Don’t drop the ball on your university’s risk management

By Tilden Watson, Head of Education, Zurich Municipal

All of the Higher Education institutions surveyed for Zurich Municipal’s New World of Risk report said they were diversifying into non-core activities as a way of generating extra income. In what is a challenging funding environment, universities are employing a variety of strategies to adapt and survive – each carrying its own set of potential risks and rewards.

One such activity is the sharing of a university’s sports and leisure facilities with the public. Indeed, many institutions have high-quality sport and recreation facilities located on their premises in areas where there is a shortage of such facilities for local community. Playing fields, tennis courts and swimming pools, are in high demand, and universities are increasingly seeing the business value in allowing the local sports clubs, community groups and members of the public to use their facilities.

But in doing so, some universities may be exposing themselves to more risk, and before opening their doors to the local community a complete risk assessment should be carried out.

Nothing can be assumed 

With members of the public on-site who will not be familiar with the institution’s ways of working, it is important to ensure every aspect of the use of the university’s facilities is documented and communicated effectively. Nothing can be assumed.

Before any activities can begin, Zurich Municipal advises that all the necessary assurances need to be obtained to make sure that all activities, whether it be sports or meetings, that take place on their premises have been properly risk assessed – and that they will be supervised by appropriately trained staff.

It’s also crucial for management to ensure that sports equipment is up-to-scratch, and that all the necessary safety gear is both provided and required to be used by all participants. Claims have occurred in the past from injuries that could have been easily prevented had items such as cricket pads been made available to everyone taking part.

Simplest of hazards can lead to claims 

All pitches, halls, changing rooms need to be regularly inspected by properly trained staff, with any issues identified and dealt with swiftly. For example, everyone needs to understand that even the simplest of hazards such as breakages and spillages can lead to injury and cannot be ignored.

When there are multiple activities going on in a single day it’s really important to have proper coordination processes in place. This should not only ensure that there is no mix up in terms of who is using which facility but should also provide for any clean up or change in equipment needed. The paying public, will often expect a higher standard than the students who use it very day.

Heavy kit 

Injury from moving equipment of misuse of equipment is common, and where any heavy kit – such as gym equipment – needs to be moved prior to public use, processes need to be put in place to ensure that this is only done by trained, insured members of staff. If weights and conditioning facilities are being shared, it is essential that visitors are properly trained and appropriate age limits are observed to minimise the risk of injury to those taking part.

All risk assessment needs to be discussed with your insurer, who will be available to offer additional advice and support where appropriate, including advising on whether changes need to be made to existing policy to cover for any potential accidents. 

Sharing sports and leisure facilities can be an excellent way for universities to generate extra income and better serve their local communities. With the right risk assessment, and the right staff and equipment there is no reason why universities should not be able to reap the benefits of opening up their facilities to the public. 


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