London spin studio owner worries new safety measures will sink group fitness

With new measures in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 for fitness studios, restaurants and personal care providers, one local fitness facility is questioning whether they can survive another financial hit sprung by the ongoing pandemic.

Courtney Grafton opened Lost Cycle, a rhythm-riding, indoor cycling studio in south London, just a little more than a year ago.

Since being allowed to reopen back in July, the studio has been able to offer classes at pre-pandemic capacity while keeping riders and staff two metres apart, but Grafton doesn’t think she’ll be able to keep afloat with the new cap of 10 people, including the instructor, per class. 

“Our classes are built off of an environment of a group fitness class and by limiting that so much, it makes us almost impossible to operate,” she said.

“No one needs to be a mathematician to figure out that the numbers they’re giving us with the amount that it costs me to operate a business do not add up. I cannot survive off of nine people in a class, while still paying [instructors] their regular rate.” 

In the last few months, the studio has been able to weather the storm thanks to constant support from dedicated cyclists in the city who have been keeping the studio’s 21 weekly classes fairly busy, despite an outbreak at Spinco, a cycling studio in Hamilton that has made headlines across the country for being linked to 81 COVID-19 cases. 

“I don’t get to decide how scared someone is,” Grafton said. “I really feel for Spinco … but it’s a full time job to make sure that everything is cleaned properly … You have to really be diligent and treat it very, very seriously every single day. You don’t get a break from it,” she said, adding that her biggest expenses are cleaning supplies, including a steam cleaner staff use on bikes in between each class. 

Keeping bikes two metres apart from one another, steam cleaning them in between rides, having staff wear microphones to reduce the need to shout in class as well as checking every rider’s temperature ahead of class are some of the guidelines the fitness studios has already been following. Now, they’ll have to bring capacity down to 10 and space bikes by three metres, along with the other measures already taken. (Submitted by Courtney Grafton)

On Wednesday, Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health, cited the outbreak in the Hamilton cycling studio as an example of why he’s decided to implement the new measures, despite the absence any outbreaks linked to fitness facilities in the region. 

“That’s the sort of thing where we’re not going to sit around and wait for a huge outbreak in our community before taking some reasonable actions that will potentially eliminate the possibility of having that level of outbreak at all,” he said. 

“As much as we watch very closely what is happening in our community and learn from the cases and outbreaks we have here,

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A spin class became a superspreader event. Why are fitness instructors excluded from workers’ compensation if they fall ill on the job?

Back injuries, knee pain, shoulder problems — and now, COVID-19.

They are daily risks faced by fitness instructors and personal trainers across the province. But unlike millions of employees in other sectors, gym staff are not entitled to workers’ compensation when they get sick or hurt on the job.

It’s a long-standing exclusion to the workers’ compensation system that critics say needs urgent change, especially in light of a Hamilton spin studio outbreak that may have exposed upwards of 2,500 people to COVID. Two staff members at the studio contracted the virus.

“Our bodies are on the line,” said Toronto-based group fitness instructor Vidya Sri. “The laws are completely out of date.”

Under current provincial legislation, gyms and fitness studios are exempt from mandatory workers’ compensation coverage. That means they do not need to pay insurance premiums to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board — and their employees cannot access benefits following a workplace accident or illness.

Gyms can voluntarily opt into the workers’ compensation system. There are 1,653 fitness establishments in Ontario, according to Statistics Canada; of those, 24 have elected to provide compensation coverage to workers, data from the WSIB shows.

Coverage means workers are eligible for loss-of-earning or health-care benefits following a work-related illness or injury.

A 2019 report on working conditions in the Ontario fitness sector by Larry Savage, a professor of labour studies at Brock University, found nearly a third all instructors and trainers had sustained an injury on the job. Half reported not having paid sick days.

“The lack of WSIB coverage and paid sick days make gym and fitness club workers less willing to disclose illness or injuries out of fear of reprisal or loss of income,” Savage said.

“The pandemic only makes this bad situation worse by increasing the likelihood that clients and other workers will contract COVID-19 if gym and fitness club workers decide to come in to work sick in order to avoid loss of pay.”

As part of his research, Savage told the Star he made inquiries with the Ministry of Labour about the history of the gym exclusion but “no one could or was willing to explain” why it existed.

Around 76 per cent of Ontario workplaces are required to pay into workers’ compensation. Legislative change is needed to amend the list of excluded employers. When asked if the government is considering reform, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour said workers’ health and safety was its “top priority.”

“With only a handful of exceptions, those workplaces that aren’t subject to mandatory coverage can choose to purchase coverage from the WSIB,” the statement said.

Planet Fitness outlets account for 10 of the gyms that voluntarily signed up for coverage, according to the WSIB’s data. Other than F45 Guelph, part of a relatively new but popular fitness chain, none of the gyms that opted into the workers’ compensation system are major players. (Other establishments included the “Orillia Agricultural Society” and “Retro Rollers.”)

In response to questions from the Star,

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