizations to spend the greatest amount of time on the bare essentials, which if fully implemented will have the most impact on injury and liability reduction.
The risk management section of our website is a place where you can find all the sample forms, risk management programs, important articles, and other instructional videos on sports insurance and risk management that I refer to in this training.
The term staff refers to either your employee or volunteer workers, including coaches, managers, umpires, referees, concession workers, field maintenance workers, etc. Administrators refers to your directors, officers, or other personnel who plan, manage, and supervise overall operations.
This content was designed for both adult and youth sports organizations. If all of your participants are adult, just ignore the sections that cover abuse/molestation risk management issues for youth.
Simplified Sports Risk Management Theory
I’ve spent hundreds of hours studying the formal, textbook risk management process, which stresses a focus on injury prevention first and insurance last. However, for sports organizations, particularly those that are volunteer-run, I deviate from the textbook in order to be realistic about what can actually be implemented in the real world.
The first, most important, and easiest step in the process is to buy the best, most comprehensive insurance that’s available. But a risk management program to reduce liability and injuries is also needed because even if your insurance does cover the claim and protect everyone’s assets, its a terrible feeling when someone is unnecessarily injured under your watch. If you have a serious injury and face litigation, you, the program, and your reputations can suffer a black eye in the community and in the local media. Anyone who has gone through depositions and litigation will tell you that it’s a terrible experience. If you are in litigation, having a risk management program shows the judge and jury that you care. A final factor is that you want to prevent injuries to protect your loss record under your insurance policies to help prevent non-renewal or rate increases.
The second step is to contractually transfer the risk of loss to another party whenever feasible, such as through waiver/release forms.
The third step is to avoid high-risk activities that are not essential to your operations and that could result in in serious injuries. Common examples of activities that most sports organizations should avoid are transportation of players and overnight sleepovers.
The fourth and final step is to prevent or reduce the frequency or severity of injuries before they occur. A traditional sports risk management program can be effective by concentrating on your facilities, equipment, instruction, supervision, sport injury care, and use of autos.
What Type of Risk Management Program Is Best For You? Basic or Broader?
Your choice as to the plan that’s right for your sports organization will be based on a number of factors.
- The size of your sports organization in terms of number of participants. Generally, the larger the number of participants, the greater the need for the broader program.
- Sports programs that own their own premises or facilities have a greater need for the broader program.
- The nature of the particular sport. Higher risk sports such as gymnastics, diving, football, or cheer will require more staff training or equipment controls offered in the broader program.
- Available staff resources in terms of selecting a risk management officer and time commitment of staff.
The risk management section of our website includes both a basic version and a broader version that you can easily adapt and customize to meet your needs.
Risk Management Programs: A Double-edged Sword
Risk management and safety programs can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the national standard of care as indicated in textbooks and described by expert witnesses will state that sports organizations should have a formal, written program. If you don’t, the plaintiff’s attorney will argue your organization was negligent for falling below the national standard.
On the other hand, if you have a written risk management program but failure to follow one of your own required safety rules results in an injury and lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorney can argue negligence – and will likely prevail.
Since the plaintiff’s attorney is out to get you either way, it’s best to have a written risk management plan but to take some precautions in its design. First, never call it a safety program. Safety programs are meant to protect participants and spectators and it looks especially bad if you don’t follow one of your own written safety rules and if doing so could have prevented the injury. Instead, call it a risk management program, as risk management programs are meant to merely reduce the liability risk of a sports organization. If you don’t follow your own risk management program to the exact letter despite your best intentions, you can argue that it was not meant to protect the safety of the participants and spectators, but instead was meant to protect the sports organization against lawsuits.
Important Elements of A Sports Risk Management Program
Appoint a Risk Management Officer (RMO)
The sports organization should create the formal position of risk management officer to be responsible for implementing, monitoring, and taking corrective action on all issues related to the risk management program. Like any officer, the RMO should answer to the board but should be empowered to make all day-to-day decisions on issues related to hazards, including the modification or halting of practice and/or play if necessary.
It’s best if the RMO is solely dedicated to risk management and has no other duties. However, in smaller sports organizations, this many not be possible and the RMO position may be combined with another officer position.
The coaches, managers, and other staff members should be an extension of the RMO by way of their presence at every practice and game, and should be in close contact with the RMO should any problems arise ,such as physical hazards or unsafe acts.
The RMO must self train on all applicable videos, programs, reports, and articles found on the risk management section on our website. It’s also recommended that additional training be received from other resources.
The sports organization should carry comprehensive insurance policies that meet or exceed certain minimum standards. Almost all sports organizations should carry Accident, General Liability, Directors & Officers Liability, Crime, and Equipment policies. Larger organizations with more complex operations, paid employees and own vehicles and buildings may also need Workers’ Compensation, Auto, and Property insurance. Our article, “7 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Buying Sports Insurance,” provides an excellent explanation of why you need each policy type.
Having the proper policies in place isn’t enough. You also need to make sure that the coverages really give you the protection that you need. Many popular Accident and General Liability policies that are sold by both local insurance agents and so-called sports insurance experts contain some unacceptable policy exclusions that can leave you wide open in the event of a lawsuit. The best way to protect against this is to download our checklist, hand it checklist over to your existing insurance agent, and ask him/her to complete and it. This shifts all of the work to your insurance agent.
You need to be aware that our checklists outlines minimum standards only. If your governing or sanctioning body has higher requirements or if you can find insurance that exceeds these minimum standards, you should buy it. Don’t skimp on the quality of your insurance and don’t blindly rely on your insurance agent to protect you. Always go the extra mile to use the checklist tools.
Contractual Transfer of Liability
The sports organization should contractually transfer the financial responsibility of paying for losses:
The first place to start is with your participant registration forms. It’s critical that all of your participants sign a waiver and release of liability form to protect your sports organization and its people against lawsuits whenever there’s an injury to a participant. A waiver/release form is not a magic cure all that takes the place of liability insurance, but it’s definitely worth the paper it’s written on as explained in detail here.
Not all waiver/release forms will gain an advantage for you as most have defects in how they were drafted. The language must avoid 10 common pitfalls that courts use to invalidate them. We have downloadable sample minor and adult forms that were designed by law firms that specialize in defending clients against sports related lawsuits. Every phrase and every word in these forms exist for a reason that’s to your advantage. I recommend that you scrap your existing forms and use these with the approval of your legal counsel. Or better yet, hire a waiver/release specialist to draft a custom agreement for your specific activity and state (scroll to bottom of article for sources).
Emergency Information & Medical Consent
In addition, you should always require your participants to sign an emergency information and medical consent form in the event they’re injured and require emergency medical treatment. A copy of this form should be kept on file for immediate retrieval in either a hard copy or electronic format by both the sports organization and the coach.
An image release form will protect against potential lawsuits where the photograph image or video recording of a participant is used in the marketing materials for the sports organization. There have been some cases where participants have sued for invasion of privacy or undue publicity.
Facility Lease Or Permit Agreements
Whenever you lease your facilities to a third party or you lease facilities from a third party, you should have a written lease agreement that specifies the terms of the lease. That agreement should have a hold harmless/indemnification provision that is fair to both parties. Our article, “Before You Sign the Sports Facility Lease Agreement,” explains how hold harmless/indemnification provisions offer protection and provides sample hold harmless and indemnification provisions for your consideration. In addition, the lease agreement should require the party that is the tenant to carry General Liability insurance with a limit of at least $1,000,000 and should name the landlord as an additional insured.
Hosting Tournaments or Outside Teams
Whenever you invite an outside team to play against a team from your sports organization or you host a tournament, you need to make sure you’re protected. You should have a written agreement that has a hold harmless/indemnification provision in your favor and require the visiting teams to carry General Liability insurance with a limit of at least $1,000,000 naming your sports organization as additional insured.
Service and Product Vendors
Many sports organizations subcontract out parts of their operations to vendors or service providers, such as umpire associations, concession vendors, janitorial, security, and field maintenance. Written agreements should be in place that specify the terms of service and the responsibility for injury to workers and third parties. The agreement should have a hold harmless/indemnification provision that is favorable to your sports organization and an insurance requirements provision that protects your organization. “Collect Certificate of Insurance from Your Vendors” is an excellent summary of the insurance coverages that should be carried by your vendor or service provider.
Abuse/Molestation Risk Management
The sports organization should implement an abuse/molestation risk management program. This critical topic is so important that we have devoted separate content that explains how to set up a program from A to Z. I strongly recommend that you view our training content on setting up and implementing such a program.
Avoid or Mitigate High Risk Activities
Sports organizations should avoid certain high risk activities that are not mission critical and that create a potential for severity lawsuits.
- Transporting participants: This risk has a high severity potential as auto injuries tend to be serious and it’s likely that multiple passengers will be injured. It’s best to leave the transportation to the parents, but if your sports organization must be involved with the transportation of participants, the risk can be mitigated by running motor vehicle record checks on drivers and by proper vehicle selection.
- 15 -passenger vans: Rented or borrowed 15-passenger vans for transporting participants is a bad idea for the reasons already mentioned plus 15-passenger vans are particularly dangerous due to their high propensity for tipping over, as documented by warnings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The fact that many state statutes prohibit their use for the transportation of students and that churches are phasing them out should tell you something about this risk. Also, 12-passenger vans and SUVs don’t fare much better than 15-passenger vans. If participants must be transported, it should be done in vehicles such as a school bus, 7-passenger minivans, or private passenger cars. More detail on the topic is provided in our article, “12- and 15-Passenger Vans.”
- Overnight sleepovers: Overnight sleepovers present an opportunity for sexual predators to make advances on youth participants. If sleepovers can’t be avoided due to tournament travel, steps should be taken to run background checks on all staff and require all youth to be supervised by two adults who are in each other’s presence at all times.
- Serving alcoholic beverages: This can result in problems for obvious reasons. If alcohol at an event must be served, the liability risk should be transferred by subcontracting this function to a bartending company that can provide a certificate of insurance evidencing Liquor Liability coverage in the amount of at least $1,000,000.
- Certain fundraisers: These are considered by the insurance industry to be high risk such as dunk tanks and inflatables.
- Swimming parties: The biggest source of deaths and serious injuries to my clients over the past 20 years has been swimming parties both at the homes of staff members and at motels without lifeguards. We’ve had serious problems with these even when multiple adult staff members were supervising the pool. If you must have a swim party, only do it at a location that provides a trained and certified lifeguard.
Conduct Mandatory Staff Meeting to Review Basic Risk Management Policies and Procedures
The sports organization should conduct a mandatory staff meeting prior to the start of each season to review common sense risk management policies and procedures. None of these are rocket science, but they do cover the majority of what can go wrong in a very general way. A more detailed review of suggested policies and procedures is part of our sample risk management plan.
- Abuse/Molestation protection (ex: use of buddy system, no improper touching)
- Child pick-up/take-home policy
- Transportation of participants
- Prohibition of alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco
- Facility/equipment inspection
- Identifying and responding to hazards and unsafe acts
- Medical emergencies
- Complaint reporting
Awareness Training for Administrators and Staff
Awareness training is an overview of the physical hazards and unsafe acts and conditions that most frequently lead to injuries and resulting lawsuits. It also includes guidance on the standards of care that the law requires of administrators and staff when performing their job functions. In addition, administrators and staff are expected to respond to hazards or unsafe acts and conditions by taking immediate corrective action, if feasible, and by notifying the RMO.
Facilities and Equipment
Awareness training keys in on the important risk management standards required by the courts for all aspects of a sports program.
For both your facilities and equipment, our awareness training program keys in on the points outlined above. Most of this is just common sense for those with prior experience but many of your new coaches will be exposed to these concepts for the first time.
- layout and design
- adequate and appropriate for use
- controlled access
- routine inspection, maintenance, and repair
- choosing proper equipment
- maintenance and repair
- inspection, reconditioning, replacement
Supervision and Instruction
Lack of supervision is the leading category of sports related lawsuits. This training helps your staff visualize what can go wrong and will help them to recognize and react to risky situations.
- overseeing activities
- recognizing hazards, implementing protection
- monitoring for compliance
- duty to stop rowdiness
- location of supervisor
- competency of supervisor
- ratios of supervisors to participants
- selection of size, age, and skill of participants
- sports specific techniques and skills
- game rules
- safety rules
Sports Injury Care and Autos
Below are critical areas where failure to follow accepted standards of care can result in major liability.
Sports Injury Care
- prevention of injuries
- recognition and treatment
- first aid and CPR
- emergency medical plan
- return to play
- discourage the use of group and individual staff provided transportation
- motor vehicle registrations and disqualification criteria
- 15-passenger vans
Other Awareness Training
The above topics should be a required part of your awareness training. Not every article will apply to all sports organizations. Based on my personal experience, I would say that the 30/30 lighting safety rule is the most overlooked risk management rule in all of sports and most administrators and staff need training on this.
Customization of Your Risk Management Program
No two facilities or sports are exactly the same. Therefore, the development of a risk management program will require some additional customization on your part. We provide both a basic program and a broader program template that you can easily customize to suit your needs.
Our website provides all of the tools that you need to get started and to complete the project including sample sports risk management programs, awareness training content, articles, and forms.Hopefully you’ll agree that implementing the appropriate risk management program for your sports organization is not so complicated after all.