Yoga may be a therapeutic and relaxing exercise, but it comes with risks that must be mitigated. Otherwise, someone in your class could suffer a serious injury, and you could be on the receiving end of a compensation claim.
If you didn’t carry out a risk assessment and a Public Liability or Employers’ Liability claim were made against you, the consequences could be detrimental. That’s why conducting a full risk assessment is vital to protect your business, class members, and reputation.
As a specialist yoga insurance provider, we understand the importance of managing risk when practising sports. Our partners Aviva understand this as well. We speak to Lisa Gilmour, a Risk Consultant at Aviva, to get her advice for conducting a risk assessment for a yoga class.
Where to start
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a UK government agency, states that every business must have a policy for managing health and safety. This also applies to you as a yoga instructor.
You must appoint somebody to do this, and given many yoga instructors are self-employed, this is likely to be you. However, if you employ others, or work in a studio with a team of employees, someone else may be able to do this for you. In either case, you must carry out a health and safety policy and risk assessment.
You don’t need specialist qualifications to carry out a risk assessment. However, you do need the skills, knowledge, and experience to recognise hazards on your premises and in your practice. The HSE operates on the principle that you know these better than anybody else. If you don’t feel confident doing this, you can hire an independent health and safety consultant.
While many of the HSE’s regulations are written with businesses with employees in mind, many of them still apply to you, even if you’re a sole trader. For a more detailed breakdown, you can refer to the HSE’s page for self-employed regulations.
Finally, if you operate from a private venue, you need to request and review the fire risk assessment from the venue in which you’re teaching.
Identify risks in your practice space
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, as a minimum, you must:
- Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business
- Assess the likelihood of harm these hazards pose
- Take action to eliminate these risks, or control them if elimination is not possible
You should also consider the various hazards within your practice space which could cause trips or slips.
Let’s break all of the risks down by indoor and outdoor training.
If you’re training indoors
These are just some of the risks posed by teaching yoga indoors:
- One of your students tripping on a wire
- Buffed or wet floors
- Food and drink spillages
- The potential for objects to harm students, i.e., breaking a mirror causing shattered glass
These examples demonstrate how vital it is to be as meticulous as possible. This means carrying out a full inspection of the venue you’re teaching in before each session, recording your findings (more on that in section 5), and ensuring that the indoor space you’re using is suitable for a yoga class. Inspections must be undertaken before every class and in between classes if you’re holding more than one class in a day.
The latter example is worth highlighting, as if glass does break during one of your sessions, you need to ensure that you dispose of it safely. Otherwise, someone in your care could suffer a serious injury and you could have a costly compensation claim on your hands.
If you’re training outdoors
Due to the coronavirus restrictions, many yoga instructors have turned to teaching outdoors, so outdoor risk assessments have become even more paramount in recent months.
If you hold yoga classes outdoors, here are the main risks to consider:
- Animals, i.e., allergies, attacks, or biological hazards
- Weather, i.e., rain, storms, lightning
- Bee stings
- Hazardous plants
- Electrical goods being unsuitable for outside use
- Sunlight and ultraviolet rays
- Falling trees
- Sheltering under a tree during a storm
- A lack of full visibility if you’re training at night
Let’s explore the first example a bit more, because animals are a notable risk when you train outdoors for several reasons.
For instance, a nearby dog could attack one of your class members, or one of your class members could be allergic to a certain type of animal. There’s also the risk of animals spreading bacteria which could cause a class member to fall ill. Did you know that dogs and rats can spread Leptospira to humans and other dogs via their urine?
What’s more, dog and fox faeces are a common hazard if you’re training in a park. If someone slips on this, it could cause an injury or infect a pre-existing wound. Even if the wound is small, it could be infected by harmful parasites, as shown in the recent case of amateur rugby player Dan Colbridge.
Hazards outside of your practice space
There are also hazards outside of your immediate practice space which could result in serious injuries to your class members. These include ice on the car park or steps outside your premises, or an unlit car park.
Did you know that slips and trips are the single largest cause of accidents in public areas? Aviva’s guides to slip prevention and trip prevention explain more and outline how you can avoid such accidents.
Other risks to take into account
- The potential for students to hurt themselves or others during certain poses
- Strains, sprains, overexertion, and cramps from certain exercises
- The potential for students to come into contact with biological matter like sweat, saliva, or blood
- Insect infestations, mould, and damp on your premises
- Evacuation procedures
- Special needs of students and the unique risks they might face, i.e., medical conditions or disabilities
- One of your members of staff working alone
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers the risks you are most likely to encounter. Each yoga studio risk assessment will be slightly different and should be continually updated as new risks are identified.
Assess the level of risk
Once you’ve identified the hazards within your class, you need to assess their relative threat level. In this step of the process, you should consider how likely somebody is to injure themselves, and the potential severities of the injury they suffer.
Among other things, you should bear in mind:
- Who could be harmed and how they could be harmed
- What is already being done to mitigate harm
- What else you could do to mitigate harm
- The urgency of mitigating this risk
As a matter of course, you need to quantify the likelihood of each risk occurring. You can do this through either quantitative or qualitative risk analysis.
We recommend carrying out qualitative risk analysis if you’re a yoga instructor. Quantitative risk analysis is much more subjective and relies on collecting high-quality data (which you would be unlikely to obtain from your sessions).
Qualitative risk analysis, on the other hand, is much simpler to carry out. People who perform this type of analysis will assign each risk a rating for consequences and likelihood and record them in a risk assessment matrix.
This will enable you to assess the threat level of each risk and put suitable control measures in place to manage them.
Control the risks
Following on from the point above, control measures are quite self-explanatory. They are essentially actions which will reduce potential exposure to a hazard or eliminate it altogether.
Here are some control measures a yoga instructor might put in place following a risk analysis:
- Ensure your class members are wearing the appropriate clothing.
- Ensure trip hazards are not present in your practice space.
- Communicate and demonstrate the correct techniques to minimise the threat of injury.
- Conduct a thorough warm-up routine prior to yoga activity.
- Use rubber mats to prevent slips on hard surfaces.
- Asking all of your class members to disclose any potential allergies they may have.
- Avoiding areas which are popular among dog walkers.
- Bringing umbrellas to your classes in case it rains, to prevent class members from sheltering under trees.
- Ensuring adequate lighting of the venue, inside and outside. Lighting is particularly relevant in the context of outdoor classes, as these may take place in the evening.
Furthermore, if you work one-to-one with anyone who could be classed as a child or vulnerable person, you must have a current Enhanced DBS Check and ensure that this is renewed every three years.
The HSE also recommends several strategies to reduce risk exposure. For example, redesigning the way your students interact with the risk, replacing processes, or wearing protective equipment. In the case of a yoga studio, this could be cushions or padded mats being used to break a student’s fall when attempting complicated poses.
You’re not expected to eliminate risk entirely, but you need to do everything you reasonably can to protect people from harm. “Reasonable” means weighing up the risks against the measures needed to control them in terms of time, money, and difficulty to enforce.
The HSE provides more detailed guidance on control measures here.
Record your findings
The HSE states that you only need to write down your risk assessment findings if you employ more than five people.
This rules out most self-employed yoga instructors, but we still recommend recording your findings to ensure both you and your students are safe.
As your yoga business grows and you teach more people (and possibly more often), so too does the level of risk to yourself and your students. That’s why it’s important to keep on top of assessing and recording these risks to prevent your health and safety policy from becoming outdated.
If you’re looking for a framework to refer to, the HSE provides risk assessment templates here. So too does The British Wheel of Yoga, a Sport England Governing Body for yoga. Referring to these templates will help you establish what risks exist within your practice space and how they can be managed.
As a side note, if you employ any staff or volunteers:
- You must ensure that they’re fully qualified to teach yoga
- They must receive thorough training and induction
- They must provide written acknowledgement of the training you’ve provided
Review your risk assessment
The next step is to evaluate how effective your risk assessment is in preventing or eliminating harm. Once again, changes in your business could lead to new risks which are unaccounted for. These could include:
- A higher number of students raising the likelihood of transacting illness via biological materials like sweat or blood.
- Using new equipment during your sessions. All the equipment you use should be inspected before use and portable items ideally should be PAT-tested, though this is not a legal requirement.
- Practising in a venue you’ve not used before. You should always ensure that the fire inspection certificate of any venue you hire is up to date and valid.
- A student with unique special needs begins attending your class. In this situation, you may have an enhanced duty of care to the individual, so special consideration should be given to any additional risks they might face.
Be sure to update your risk assessment and put controls in place if you encounter new risks. If you employ other yoga instructors, check in with them to make sure they’re following the correct procedures.
Social distancing measures
Of course, COVID-19 prevention measures and social distancing have become key considerations for yoga instructors.
Although the rules are continuously changing at the time of writing (January 2021), where yoga classes have been permitted to take place indoors, there have been some stipulations. These include:
- Ensuring students all wear face masks other than when performing the exercises
- Ensuring students maintain 2 metres distance between each other at all times
- Asking students to sanitise their hands upon entering and leaving the class
- Asking students to bring their own mats and equipment to avoid sharing
- Avoiding touching students when correcting poses, and relying on verbal communication instead
- Ensuring the room is well ventilated
- Ensuring floors and surfaces are cleaned and disinfected between each class
- Ensuring you communicate with the venue’s representatives and adhere to its COVID-19 procedures
The full COVID-19 risk assessment criteria are available from the HSE here. You must comply with these regulations, as the HSE is carrying out spot-checks on businesses at present.
Even when COVID-19 eventually passes, it may be beneficial to maintain some of these protocols to give your class members added peace of mind.
Many thanks to Lisa for her insights. For more advice on how to manage and mitigate risk, check out AVIVA’s information hub.
Specialist yoga insurance from Ripe Sport
As explained by Lisa, conducting a risk assessment will help safeguard your students and ultimately, your business. As, too, will having specialist yoga insurance.
In many cases, Public Liability cover is a minimum requirement at studios, health centres and gyms. This protects you if a claim is made against you because of injury to one of your students or damage to third-party property.
It’s not just this that you need to consider – what about your equipment being lost, damaged, or stolen?
This is where Ripe Sport comes in. Our insurance covers you for the above scenarios and many more. Find out more about our yoga insurance by clicking the link above, or get an instant online quote and see what we can do for you.