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Risk management should be at the top of every community rec center’s priority list.

Creating a culture of risk management starts with leadership. There has to be a consistent approach to correctly identify key areas of risk and create a plan of action to mitigate them.

The Gallatin Valley YMCA in Bozeman, Montana, works closely with Y-USA and its insurance company, Redwoods, to continually understand the complex nature of risk management. “We utilize their overarching work with several community recreation centers and youth-serving organizations,” said Andrea Stevenson, the CEO of the Gallatin Valley Y. “This helps anticipate new risks we may not be aware of, or understand new solutions we might be able to use in order to eliminate or lessen problems in the facility.”

In order to have an effective, proactive risk management plan, you must first train your employees on how to handle risky situations. AJ Hernandez, the district executive director of the YMCA of Columbia, with six locations in South Carolina, said they start training their employees in risk management as soon as they’re hired.

Every YMCA of Columbia employee goes through online risk management training that focuses on many different areas — i.e. child abuse prevention. Additionally, there is an employee checklist that has a section focusing on potential areas of risk within the facility, and how to manage or avoid them. Employees also have yearly refreshers via online and in-house training.

Each branch of the YMCA of Columbia has an emergency action plan, along with employee and program operation handbooks that detail how to handle items correctly. The Y also addresses risk management through monthly director meetings where HR provides details on any changes, and daily walk-throughs of facilities.

The Gallatin Valley Y trains each department in its facility on risk management differently. For example, the Y’s summer staff, who work solely with children, are trained with Praesidium’s Safety Equipment to educate them on keeping children safe during their programs.

However, it is not strictly the summer staff’s responsibility to keep children safe: it’s everyone’s focus. “Every YMCA staff is mandated to attend child abuse prevention training upon hire,” said Stevenson. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep kids safe and  protect themselves as well from allegations of child abuse or endangerment.”

Additionally, during Gallatin Valley Y staff meetings they discuss problems or challenges that are occurring, and create positive solutions in addressing risks. Sometimes that can be done quickly; sometimes it takes more research. “Often, we call other YMCAs to see how they might be handling a particular risk situation,” said Stevenson. “Ys are awesome at sharing information, as our goal is to provide the safest, most welcoming facilities.”

Another way to ensure your facility is providing the safest environment is through educating members on risk management. The YMCA of Columbia does this via a variety of platforms. It places signs throughout the building on dos and don’ts for specific spaces; it provides waivers for  members and program participants that detail any potential risks; it sends email blasts; and staff have personal conversations on risk issues when needed.

The Gallatin Valley Y also makes it a priority to educate members on facility safety and protocol. When members first join, they receive a membership policies and procedures handbook that addresses safety risks. If there is a change in policy, staff alert members through kiosks and callouts throughout the facility.

In an ideal world, members would read and follow all the rules, but that is not always the case. Every facility must be prepared to handle situations properly. “Our staff is confident that if they see a member or guest acting inappropriately, or putting themselves or others at risk, they certainly say something,” said Stevenson. “Sometimes that is really uncomfortable, especially for young staff. If a new staff member isn’t comfortable, we encourage them to find a manager and ask for help.”

Making safety part of your culture is critical. The leadership team should demonstrate for younger staff how to have a conversation with members or guests about issues that need to be addressed, including safety. Staff should be upfront and help educate all members and employees on the way things are done at the facility, so everyone has a clear understanding.

If your facility is struggling with cultivating a culture of risk management, Stevenson gave these three tips to utilize:

Be open and honest about it and try to solve it as a team. This creates an environment where people know it’s OK and important to talk about risk management issues without being criticized.

Ask others. Typically, another facility is dealing or has dealt with the same issue and may have already developed a solution that might work.

Re-evaluate risk factors constantly. It’s not a once a year walk-through. It’s working with the team to see problems or risks before they become problems or risks. Just like weather, risk management is ever-evolving, so you must evolve as well. Put risk management as a to-do item on your calendar, and then do it.

Overall, risk management should always be a main focus. Whenever you are thinking through starting something new, doing something slightly different or how to improve member experiences, always think how this would change potential risk within a facility or program.

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Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is a staff writer for Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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