As far back as in the Roman era, athletics was a popular activity that many engaged in for leisure and entertainment. It is however in the late 1930s when athletes started receiving specialized training in universities, colleges and high schools i.e. in synthetic environments that are conceptualized to enhance simulation.
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Currently, hundreds of thousands of individuals worldwide engage in athletics as a hobby and also as a primary source of income. Annual events such as the New York marathon, London marathon and the Sydney marathon have elevated the popularity of the sport to echelons not seen before.
The turn out of athletes during such events only goes to show that athletics is by no means ostracized anywhere in the world. Individuals from all continents throng these cities hoping to clinch the title and cash reward, while others engage just for the fun of it. Young adults and children alike are also actively involved in athletics through out the globe. Inter-school competitions are popular amid high school students as a form of socialization and competitive sport.
With all these individuals occupied with one form of athletics or the other, there are high chances that injuries and accidents will occur during training and in the field. Considering the probability of such occurrences and our controversial social behavior, it is very easy for an athletic camp to be sued over the accidents and injuries.
The court cases can be time consuming and expensive in terms of financial resources and reputation. It is therefore prudent for athletic institutions and schools to integrate apposite measures and precautions to make sure they provide the safest possible setting for the athletes, coaches, administrators and the spectators alike.
Therefore, risk management is the progression of analytically identifying conditions that may predispose participants to avoidable risk or harm and taking the preventive actions necessary that will help to reduce or eliminate this exposure. This could be done by either physical means like construction of barriers or theoretically by coming up with sound policies.
Athletic risk management
Due to the physical nature of athletics as a competitive sport, athletes will always be prone to injury during training and while performing in the field. However, through incorporation of risk management procedures the possibilities of accidents and injuries happening are drastically reduced. Athletic risk management is a broad spectrum of preventive measures designed to keep athletes out of harms way.
In that sense, there are various steps that are undertaken to form a water tight risk management plan for athletes. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) is the body responsible for the establishment of professional merits among trainers and the creation of a standard blueprint covering athletic risk management in the U.S. Formed in 1950, this body currently has more than 35,000 members (Ammon, 1997).
Their good performance and professionalism led them to include health care provision among their services, with more than 40 percent of athletic trainers working in clinics and hospitals. Many athletic trainers offer their services to learning institutions while others work as health care providers in all professional sports including rodeo and car racing.
Moreover, other athletic trainers collaborate with the law enforcement sector and government agencies like the U.S. Senate and at the Pentagon. Apart from the United States, athletic trainers are also employed internationally in over 20 countries; such as Canada and Japan where they have over 400 athletic training camps. The NATA has in the long run been handed over the task of taking care of athletes’ welfare, on and of the field.
Risk management plan
For any institution to properly guard its athletes from injury, proper risk management actions must be taken. In order for that to happen, a thorough analysis of the athletes’ environment must be taken into account to cater for any imminent threat (Hall, 2006). This requires time and research through historical data and current events and once most of the problems have been determined, a risk management plan is put in place (Ammon, 1997).
A risk management plan is basically an identification of the prevailing threats that may cause injury or harm to an athlete and theoretical corrective measures which will be approved after successful implementation.
The risk management plan therefore covers every sphere of an athlete that may in one way or another cause harm or injury to an athlete under the guardianship of that institution. It is therefore a wide variety of threats and preventive measures and the result is a number of important steps are needed to provide comprehensive protection to athletes.
All athletic trainers should be trained in warning athletes of the possible dangers in the activities in which they participate in and also the proper safety precautions they must take to minimize the prospect of injury. The trainers also need special permission to deviate from adopted training programs to others that necessitate additional safety precautions (Hall, 2006).
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Trainers are therefore required to assign activities that are within the athletes’ abilities, based on their physical condition, size and ability. In high endurance activities, trainers are required to prepare the athletes gradually for physical activities and advance from the simple to difficult exercises. In addition, trainers should be reminded occasionally of the need for adequate supervision for example through seminars on tort liability, administrative meetings and reminder courses (Hall, 2006).
It is imperative that pertinent medical data on all athletes be available to the instructors so that speedy treatment is given during emergencies.
Data such as blood group and chronic ailments such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, allergies, or asthma that could be affecting an athlete should be well known by the instructor (Gray, 1995). Athletes should also be required to give the name of a physician and relatives to be contacted in emergencies and their contact details. Instructors and coaches are required to be cognizant with the procedures for summoning emergency medical care services.
A telephone should be readily available to each athletics trainer and the telephone should have the emergency numbers of the team physician, an emergency Operations Center, the Fire Department and the Police Department. Additionally, each athletic play or training area should have adequate amounts of first aid and emergency care equipment readily accessible within the vicinity. The equipment should be conspicuously marked, regularly serviced and the medication checked and replaced periodically (Hall, 2006).
Executive policies ought to be set in place and dispersed to all departments pertaining to periodic examination of all equipment and facilities. Consequently, each department is required to come up with a list of procedures for inspection of equipment and facilities to be inspected, procedures for inspection and the regularity at which inspections will take place.
The task for inspections should be delegated to a qualified individual who has worked with that kind of equipment. There is supposed to be records kept on all facility equipment and facility inspections for example the inspector’s name, date of inspection, condition of equipment and facilities and recommendations after the inspection (Ammon, 1997).
This way, responsible individuals will always strive to ensure all equipment and facilities are in working condition. All the defective equipment and unsafe facilities ought to be taken out of service and marked with clearly visible warning signs that they are out of order or unsafe and should not be made use of. Safety rules that are adopted regulating the use of potentially dangerous athletic equipment should be clear and easily understood by all athletes (Gray, 1995).
These safety regulations ought to be carefully explained to the athletes and the safety rules conspicuously posted near the equipment. Vehicular traffic on all training grounds and other areas which people and spectators use should be strictly regulated. Conspicuous warning signs should be put in place to enforce such regulations. Effectively, personnel access to the grounds should be limited too, for unauthorized personnel access can lead to unexpected consequences since they are not under supervision.
These are the actions taken within the management to ensure that proper protocol is maintained during training in the field and in the occurrence of an accident. Institutions should have risk management policies approved and circulated to all athletic trainers and coaches in an institution, barring unsupervised athletic practice sessions (Hall, 2006).
There should also be adequate staff assigned to athletic activities based on the nature and size of the group and the type of activity involved in order to ensure the correct activities are taking place. Administrators in learning institutions should be involved in the supervision of athletic programs as well as academic subjects (Ammon, 1997).
Only professional and competent trainers are supposed to be employed for physical teaching and athletic programs. A standard set of qualifications requirements should be put in place, like employing only trainers that are also conversant with first aid and emergency care. The instructors and coaches are also required to take periodic reminder courses in first aid and emergency care and less qualified instructors provided with special supervision by experienced instructors or administrators until they gain the necessary experienced.
Athletic activities involving physical contact should always be scheduled on the basis of impartial contest based on size and skill to guarantee minimum occurrence of injury (Gray, 1995). Medical examinations should be done prior to participation in any contact and endurance athletic sport and the measures for accident emergencies should be established and dispersed to all instructors.
Written accident reports should be filed on all serious accidents to help put in place preventive measures. In the case of professional athletes, their institutions should provide for medical cover to ensure rapid response by hospital staff in case of an accident.
Many institutions ensure that they provide medical cover for their athletes. This is a strategic move to avoid litigation in case an athlete gets injured during practice or while performing in the field. Though the insurance covers any form of injury, most institutions have devised means to curb the overexploitation of the insurance cover by athletes (Gray, 1995). This is because athletes may sustain injuries else where, yet they go on receiving treatment with the insurance cover that is meant to be used only in injuries resulting from the field.
Other athletes will go on to pay with their insurance for injured relatives causing the institutions and insurance companies to experience huge losses. For example, insurance offered to athletes by Florida Atlantic University’s athletic department insurance is a secondary insurance policy. This means that even when a student athlete sustains injury on the field, the primary insurance which is the personal insurance will be used to settle the bill.
Bills are processed by the FAU medical system through the athlete’s primary insurance, whereas the secondary insurance is used to settle any outstanding balances. Another example is the Central College of Illinois which provides insurance cover for athletes as long as they received an injury while participating in the field or officially supervised activities, including, practice sessions, sponsored events and official team tours. The institution does however reserve the right to revoke payment.
Requisite Standards in Risk Management
Each and every vocation has a set standard of conduct and product that identifies with that profession. This standard can be determined through various angles, however the most common is from standards of practice developed and availed by specialized institutions. In a negligence lawsuit, a standard of care will be applied to measure the competence of such a standard and a trainer may be liable for injuries or damages resulting from such conduct (Ammon, 1997).
It is therefore crucial for athletic institutions to integrate pertinent standards of practice into their risk management. Bearing in mind the presence of various published standards of practice from a wide selection of organizations, it can be difficult for athletic institutions to be aware of all appropriate standards and to determine which ones should be selected and incorporated into the risk management plan.
Due to the diversity of standards, it is wise for an institution to assemble a risk management advisory committee of experts in the field which is responsible for drafting the best suitable standard. Once implemented, the staff of the institution should be delegated to take on certain responsibilities in order to conform to the given standards.
It is not satisfactory to only take account of these procedures of conduct in a manual; rather the staff must be adequately trained and well-versed with them (Gray, 1995). Abiding to standards and constantly applying them in an institutional policy can be used to determine the standards of care an institution has for its athletes. Apart from professional standards, there are various additional standards that are intrinsic in a particular situation or obligatory to decree.
Negligence will usually occur when an institution’s personnel fall short of attaining the required standard while instructing, maintaining equipment and supervising athletes. Trainers are required to adequately instruct the athletes prior to allowing them to partake in activities that could result in injury. If an athlete is not warned of the dangers of a particular activity or not instructed in self protection in contact sports, instruction may possibly be considered insufficient and therefore an institution turns out to be liable for negligence.
An institution’s personnel have the responsibility to use reasonable care to not provide equipment which is known to be dangerous if improperly used (Hall, 2006). It is the duty of a trainer to supervise those activities in which the athletes participate in and it is the athletic administration’s responsibility to make sure supervision always takes place.
Athletics boards have the responsibility of setting up regulations that endeavor to improve the safety of athletes, failure of which the administration shifts responsibility to the athletic director to represent the athletic department (Gray, 1995).
The other function present in supervision is provision of competent care, meaning personnel adequately trained to assume the duties assigned. An institution’s personnel bear the responsibility to either secure or provide reasonable medical care to injured athletes as soon as possible under the circumstances.
It is at times difficult for trainers and administrators to know exactly what is required of them in times of emergencies, though it is now easier to understand what sort of duty one can offer student athletes because in 2007 the NATA developed standards on emergency preparedness in high school athletic programs. Standards are therefore essential in risk management and with integration of good bits of published standards into an institution’s core, injury and lawsuits pertaining to negligence are likely to cease.
Prevalent risks in athletics and effective preparation
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the primary cause of death in young athletes. It becomes the responsibility of NATA to provide the knowledge and skill required to help deal with emergency situations among athletes, and reduce the risk of death during an accident.
However, through first-responder automated external defibrillator programs also known as AED programs, the public awareness regarding first aid and the use of defibrillators has improved. Athletes are therefore more likely to survive a cardiac arrest since chances are high that they will receive early defibrillation and CPR from a bystander.
The most crucial actions that can be taken to save an athlete’s life in case of a cardiac arrest and they are: immediately contacting 911when signs of a cardiac arrest are identified , early bystander CPR is important to keep the person’s lungs open, the early delivery of a shock with a defibrillator and early life support will ensure that a patient’s heart does not stop beating and if it does, resuscitation after cardiac arrest is performed (Gray, 1995).
The above steps among others need to be outlined in an emergency action plan (EAP) developed by the athletic department. All institutions and organizations that support athletic activities should have an emergency action plan.
The plan should be definite to each athletic location and should include setting up a well organized communication structure, preparation of possible first responders in CPR and AED use, obtaining the basic emergency equipment providing a proficient and synchronized response plan, and ensuring access to early defibrillation (Gray, 1995).
To ensure rapid response to a real emergency, mock emergency situations should be played out often- twice in a year- and all the people involved according to the EAP should play their part to confirm a flawless emergency rescue is executed in case of a real emergency.
The more times it is practiced the more efficient and effective the plan will be. Data should be collected during each mock event to ascertain the time taken from collapse to the moment first aid is administered (Gray, 1995). The time from collapse to CPR should take one minute or less and the time from collapse to first shock should be 3-5 minutes.
Athletic risk management on close scrutiny is a matter that is still potent to expansion. Various institutions still do not take full liability of the injuries sustained in athletic related accidents and so the athletes end up paying most of the medical bills.
It is evident that the standard of athletic risk management is not universal, with various institutions having different standards on how best to protect their athletes. It is in my opinion that the government should set strict measures in place to enhance the protection of athletes from consequent harm during play or practice. A bill should be introduced that covers the whole spectrum of athletic risk management in an effort to standardize it by law.
Ammon, R. (1997). Risk management process. Dubuque, IA. Kendall: Hunt Publishers.
Gray, G. (1995). Risk management behaviors of high school principals in the supervision of their high school physical education and athletic programs. Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport 2005; 5(1), 52-59.
Hall, S. (2006). Effective security management of university sport venues. New York Sport Journal 2008; 349:2218-2223.