Risk Management, Legal Liability, and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design in Recreational Facilities2013-08-28T14:58:44-04:00

William McCoy
York College of Pennsylvania
May 7, 2003

Managing a recreational facility can be a daunting task. There are various operations that must stay up and running, and equipment must be maintained properly. All managers need to assess their risks and do their best to control them by using risk management strategies. Managers of recreational facilities need to recognize their most important assets, which are mainly all of their employees and visitors, the facility's property, the information that gives the organization the ability to operate, and the appearance that the facility presents to the public. Identifying the most important assets is the first step in the process of assessing risks and keeping damages and accidents to a minimal level. The following are key terms that will be used throughout this paper:

  • Risk Management-minimizing loss events (employee theft, liability, etc.) and avoiding dangerous hazards, such as fire and safety issues.
  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)- a system using surveillance, open spaces, access control, and other deterrents to reinforce territoriality.
  • Security in recreational facilities- involves safety, cameras, locks, signage, alarm systems, adequate lighting, foot patrols, good employees, and an emergency control group.
  • Access Control- controlling the entry to a specific area by placing boundaries or other means.

Risk Management includes various branches that all affect the potential of risk. The book Legal Liability in Recreation and Sports (Hronek & Spengler, 1997), lists the following branches of risk management: Risk Avoidance, Risk Transfer, Risk Retention, and Risk Reduction (p. 5). All of these types of risk management need to be incorporated into managing a recreational facility. In the list below each branch of risk management is applied to the concerns of recreational facilities.

Risk Avoidance is concerned with escaping the risk completely. Risks that are to be avoided include natural disasters, neighborhoods, and safety concerns. Some recreational facilities choose to put themselves in harm's way because one of their main objectives is to give children something to do other than join gangs or perpetuate in illegal waters. Another aspect of risk avoidance is hiring good employees, which will help the facility to avoid liability and potential law suits.

Risk Transfer deals mainly with insurance. Insurance is vital to managing a recreational facility. If the facility undergoes a major disaster without good insurance, it will be crippled. Recreational facilities attract a lot of risks such as swimming pool problems and equipment breaking. In light of all the risks that recreational facilities face, it would be wise for the managers to contract a variety of insurance for everything ranging from workman's compensation insurance to theft insurance. Almost every risk imaginable can occur in a recreational facility, so insurance is vital. (Insurances will be discussed in further detail later on in this paper.)

Risk Retention deals with accepting risks, since the probability for the loss event occurring is minimal. If the area a recreational facility resides on hasn't had a tornado in 175 years, it would be a safe bet that that facility will not be swept away by a cyclone.

Risk Reduction deals with using locks, bars, life guards, or Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). A recreational facility that has a pool would want to make sure that it employs life guards that are certified and capable of meeting the everyday tasks that go along with their job. Having CCTV in a pool area is a good idea as well.

Theft is not common in recreational facilities; however, it does exist. Internal theft also occurs; employees could steal equipment or membership money if the manager is not doing the proper checks and audits. Therefore, an audit is a key step for keeping the facility's loss events in check. A recreational facilities manager must always be on the lookout for theft because stolen equipment is not easily replaced.

Fire and natural disasters fall under the category of Risk Retention. One way of dealing with fire is to obtain and maintain fire safety equipment such as ionization detectors and fire extinguishers. It is also important to have an evacuation plan in case of a fire. Proper signage at entrances and exists will assist in planning evacuation. According to the book ACSM's Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines, (Peterson & Tharret, 1997), "A facility should include entryway and exit signage. All entrances to and exits from the facility to hallways or external grounds should be identified by the appropriate signage" (p. 20). Signage is very important for keeping the facility and its users safe. It is also a necessity to obtain fire insurance as a last resort. The types of insurances needed for a recreational facility will be discussed later.

Since recreational facilities have so many risks, managers or supervisors must take the necessary steps to avoid them. At the top of the list is hiring good employees, applying risk reduction, and risk management strategies. A recreational facility's manager must be creative in his budget for implementing risk management, but, "risk management should never be considered a burden or 'cost.' It should be regarded as a part of everyday business, not unlike customer service, maintenance, marketing, and managing" (Hronek & Spengler, 1997). Risk management is a crucial piece of any successful operation and needs to be implemented.

Insurance should be used as a last resort, a last line of defense, in dealing with a situation. Recreational facilities assume a lot of risks and therefore should cover all the bases with insurance. Hronek and Spengler (1997) offer the following nine (9) insurances with explanations that are necessary for recreational settings:

  1. Accident (Casualty) - needed for losses caused by injuries to persons or damage to property.
  2. Automobile- needed to insure against personal injuries and property loss resulting from a broad list of categories.
  3. Inclement Weather- needed when activity is weather dependent.
  4. Product Liability-needed by individuals or organizations that develops or uses untested or proved products.
  5. Professional Liability- need in some cases when advising, treating, or guiding people.
  6. Theft and Dishonesty (Fidelity) - needed to protect losses due to internal losses from employees and contractors.
  7. Contractual Liability- to insure against losses resulting from problems associated with contract performance.
  8. Crime Insurance-needed when crime is a specific problem and not covered by comprehensive insurance.
  9. Property Loss (Fire, tornado, earthquake, lightning, etc.)-needed when other insurance coverage does not adequately include property risk. (p.35)

Additional insurance coverage may be wanted for employees and workman's compensation.

Managing a recreational facility involves constant upkeep and maintenance. Any letdown in maintenance or security could result in a liability suit for a wide variety of complaints. The following paragraphs detail some of the most common risks facing a recreational facility. They include liability from injuries, poor maintenance, theft, property damage, and natural disasters.

Liability for injuries can take place on a huge spectrum. Negligence is a recurring problem for recreational facilities. Ian McGregor (1990) defines negligence as "the unintentional harm to others as a result of an unsatisfactory degree of carelessness" (p. 2). If a facility is taken to court there are four issues that the court considers:

  1. whether or not the defendant was negligent
  2. whether or not the defendant is liable for that negligence
  3. whether or not the defendant can escape that liability
  4. what damages the defendant has to pay. (McGregor & MacDonald, 1990, p. 2)

McGregor (1990) reveals the following points that must be proven in a negligence claim. "In a negligence claim it has to be shown that, the defendant owed duty of care, the defendant breached reasonable standard of care, the plaintiff suffered actual harm on which a value can be placed, and the defendant's carelessness was the proximate (direct) cause of harm to the plaintiff" (p. 2). Poor maintenance will probably result in an accident. For example the failure to clean a pool can result in infections of the participants. Negligence claims have a better chance of being avoided if the facility is maintained properly.

In the designing of a recreational facility CPTED is a must. Any advantage that can be used to prevent and apprehend criminals should be taken. The designer must keep in mind, however, that his main objective is not to catch criminals, but to satisfy the members of the recreational facilities. The subsequent paragraphs will detail three components of CPTED.

Surveillance is one of the most useful tools in crime prevention.Surveillance is made up of three parts: 1) Natural (i.e., a park bench) 2) Electronic (i.e., CCTV) 3) Organized (i.e., foot patrols). All of these components can deter crime and assist in the apprehension of criminal activity. Surveillance is one of the most useful tools in crime prevention.

A second use of CPTED is marking boundaries. Boundary marking can be accomplished by using methods such as different color grass lines, bushes, and posters. Making it known that it is the property of the facility is a good way to deter unwanted trespassers.

A third use for CPTED is maintenance. Maintenance and keeping a good image are two of the most important concepts of risk management. If the facility is not kept up to the standards of its public users, then the facility will lose members. This is not the only problem with poor maintenance, however, because the more trash a person views on the floor the more likely that person will contaminate the environment themselves. If this happens repeatedly, the recreational facility could ultimately end up in court with law suits pushing them out of operation. Once one person damages the environment the rest of the users will respect the facility less and less. It is key for the facility to maintain a sparkling image if it wants to keep a successful operation.

CPTED can be applied to recreational facilities in a myriad of ways. Public viewing spaces would be the most applicable use of CPTED for a recreational facility. Having a lot of windows in the facility so that areas outside the facility can be viewed by members within it is an effective application of CPTED. Electronic surveillance is not only useful for catching thieves or property damagers, but also is a way of viewing employees doing or not doing their jobs, especially lifeguards and fitness supervisors. Natural surveillance is the best and most common use of CPTED in recreational facilities.

It is crucial for a recreational facilities manager to be familiar with and comply with all standards. If standards fail to be met it could result in liability for negligence. A facilities manager that does not follow standards could result in an unclean environment and unsatisfied members. Since image is the most valuable asset for a recreational facility, standards must be met. In the book, ACSM'S Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines (Peterson & Tharret, 1997), there is a general list of six (6) standards that all recreational facilities must abide by. They are:

  1. "A facility must be able to respond in a timely manner to any reasonably foreseeable emergency event that threatens the health and safety of facility users. Toward this end, a facility must have an appropriate emergency plan that can be executed by qualified personnel in a timely manner.
  2. A facility must offer each adult member a pre-activity screening that is appropriate to the physical activities to be performed by the member.
  3. Each person who has supervisory responsibility for a physical activity program or area at a facility must have demonstrable professional competence in that physical activity program or area.
  4. A facility must post appropriate signage alerting users to the risks involved in their use of those areas of a facility that present potential increased risks.
  5. A facility that offers youth services or programs must provide appropriate supervision.
  6. A facility must conform to all relevant laws, regulations, and published standards. (p. 7)

Pools can cause major liability issues. Pools require a lot of upkeep and supervision. Standards are very specific and must be followed with a carefully. Negligence can result from contaminated water, uncertified life guards, or bad staffing. Executive director of the Park District Risk Management Agency in Wheaton, Illinois, Betsy Kutska, said, "Aquatic facilities create the greatest challenge from a risk management perspective. We have had, by far, more serious accidents resulting in permanent disability or deaths associated with aquatic facilitates or water related activities that any other recreational activity" (Cowans, 1997, par. 2). Pools or aquatic facilities provide a real challenge to recreational facility's managers. The manager must be aware or serious problems are more likely to occur.

Cameras play a very important role in avoiding negligence. As technology increases and prices decrease, businesses are becoming able to upgrade their equipment. According to Mesenbrink (2001), "CCTV leads the pack as the most sought after security equipment last year, this year and probably the next. Roughly fifty-eight (58) percent of SecurityMagazine readers surveyed last year said they currently use color cameras" (p. 2). This figure is on the rise as more and more businesses want to view their cameras through a colorful world.

CCTV has its strong points, but to be most effective it needs to have the proper lighting. Mesenbrink states, "Having the improper equipment or lighting in an application might fail the chances of deterrence or identification" (p.1). A camera should suit the needs of the facility. For instance, a facility that places a camera inside the facility will not need the same features as a facility that purchases an outdoor camera in the parking lot. Before the purchase of a camera, placement and lighting should be considered.

Managing a recreational facility requires a lot of attention to day-to-day operations. Using Risk Management and CPTED can be effective ways of reducing crime and increasing safety. Maintenance needs to stay on the ball because it helps to maintain the facility's image. A recreational facility's manager needs to make sure that its members and visitors are satisfied with the facility, and the safety that is provided. The daily challenges faced by a recreational facility's manager are summed up best by Ian McGregor (1990): "Life is full of risks. Changing careers, getting married, crossing the street, and playing tennis all involve some element of risk (p. 1). The sport and recreation facility's concerns include risk of injury, liability claims, theft, assaults, vandalism, equipment breakdowns, and natural disasters.

William J. McCoy is currently attending York College of PA., majoring in Criminal Justice with minors in Business Management and Criminalistics. He can be reached at wjmccoy@ycp.edu.


Colorful plans, camera purchases (2000). Security, 37, 54. Retrieved February 15, 2003, from Expanded Academic ASAP Plus.

Cowans, D. S. (1997). Risk management: Not just another day at the beach. Business Insurance, 31, 118. Retrieved February 23, 2003, from Expanded Academic ASAP Plus.

Gipps, M.A. (2000). Sporting a new look. Security Management, 44, 48-56. Retrieved February 15, 2003, from Pro Quest.

Guidelines. Illinois: American College of Sports Medicine.

Hronek, B., & Spengler, J. (1997). Legal Liability in Recreation and Sports. Illinois: Sagamore Publishing.

McGregor, I., & MacDonald, J. (1990). Risk Management Manual for Sport & Recreation Organizations, 2. Oregon: National Intramural-Recreational Sports

Mesenbrink, J. (2001). Seeing the light with CCTV cameras. Security. Retrieved March 19, 2003 from www.securitymagazine.com.

Peterson, J.A., & Tharrett, S.J. (Ed.) (1997). Health/fitness Facility Standards