Listen In: Yoga Class Management Discussion on Risk Management and Emergency Preparedness for Yoga Teachers

Listen to an excerpt from a recent discussion with senior trainer E-RYT 500 Heather Agnew:

Or, read an edited transcript below:

Risk Management and Emergency Preparedness for Yoga Teachers

This week we’ll talk about risk management strategies and putting plans in place to be prepared to deal with emergencies.

Depending on where you teach, there might be risk management and emergency protocols already in place – and in your orientation you will be taken through those processes.

If you are running your own classes, when you hire a venue, they will usually take you through an orientation to show you all you need to know for venue safety, including fire alarms, extinguishers, etc.

From there, it’s up to you as a teacher to do some risk management assessment and put some practices in place to ensure everyone’s safety in class.

What Kind of Emergencies Can Arise?

  • Allergic reaction, medical or mental health emergency
  • Fires inside the building, bushfires nearby
  • Threatening storm, floods, storm damage affecting the building
  • Trespasser or unknown person in the building
  • Snake or another dangerous animal (if teaching outside, that can include ants, bees etc)

How can you prepare?

• Train in first aid and CPR training. You will need this to register and get insurance.
• You will learn in your first aid training how to respond to injuries, illness, or emergency situations. Mental rehearsal is helpful here – you will be the person in charge so mentally rehearsing the steps to emergency management will aid your confidence and readiness. What will you do if the fire alarm goes off, if the power goes out, if someone has a medical emergency. Rehearsing what steps you will take will help you to feel more prepared and confident to managed situations.

• If a student has a pre-existing medical condition that could be made worse by taking part in yoga, they should have medical clearance before attending your class. This includes high blood pressure, heart conditions, stroke, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal conditions, or any other condition that might make a change in someone’s movement practice a risk. If in doubt, refer.

• When you refer a student to their care team for clearance to take part in yoga, ideally send them with a little outline of your class so the doctor can better understand what happens in your class – is it a dynamic vinyasa flow class, a gentle class, chair yoga, restorative yoga etc. That information will help them to provide the best guidance to their patient.

• If a student has an allergy, asthma, or other condition requiring medical assistance like an inhaler, EPI pen etc., know where that medication is located during class. You might have a few cubbies marked with a red sticker or something, so you know where to go for emergency medicine.

• Have a class sign-in sheet for every class so that students can inform you of any changes to their health status

In An Emergency:

• If a student requires emergency care, end the class, remove all other students to a safe area, call emergency services, and stay with the student until they arrive.

• If you have a student in distress, do not let them leave on their own. If they are more comfortable leaving the room, put the students in a safe position and join the student outside. If physical distress, call EMS. If emotional/mental distress, get them on the phone with someone – family, friend, EMS

• In the case of fire, storm or power emergency, follow venue guidelines as to exit route, assembly point, etc. I find that people have a hard time leaving their gear, especially their phones. If it’s a safe option, tell people grab your phone and quickly walk out to the assembly point. This can sometimes be quicker than telling people to just leave. Be sure you see everyone leave the venue.

• This is where having a digital or paper sign in sheet can be helpful – you can count heads at the assembly point and be sure everyone got out safely.

Information Management

• If you are working with children or vulnerable people, have their parent/guardian contact list available if possible.

• Have a section in your registration that allows people to inform you about allergies or special needs. If you have a student with a service animal, you need to advise all other students that there will be a service animal in the room so they can make informed choices.

• While you are doing that, be clear about accessibility in your class – are there stairs, parking, public transport to the location (at the time of your class) etc. We want students to be informed so that they can make informed choices. Be clear about the use of touch in your class. Is there a virtual option? Are there public health protocols that will protect vulnerable people?

• Tell people your COVID safety protocols and remind students not to come to class if unwell. Perhaps change your cancellation policy for illness while COVID is high in your area or maintain a virtual or online option for your classes, so folks don’t feel compelled to come to class when feeling unwell.

• It’s worth having a cover page for each class you teach or venue you use that outlines emergency information, what number to call, what door to enter, what stairs to use etc., so that if you have to have another person call emergency services, they will have all the information they need to direct help to your location.

• If you are teaching online (live, virtual classes) it would be great to have people’s address so that if they do have a medical emergency you can get emergency services to them.

• Remember, whatever information you gather from your students needs to be kept confidential. Whether that be digital or paper, that information should be kept under lock and key, so people’s private information is not accessible to others.

For each class or venue, have a cover page that clearly outlines:

• Emergency number: e.g., 000, 911, 999
• Location of venue
• What door for emergency personnel to enter?

This will enable you to hand off to another person to call emergency services and provide key details for how emergency personnel can arrive quickly.

Emergency Contacts:

Maintain a current list of emergency contacts should a physical or mental health crisis arise. Those national/local contacts in Australia may include:

• Lifeline: 13 11 14
• Suicide Call Back Service: 1 300 659 467
• Mental Health Helpline: 1 800 011 511
• Canberra: HAART Team/Access Mental Health 1800 629 354

Risk Reduction

• Reduce the risk of asthma and breathing issues by not using incense, essential oils, or burning scented candles (most venues won’t allow this anyway)

• Reduce the risk of slip and falls by keeping pathways clear, ensuring any spills are wiped up immediately, keeping cords, props, and other obstacles tidy. Don’t dim the light excessively when students will be moving around the room. If you dim the light during meditation, bring them back up to a level where people can safely navigate their way out of the room after class.

• Reduce road risks – if there is bad weather, bushfires nearby, potential for flooded roads etc., cancel class. This is where keeping a virtual or online option for your class available is great, folks don’t have to be put in danger to come to yoga.

Talk About Safe Practice

Your students’ safety is important, and one of the best ways you can reduce the risk of injury is to remind students that not all yoga and not all yoga poses are therapeutic or safe for everyone.

Your class culture can encourage and support safe practice, and that’s one of the best risk management strategies you can employ. Regularly handing responsibility back to the students on how they practice, what props, versions or intensities they practice at. Speaking to listening to your body and doing what’s right for you today, practicing with kindness, and being willing to speak up if you are uncomfortable or ask for another option if you need one.

You might speak openly about risks in some poses, for example: if you have high blood pressure choose this options.

We want everyone to have access to yoga, but we want them to have safe access. If you want to work with special populations, like children, elderly, prenatal students, you will need specialty training to be informed about their unique needs, risks, and potential emergencies.

Teacher Safety

Your personal safety is also important – so maintaining safe teaching spaces, establishing clear boundaries, having clear behaviour guidelines, and putting some plans in place for your safety are important, that includes:

• If you are teaching in people’s homes, it’s a good idea to use a personal safety app or have a practice of texting someone when you arrive, where you are, and when you leave, especially for your first session where you are meeting a new student in a new place for the first time.

• If you are teaching in a secluded area or late at night, similarly you might want to use a safety app for after students depart, and you lock up and leave. Or ask a student to lock up with you so you can leave together.

Additional Training

If you plan to work with special populations, further training in advanced first aid, mental health first aid, or first aid for special populations (children, elderly) is recommended and in some cases may be required.

Scope of Practice

Your scope of practice is limited when dealing with emergencies. When you encounter situations for which you are not trained and/or are not comfortable, refer your students to a professional who has the training and expertise to best assist your student. “When in doubt, refer”

People won’t always inform you, so they need regular reminders to care for themselves, and that not all yoga is therapeutic, that there can be risks in yoga. It’s safest to expect that there is information you don’t have, and get medical professionals called in to handle crises.

How can you handle this? Talk about risks in the moment – if you have high blood pressure, this is a pose where you might choose this option. If you have low blood pressure, you might find this transition makes you feel a bit dizzy, you might choose this option.

How often will emergencies happen?

Not often at all. You may never deal with an emergency situation in your yoga classes. But, being prepared will help you in the event that something does happen.

Particularly on the weather side of things, those are easy things for you to be alert to and be prepared to handle. It doesn’t take much effort to be aware of risks for people driving or travelling to and from class and cancel your class if it will put people at risk. Or at least change your cancellation policy so they don’t lose out, or have a virtual option available for people who would be at risk on the roads.

One of the things I’ve experienced, which is why I’m concerned about this, is that I received no training in what emergencies could arise, on class management, on risk management. We did first aid training and were supposed to somehow do that as a leader. So, these days we want to do better. You can look to your registry body like Yoga Alliance or Yoga Australia for risk management practices and policies.

Insurance Issues:

Talk to your insurance company, they will have resources, checklists and things that can be helpful.

Tell your insurance company what you are doing in your teaching – classes, private sessions, studio classes, teaching from home, teaching online etc. Tell them everything you are doing so that everything you are doing is covered by your insurance.

I’m probably not up to date at all on this, but there are only a few circumstances that I’ve heard about where yoga teachers or studios get sued.

Firstly, there is recommending or selling things that are outside your scope of practice: supplements, oils, diets, or other products that can cause illness or harm.

In the US (which is where most lawsuits happen, because they don’t have universal healthcare) the most common things are related to

• Negligence: having people kick up into handstands against the wall, but there weren’t enough walls for everyone so some people were kicking up against the windows, and a woman fell out the window, or a studio so hot that a mirror fell on a student.
• Adjustments: injurious adjustments or adjustments that didn’t have consent
• Slips and Falls – sweaty, wet floors being the most common issue

When you get insurance, there are two components: public liability insurance (that’s your slip and fall insurance), and your professional indemnity insurance.

So, your policy will automatically have these two components.

The public liability covers issues like, if someone has spilled water, and a student slips on that water and falls, this is covered by your public liability insurance.

Your professional indemnity insurance covers an injury due to negligence or poor teaching on your part – like having people kicking up onto walls and they fall through a window.

Insurance protects you as a teacher and it protects your students. If someone gets hurt in my class, I want there to be money there for them to get better.
In general, in Australia in order to hire a venue for your yoga class the venue requires you to have $20 million in public liability insurance. Then, generally your professional indemnity will be around $5 million.

If you do have an incident, complete an incident report – you can get one from your insurance provider or download a template from the internet. You want to note down all the circumstances as soon as you can so that you can report to your insurance company if need be.

I Have Made Mistakes and I Have Learned

Over the years I have had a few incidents in class, and on reflection the times that they happened I was either trying out something that I hadn’t really done enough risk management planning for, or I let my own excitement or students excitement to push me into increasing intensity or offering pose options that were too high risk for that group or space.

And, likely in the past some of my hands-on adjustments were iffy at best, if not harmful. Our old practices of cruising around the room sprinkling hands on adjustments like candy put everyone at risk, that’s why you don’t see this as much in classes anymore – it was pretty high risk for honestly a pretty low reward.

My hope is that since them I do a better job of reminding students that not all yoga is therapeutic, and that there are risks, and that there’s no need to injury yourself doing yoga. There’s no reason to risk your health or wellbeing for yoga. I hope I do a better job of that, and a better job of assessing potential risks, being prepared for emergencies, and that we can all keep working together as a community to listen, learn, and be aware of how we can best support students, reduce risks in our class, and respond to emergencies, however rare they are, should they occur in our classes.

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