RISK MANAGEMENT IN THE DOJO
Checklists to Reduce Liability Exposure
By Mark V. Lonsdale
Surviving in any business, in a litigious society, is a process of constant risk assessment, risk management, and risk mitigation. Business owners live in constant fear of accidents on their premises, either staff or customers, and contact sports such as judo carry with them additional inherent risks. It is only through constant assessment of those risks and due diligence that we are able to mitigate the possibility of personal injury law suits.
Contributing factors for accidents and liability exposure are:
- Lack of qualified supervision in the dojo (this is a big one)
- Unsafe games and activities
- Unsafe training environment (mats, walls, furniture)
- No posted rules (Dos & Don’ts)
- No national affiliation, membership & liability insurance
- No liability releases / waivers
- Lack of documented instructor training or coaching certifications
- Inappropriate behavior by instructors or staff
- No first aid kit or emergency plan
- Failure to seek professional advice on risk management
Even with signed liability waivers, an instructor or club can still be sued for negligence. Negligence occurs when there is an assumed duty that is breached or not performed, and you are the proximate cause that has resulted in some injury or damage. Thus negligence is a result of a duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Some sports and activities have what is termed an “assumption of risk,” which means that there is a common understanding that anyone participating has assumed those risks. These activities include skydiving, rock climbing, SCUBA diving, horse riding, bull riding, snow skiing, and any full-contact sport. This does not protect the business operator or instructor from negligence, only from the injuries that may be inherent to that sport or activity. For example, it is understood that while doing judo one can expect bumps, bruises, sprain and even breaks. But if those same injuries are the result of unsafe games or furniture being placed too close to the mat area, then this could be construed as negligence. Or if the mat area is dangerously overcrowded while doing randori, and someone’s leg gets broken, then fault falls on the instructor for allowing an unsafe training environment.
Suggestions for Risk Management:
- In addition to having a brown or black belt, it is recommended to have a teaching or coaching certification from a nationally recognized organization or institution
- Keep your credentials current by attending continued education classes and judo coaching clinics
- Maintain a clean & safe environment in the dojo and any attached facilities
- Vigilance and close supervision are paramount
- When registering new students, or when attending tournaments, clinics or special events, have the students and/or parents fill out, sign and date all waivers. It is important that they read and understand what they are signing
- Have a checklist of rules (“do’s and don’ts”) in the dojo. This should be posted in the dojo, explained to new students, and periodically reviewed. Examples are: no horseplay, no judo activity without an instructor present, no jewelry or sharp objects, short finger and toe nails, clean judogi, no arm bars for juniors, etc
- Have safe, well structured, age-appropriate lesson plans based on nationally accepted standards for judo training. This does not necessarily mean a written lesson plan for each class, but, at a minimum, the club should be following a nationally approved training progression.
- Keep a dated log of any serious incidents or injuries. You may even want to keep signed witness statements as to what occurred
- Periodically brief the members and assistant instructor on things to do in the unlikely event of an accident; example: call 911, nearest hospitals, police dept. where the first aid kit is to be found, notification of parents, etc.
- Finally, set the example by acting in a professional manner at all times
Additional information on risk management is covered in most coaching clinics, so be sure to attend and keep your certifications updated.
In addition to being an active judo instructor and coach, Mark Lonsdale has worked as a consultant for a major international risk management company. Mark has also been called as an expert witness in cases related to negligence in training and operations.