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Enhancing Product Safety in the Fitness Equipment Industry

by Harvey C. Voris

For many people, fitness has long been a way of life. However, the development of safety standards for this industry did not begin until the late 1980s.

The popularity of fitness mushroomed in the 1980s. With this increase in interest came an infusion of consumer cash, leading to the introduction of fitness products of questionable quality into the market. Injuries that occurred on low-end exercise bikes in the mid ’80s prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to request ASTM Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities to form a subcommittee devoted to fitness products. F08.30 on Fitness Products was formed to meet that need. This subcommittee has averaged approximately 50 members for the last 10 years. These dedicated members come from manufacturing, academia, the legal profession, government and other general interest groups. The CPSC is still an active participant in the development of this subcommittee’s standards.

After its formation, F08.30 quickly drafted standard F 1250, Safety Specification for Stationary Exercise Bicycles. This standard was first approved and published in 1989, and was subsequently revised and reapproved in 1996 and 2000, respectively. In addition to F 1250, F08.30 has published:

F 1749, Specification for Fitness Equipment and Fitness Facility Safety Signage and Labels;
F 2106, Test Method for Treadmills;
F 2115, Specification for Standards for Treadmills;
F 2216, Specification for Selectorized Strength Equipment;
F 2276, Specification for Fitness Equipment; and
F 2277, Test Method for Selectorized Strength Equipment.

The specific product standards deal with design and function criteria that affect product safety and durability. The accompanying test methods instruct the manufacturer or testing facility on how to evaluate products according to the specific product standard.

European Standards

There is currently only one other prominent and world-recognized body writing standards for the fitness industry. The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) Technical Committee 136 on Sports — Playground and Other Recreational Equipment, under the direction of Chair Klaus Schneider, has been working on and drafting fitness equipment standards since the late 1980s. (Chairman Schneider is also an active member of F08.30.) In fact, the published ASTM standards attributed to Subcommittee F08.30, and those currently in development, parallel and compare favorably to these standards. To date, TC136 has written the following industry standards:

• EN957-1, General Safety Requirements and Test Methods;
• EN957-2, Strength Training Equipment, Additional Specific Safety Requirements and Test Methods;
• EN957-4, Strength Training Benches, Additional Specific Safety Requirements and Test Methods;
• EN957-5, Pedal Crank Training Equipment, Additional Specific Safety Requirements and Test Methods;
• EN957-6, Treadmills, Additional Specific Safety Requirements and Test Methods;
• EN957-8, Steppers, Stairclimbers and Climbers, Additional Specific Safety Requirements and Test Methods;
• EN957-9, Elliptical Trainers, Additional Specific Safety Requirements and Test Methods; and
• EN957-10, Stationary Bikes Without a Freewheel Mechanism, Additional Specific Safety Requirements and Test Methods.

Prior to the formation of the EN957 series, standards did exist in Germany under the DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung) designation and in Britain as BSI (British Standards Institution) standards. When CEN ratified the EN957 standards, the other standards in existence were made obsolete.

Other fitness industry organizations are making safety a key issue as well. Most notably, the U.S. National Strength Coaches Association has written a very detailed standard for the operation and maintenance of fitness facilities. In this document they reference applicable ASTM standards and indicate that the purchasing of products that meet these standards is in the best interest of the facility.

Renewed Interest

After the adoption of F 1250, fitness industry interest in Subcommittee F08.30 subsided. It was not until the European standards were initially drafted that interest resumed. Standard F 1749 was the result of this renewed interest and the realization that the industry had no standardization for product warnings or signage. F 1749 closely follows American National Standards Institute standard Z535, Environmental and Facility Safety Signs. As a result, warning labels in the fitness industry are, for the most part, uniform and parallel those of other consumer and industrial products.

Standard F 2276 is a general product standard (similar to EN957-1) and is intended to address fitness products not covered in separate standards. Often, these products are “infomercial” in nature and may have a life span on the market that is shorter than the time it takes to draft and adopt an ASTM standard. By following F 2276, manufacturers of these products are given basic guidance on what to consider when developing a fitness product.

Standards F 2115 and F 2216 are examples of product-specific safety standards. These product categories typically have numerous areas of concern that must be addressed in a separate document. Such areas include guarding, durability, machine control and product warnings. Currently, the subcommittee is working on a separate standard for elliptical trainers (WK991) and its accompanying test method.

The fitness industry has recently seen a tremendous increase in fitness machines intended for use by children. The subcommittee has been quick to recognize the potential problems with such equipment and is currently balloting changes to the scopes of existing standards to emphasize that the current specifications are for products designed for users age 12 and above. Also in response to this trend, the subcommittee has decided to write a series of ASTM guides for the design of fitness products for children, the disabled and the elderly. The intent of these guides is to educate designers and manufacturers on how to apply existing ASTM fitness product standards to the development of these products and what other precautions must be observed and taken into consideration.

The existence of standards meant to ensure safety does not imply that exercise equipment is unsafe. The majority of fitness products on the market today are extremely well-engineered — the direct result of stiff competition and innovation in the fitness industry for the last 20 years. It is important to note that if these existing products are well maintained, if customers and clients are instructed on how to use them properly, and then are supervised in their use, the opportunities for injury will be minimized. The guidelines in safety standards do not eliminate the chances for problems to occur, they just reduce them.

As with all ASTM standards, the standards in the fitness industry are voluntary. It is certainly in a company’s best interest to follow the standards that exist but there are no laws that mandate that they do so. Widespread adoption and use of existing industry standards has been growing, and pressure from industry competition will cause this trend to continue. Thus, the importance of the work of subcommittee F08.30 has been realized. //

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

Harvey C. Voris has been the chair of Subcommittee F08.30 since 1994 and is also currently the second vice chair of Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities. He has been involved in the development of all standards attributed to F08.30. He is also the vice president of engineering for Paramount Fitness Corp. and has been designing fitness equipment since 1980.