Risk management

Posted by on June 30, 2007 in Articles

Risk management

Looking at areas of risk in your spa, with new eyes, can save you money, time, stress and bad PR

By Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.C.  

Published in Spa Management magazine’s June 2007 issue.

The intention of briefly introducing the topic of risk management is to heighten your awareness regarding identifying risks in your spa operation and developing a risk management strategy.

With the worldwide spa marketplace rapidly expanding, and a veritable exponential growth occurring in the volume of spa clients exploring their sensory horizons in order to experience both new and well established spa facilities, crucial industry adjustments become necessary. Even though spa owners or operators may endeavor to ensure the highest safety standards in their spa and wellness operations, it is generally only a matter of time before accidents or incidents occur to clients, within the confines of the spa, which can have either incidental or serious repercussions for that individual business.

In general, risk management in spas is the process through which spa owners and operators systematically measure and assess risk and then follow up by developing a ‘Risk Management Strategy’. This involves selecting cost effective approaches for minimizing the effect of these risks on the spa’s business. Due to the practical and financial limitations of the real world, not all risks can be fully avoided. However, if they are improperly assessed and prioritized, time and resources could be wasted worrying about unlikely occurrences while real risk may be overlooked. Spending too much time assessing and managing unlikely risks can divert resources that could be used more effectively.

Why adopt a Risk Management Strategy? Failing to adopt a Risk Management Strategy in the modern spa industry is perilous. As any spa owner / operator will confirm – you never know when something can go wrong. By anticipating and planning for accidents or events involving clients you are taking the first step to protecting your business.

At the very least, it is imperative to have safeguards and processes in place to limit the possibility of anything happening. Even if you say to yourself “I trust 100% of my staff to deliver a quality, consistent experience 100% of the time”, a risk management strategy is still essential.

What constitutes risk in the spa? The following are just a few examples of basic and, all-too-common, examples of potential risks your spa may face:

  •           Dim lighting
  •           Slippery floors
  •           Poor hygiene practices including un-sanitized implements, spa sandals and equipment.
  •           Poorly selected, trained staff or unsuitable staff.
  •           Shrinkage, both internal and external.
  •           Candles presenting a fire hazard.
  •           Contaminated / out of date products and home made concoctions.
  •           Food and beverages not properly stored or prepared.
  •           Inadequate structural and mechanical supports for equipment.
  •           No policies, processes and systems in place in the event that an accident does happen.

 How can we manage risk in our spa? It is virtually impossible in the spa industry to avoid risks altogether given the “hands on clients,” and labor-intensive nature of the business – along with constant customer interaction.  Reducing the impact or negative effects of risk is a much more realistic and viable proposition in the spa industry.

An ideal risk management strategy needs to commence with a prioritization process – sorting things into the order in which they are most likely to happen.  This involves estimating the primary risks that constitute the highest loss and the greater probability of occurring versus the secondary risks with lower loss and less probability of occurring.  In practice it is a complicated process and getting the balance assessed accurately is difficult.

For example, the greatest perceived risk to clients in a spa is slips and/or falls. Identifying the location in your establishment where this may occur should be a major priority. If steps, uneven flooring surfaces or even water pooling as a result of treatments exist, they should be addressed and corrected without hesitation. Have a member of your staff be responsible for drying wet footprints from shower usage after a client comes out of the shower and before the next client uses it.  Slippery or uneven surfaces should be replaced or covered up.

Another common risk to clients derives from their own state of health. Do you assess their health status before the treatment? Do they have a heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc? Evaluating your clients’ suitability for a particular treatment is vital these days. As spa professionals, it is our responsibility to assess the suitability of the client and to ensure there are no contra-indications before proceeding with a treatment.

If you have a successful spa business, you will have a high rate of treatment room turn over, a considerable volume of people moving through the premises and consequently a bacterial and viral cocktail build up on key public surfaces and communal items. Mitigating risk from infection and disease to both spa personnel and spa clientele should be the number one sanitation priority for spa managers and owners.

As in any high traffic public area where personnel are in constant physical contact with both one another and a continuously changing stream of clientele, bacteria and harmful microbes can spread – if given the opportunity. Spa Hygiene should be approached in two directions simultaneously – firstly ensure the staff sanitize their hands, for example, and then ensure the premises are sanitized.

On a frequent basis, through my spa business consulting travels, I encounter spas with low standards of hygiene – from obvious undesirables lurking in dirty treatment room corners to therapists with dirty finger nails – and these spas are wondering why they have a low number of yearly repeat clientele. Basic sanitation practices are commonly overlooked in spas worldwide. Have your staff constantly “clean as they go” – all it takes is the development of an appropriate methodology and mindset.

Let your clients see your staff washing their hands before and after treatments. How you wash your hands properly is an art unto itself – it does not mean just splashing a little water on your fingertips – there is a method to it, appropriate to staff that are in continuous contact with other people and surfaces that other people are touching.

Disinfection and sanitation of equipment and working surfaces –  equipment, instruments and materials used in spas all fall into critical, semi-critical and non-critical categories and must be either sterilized or disinfected accordingly. Sterilization is considered to be the complete destruction of microbial life. Take note that the FDA has reclassified commonly used glass bead sterilizers to Class III (Failure of this device is life threatening) because there is an unreasonable risk of illness and injury due to potential malfunction of the device to sterilize instruments adequately. If you are solely using a bead sterilizer for sterilizing manicure / pedicure / electrolysis instruments, (or any other instrument that has the potential to break the skin), you are assuming a risk. If you are in doubt about an items correct categorization, or how often particular instruments should be sterilized, seek professional advice.

Disinfection of surfaces – porous surfaces, such as rattan mats, carpets, etc should be discarded in favour of items that can be easily submitted to machine laundry or wiped down with disinfectant. Porous surfaces such as rattan mats can harbour an alarming quantity of bacteria and fungi and, traditional as they may be in certain circumstances, offer only an aesthetic benefit to spa patrons – their potential as vectors for cross contamination of both clientele and staff should necessitate their immediate removal and replacement.

The adoption of sterilization techniques appropriate to today’s spa environment may involve the purchasing of additional equipment and tools, but the investment is minor in comparison to the alternatives – direct loss of business through poor word of mouth and a bad reputation or even worse, client accusations of infection via use of the spas services can be mitigated or avoided altogether by beginning with some of the policies mentioned above. The list is not complete, but if you start here, you will be on a positive path to ensuring the safety and comfort of your clientele and staff.

To have a third party evaluate your spa facility to identify potential dangers and suggest positive improvements and changes within your operation, a second opinion as it were, can assist greatly in beginning to cultivating a risk management strategy, thus taking your business to the next level in both client confidence and profitability.

It is highly recommended that you transfer the appraised risks to another party – insuring against the risk ever happening. There are countless numbers of insurance companies globally who underwrite for an enormous array of potential risks. Your insurance requirements can be identified by an insurance broker whose role is to observe the particular risks to which you could be exposed. The broker can quantify the effect of such risks upon your spa business, recommend action or procedures to avoid or diminish the risk and propose an insurance program by which the resultant risks are placed with an insurer. This is particularly attractive in the case where damages may be too substantial to be carried by you. Professional Liability Insurance in your spa is also highly recommended.


Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.C., President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., has earned an international reputation as an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She specializes in working with owners to create profitable spas. As an international consultant she is highly skilled in developing unique product and treatment lines, as well as training programs. Vivienne has studied and trained extensively in the beauty and well-being arena and is a member of ISPA, Leading Spas of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012) and the Institute of Management Consultants USA (IMC USA). She is also a published author, having written a wide range of articles on developing and running a successful spa. Spa Profits Consulting Inc. is the only SpaExcellence certified consultancy in North America, and is committed to setting the standard for quality, successful spas on a global level. For more information call 604.921.6245 or email


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