Corporate Yoga and Safety Issues

Tanya Barham of Recess Wellness shares some safety issues in regards to having Yoga in the workplace.

I recently had someone ask me about yoga at work.  She mentioned the potential for injuries on the job, asked about where the liability falls if an employee is injured and requested tips on how to ensure a safe workplace when offering an at work wellness program such as yoga.

Pro versus Con
Every physical activity poses some risk, to be sure; however, in a well implemented at work fitness or wellness program the potential benefit to employees and the employer (through increased productivity, heightened mood, less sick time and absenteeism) far outweigh the risks. A study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly half of large US employers (100+ lives) offer health promotion programs.  I like to point out that Recess has several large clients in traditionally risk averse industries (law and insurance) who contract with Recess to provide fitness classes, personal trainers and other fitness and wellness services onsite for their employees.  Given these industries’ first-hand knowledge of the potential for liability, their understanding of wellness’ upside speaks volumes about what a positive impact wellness programs can have on work culture and employees’ lives.

Limiting Risk
That being said, no employer should be sloppy or negligent when implementing workplace wellness programs that could impact worker safety.  Smart employers will:

  1. Look under the hood.  Evaluate the credentials and check references of their wellness contractor. Check to ensure your teacher has had a minimum of 200 hours of hands on training and experience along with some modicum of education on anatomy, physiology and kinesiology.  All instructors should have a valid CPR certification.  At Recess, we also require that instructors pursue continuing education and have had at least three years of teaching experience in the field with a variety of different client populations.
  2. Try before you buy.  Negotiate a free or discounted class or classes in order to evaluate the contractor’s customer service skills and attention to safety of instruction.  See if you can observe or try a class and invite a couple of people you trust.  Ask those who attend about their experience.  Are people hurting, sore or exhausted after the class?  Or do they feel relaxed?  Did the teacher respect their level by giving modifications or did the teacher just forge ahead?  Did anyone feel the teacher pushes students to do things that make them feel physically or emotionally unsafe?  Does the teacher seem like a quack or just plain old dippy?  Trust your gut.  Look around until you find someone who you can trust and you can relate to and who places her students’ safety and growth in a place of obvious and high esteem. 
  3. Take precautions.  Ensure that students complete emergency medical information sheets and waivers before class (your contractor can provide these) and that completed forms are kept in a place that the instructor can reference easily in case of emergency.
  4. Keep your eye on the road.  Be forthright with employees about the tremendous benefits of exercise and don’t overhype the risk.  That being said, while extolling the virtues of exercise, also help people prepare to be safe.  Good risk prevention includes: encouraging employees to wear appropriate footwear and attire; make water and good ventilation key to avoid overheating; select a contractor who can provide proper instruction with exercise equipment and instruction on safe, active recovery when employees with injuries or medical conditions wish to become more active.

Liability- The Contractor’s Perspective
Reputable contractors can easily obtain general liability insurance and there are many such carriers who specialize in insuring contractors and studios in the fitness and wellness industry.  The policies cover suits brought by you or your employees (any students of the contractor) for any number of reasons including injury and sexual harassment. 

It is completely acceptable for you to ask a contractor to provide proof of such insurance including policy limits and expiration dates and for you to require in your contract that the contractor maintains and submits to you current insurance at specified levels of coverage.  You may also wish to specify that the contractor provide proof of workers compensation insurance in case one of their employees or subcontractors is injured while teaching the class.  Additionally adding a clause that requires the contractor to maintain appropriate levels of certification or training (such as teacher certification or CPR) would be a good idea.

Liability- The Employer’s Perspective
If the contractor is performing the services on your premises it is also your responsibility to maintain a clean and safe environment free from harassment in which the contractor can provide the services. 

Do you plan on providing equipment or will the contractor?  Most employers provide the exercise equipment used in classes (though this can be minimal for most at work programs).  Create a check list and periodically ensure that the equipment is clean, structurally sound and not in a place where it poses a tripping hazard.  Keep hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes in an obvious place to prevent the spread of germs. 

Take note of any non-complete clauses in your contract.  While not related to employee safety, soliciting a contractor’s employees or subcontractors is an area of potential liability.

The Bottom Line
This list should not instill fear in anyone looking to implement a wellness or fitness program on-site.  Such programs can be easily managed by reputable contractors or in-house staff given proper planning and attention prior to actually starting the program.  Most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work.  Offering means for employees to engage in healthy behavior and manage stress at work is a meaningful and practical way for people to enrich their lives.  When something as simple as walking three hours a week cuts the risk of dying from breast cancer in half, how can you not choose to help employees get serious about transforming their health?

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (1)

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  1. Les Henley says:

    Just a note on the reference to the study by the USCDC and ‘nearly half of large employers offer health promotion programs’ –
    There is no ‘public health’ program (such as medicare) in the USA. Hence US employers take significant responsibility for including health insurance as a component of the remuneration process. And many large employers underwrite their own employees’ health insurance policies.
    Health and Wellness programs in that environment are more likely to be linked to health insurance risk management than workplace safety management.

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