Safety in the Gym: Specifying Equipment to Protect Users and Spectators

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Gymnasiums are designed to accommodate many types of sports, athletes, and spectators, either concurrently or consecutively.

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Gymnasiums are designed to accommodate many types of sports, athletes, and spectators, either concurrently or consecutively.

Standards for Manufacturers

All gymnasium equipment products are associated with vitally important standards, features, or designs to protect the safety of spectators and participants. These should be considered when choosing, specifying, adding, or replacing this type of equipment.

As an architect or specifier designing a gymnasium quickly learns, there are many manufacturers of gymnasium equipment. Care should be taken to choose the one with the highest qualifications. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is the gymnasium equipment supplier currently active in the market? Ideally, the supplier is fully immersed in the market, and is aware of the latest standards and newest technologies.
  • Can the equipment supplier provide references in the market?As we have seen, the issue of quality and safety of gymnasium equipment is critically important. A manufacturer or supplier of equipment that can show a history of success in the market can give the architect or specifier a greater level of assurance.
  • Can the supplier provide proof of quality manufacturing?
  • In addition to references, can the manufacturer provide install locations to demonstrate firsthand the quality of its products?
  • Have the manufacturer’s clamps and fittings been tested by an independent party, in a testing lab accredited by an organization such as the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA)?
  • Is the manufacturer able to provide test reports on request?
  • The accepted standard for gymnasium equipment—D1.1 – Structural Welding Standard—has been developed by the American Welding Society (AWS).
  • Finally, does the manufacturer use Grade 5 or better hardware?To determine this, look for SAE Standard J429, also known as Type 1 for ASTM Standard A449.

Standards for Installers

In a gymnasium, where the weight and movement of human bodies stresses and tests any equipment, the quality of the installation is nearly as impactful as the quality of the manufacture.

On Sept. 4, 2015, a four-year-old girl was playing in a high school gymnasium in Gwinn, Michigan, while her mother coached a cheerleading team. During that time, a safety partition (reportedly being installed) fell over, striking the little girl. She was unresponsive after the accident and taken to the local hospital, then flown to Ann Arbor. The next day, just about a week shy of her fifth birthday, she died.

The accident that caused this child’s death drives home the point that gymnasiums are filled with not only athletes, participants, and spectators, but also massive pieces of equipment. Some of that equipment is designed for the sport, and some of it is designed for safety while playing or watching the sport.

The installation process itself brings its own set of perils. Here are the questions to ask regarding installation:

  • Can the installer provide you with job references?
  • Can the company give you installation examples so you can inspect the installer’s work for yourself?
  • Can the company provide proof of insurance in case there is an accident on the job site?


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Originally published in Architectural Record