Last March, I sat in on a seminar at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) conference that detailed the beginning stages of a process to set standards for health clubs, which could lead to third-party health club certification. I was disappointed that only about 10 people attended the session. The lack of interest told me that people either weren't aware of the seminar or didn't care about the issue.

But they should care. Whether or not you are a for-profit, nonprofit, corporate or hospital-based facility, and whether or not you agree with the idea of fitness facilities being certified, the fact is that this initiative is being developed, so you need to educate yourself about it — and ensure your voice is being heard.

NSF International, a group that develops standards for various industries, currently is developing the standards for health clubs. Several industry organizations are involved in the effort, including IHRSA and the American College of Sports Medicine, which has printed three editions of the “Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines.” These guidelines are the basis of the NSF standards.

Through Nov. 23, the current draft of the standards is open for comment by anyone in the industry at http://standards.nsf.org/apps/group_public/document.php?document_id=6159&wg_abbrev=jchffs. You will be able to comment on later drafts as well.

Of the 57 comments on the NSF site I viewed late last month, the majority opposed the standards. And the majority of the opposition came from small clubs — in particular Anytime Fitness club operators — who all mentioned (in what appeared to be a form letter) that the requirement for facilities to have at least one staff member on the premises at all times would make their key-card model too expensive to operate.

However, the standards are so much more than that requirement. These standards cover a variety of topics, including pre-activity screening, risk management and emergency policies, public access to automated external defibrillators, competency criteria for staff, and facility operating practices. The draft also includes proposed checklists for each area in the standards.

And although many people in the industry expect only a small number of the 35,000 clubs in the country to seek the voluntary certification (and probably a larger portion of higher-end clubs will do so, considering an as-yet-undetermined cost will be associated with the certification), offering standards and a certification could go a long way in offering more legitimacy to the fitness industry — not just for the general public, but also for legislators and the medical community. The support of these groups is vital to passage of any sort of legislation that could offer more reimbursement options and tax benefits for club memberships and help increase doctor referrals of patients to health clubs.

So before these standards are put in place, I urge you to get online, read through the document (it is 34 pages long but worth the read) and voice your general opinion about the standards or give specific recommendations for changes. You'll have no reason for complaining later if you don't make your voice heard now.

Please note that future drafts of the standards also will be open for public comment. We'll continue to cover this story in our magazine and online, so stay tuned.