BOSTON — Ethics may have taken a step forward in the health club industry recently. In September, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) joined the national Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), and since then, IHRSA has urged its members to join their local Better Business Bureaus (BBB). By doing so, health clubs can gain access to resources of the local BBB, including the use of an unbiased, trained arbiter for consumer disputes and studies on health club complaints.

“So we have the opportunity…to get an objective source of information about what kinds of complaints [we receive] not just the number of complaints,” said Bill Howland, spokesperson for IHRSA. “Hopefully, that will give us information about what we need to do as an industry to prevent problems and misunderstandings with consumers.”

IHRSA is working with the CBBB to provide consumer education materials. They are producing a guide about how to choose a quality health club. IHRSA member clubs can give that guide to prospective members. The guide should be available this month, said Howland.

IHRSA joined the CBBB because it is an organization for businesses rather than a regulator, said Howland.

“They exist to serve businesses that are concerned about ethical practices,” Howland said of the CBBB. “Unlike the attorney general and the state Department of Affairs who exist to protect consumers, the Council of Better Business Bureaus is an opportunity to self regulate, but they are pro business. So they are a resource to us.”

National memberships with the CBBB range from $2,500 to $75,000 annually (depending on the parent corporation's gross annual revenues). Membership in a local BBB range from $200 to $600 annually although some can run into the thousands of dollars because membership is based on the number of employees and the size of the company.

To qualify for CBBB membership, a company must have a satisfactory record (no complaints with its headquarter BBB), said Diana Gilroy, director of national membership and marketing for the CBBB. To have a satisfactory record with the BBB, a company must be in business for at least 12 months, properly and promptly address matters referred to it by the Bureau, and be free from an unusual volume or pattern of complaints and law enforcement action involving its marketplace conduct. In addition, the Bureau must have a clear understanding of the company's business and no concerns about its industry.