By Doyice Cotten
Exercise balls have become a staple in health clubs in recent years. They add fun and variety to exercising – but, watch out. While they look harmless, they have been involved in many accidents over the years when they burst and collapse, suddenly sending the patron to the floor with a thud.
The most publicized incident involving exercise balls involved Sacramento Kings and NBA player Francisco Garcia who was injured in October, 2009. He was balancing on a 75-centimeter ball and lifting weights at the same time. The ball burst and he plummeted to the ground suffering serious injury. He missed four months of the season, and he and the Kings sued Ledraplastic, the manufacturer, for breach of warranty. Ledraplastic marketed the ball as being able to withstand 600 pounds and being “burst resistant.” The manufacturer settled the lawsuit out of court.
According to the CPSC in 2009, as many as 47 people had reported fitness balls bursting – of course, it is impossible to know how many were not reported or how many incidents have occurred since the report. EB Brands, a major manufacturer of exercise ball has voluntarily recalled three million Chinese made fitness balls after reports that they can pop unexpectedly if overinflated. Included brands are Bally Total Fitness, Everlast, Valeo, and Body Fit Fitness Balls. Ironically, the recall is not a true recall. Such balls are taken back by the manufacturer only if the balls have burst – sort of a day late, a dollar short. Consumers are told to “contact EB Brands to receive a copy of the updated instructions on how to safely inflate the ball.” So, in effect, there are a lot of questionable exercise balls in health clubs around the country. For more information, read Exercise With Caution? 3 Million Balls Recalled.
How Can a Club Protect Itself?
A club owner or manager might think, “Well we don’t manufacture the ball, so we have nothing to worry about.” True, the ball manufacturer can be liable for damages; however, this liability can spill over to the club as well. Almost any suit of this type will claim that the ball was negligently maintained and was not regularly inspected. The following are a few guidelines that can help the club to avoid injuries to patrons and subsequent lawsuits:
1) Buy only top quality balls from reputable manufacturers. Avoid bargain basement buys.
2) Follow manufacturer’s guidelines on inflation and proper use of the balls.
3) Make certain members are instructed in the proper use of the balls.
4) Alert floor supervisors to be vigilant in observing for misuse.
5) Either do not allow patrons to lift weights when one is supported by the ball, or establish a weight limit significantly below that recommended by the manufacturer.
6) Exercises where the body is supported by the ball should be performed on mats.
7) Note commercial-use life expectancy of balls and take them out of service at that time.
8) Add permanent ID labels to each ball to document the date of purchase and to indicate an expiration date of useful life.
9) Inspect each ball on a regular basis for inflation level, defects, nicks, scratches, signs of wear, or other damage to the ball.
10) Keep an accurate record of purchases, inspections, and follow-up actions, including ball taken out of service.
11) Do not allow the use of balls in close proximity to other equipment.
12) Do not allow misuse of the balls (e.g., kicking the ball).