What Legal Departments Need to Know About Treadmill Desks

December 25, 2022

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Treadmill desk liability issues

Don’t Listen to YouTube

We frequently hear from employees of large corporations, educational institutions and government agencies who report that their legal department has put the kibosh on their request for a treadmill desk. This knee-jerk reaction most often seems rooted in misconceptions gained from watching YouTube ‘FAIL’ videos of high school kids flying off running treadmills at top speed. Funny skits where users set their treadmill desks to absurd running speeds only to fly off and smack into a wall for the sake of some guffaws have unfortunately done a great disservice to employees who would like to use a treadmill desk in their office, only to be blocked by the legal department.

Slow and Steady Wins this Race

The fact is that treadmill desks are generally operated at a range of 1.0 to 2.0 mph, slower than one walks down the hallway to the legal library. Officially, “typical walking speed” is defined as 3.1 mph, but bona fide office treadmill bases have a top speed of 2.5 mph or less, and physically cannot be punched up any higher into a potentially dangerous running speed range. This is true of the iMovR Unsit, Steelcase Walkstation, and even iMovR ThermoTread GT or RebelDesk 1000 which aren’t in production anymore.

Treadmill desks manufactured by cardio fitness equipment companies like LifeSpan, ProForm, NordicTrack and the Chinese factory behind TreadDesk‘s unit, don’t want to remove the ability to perform cardio exercise on their treadmills, so they cap off at higher and potentially more dangerous speeds of 4 to 12 mph. These units are a lot less likely to be approved by corporate legal departments as they do represent a true potential for a high speed, trip-and-fall or cardio exhaustion, faint-and-fall injury. We have never understood the rationale of having users run and sweat all over their desks, particularly without having any safety bars to grab onto.

Those 63,000 cases a year of injury on cardio fitness equipment? Not one of them has ever involved a treadmill desk. In fact, we’ve never heard of a single incident of an injury occurring from the use of a treadmill desk in the entire span of time since their introduction by the Mayo Clinic and Steelcase in 2007. Major enterprises around the country, including Intel, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Coca Cola, Humana, Dairy Queen and numerous universities and government agencies have come to realize the potential of using standing desks and treadmill desks to advance corporate wellness, and not only allow them on premises, but actually purchase them for their employees.

The Only Legally-acceptable Solution for Enterprise

When iMovR designed their ThermoTread GT, they were aiming straight for the enterprise market, and have done something that no other treadmill desk manufacturer has done: They built a “click wrap” liability waiver—just like the one that comes up when you turn on the GPS navigation system in a car — right into the display console. This is the ultimate solution from the legal and insurance liability perspective, since users must log in and click off on the waiver to power the treadmill. The ThermoTread also can’t be set to speeds higher than 2.5 mph.

In prior years, we recommended that employers adapt our template of a Treadmill Desk Liability Waiver and have any employee who is planning to use a treadmill desk sign it prior to their first use. While this would still make sense to use at a bare minimum for non-iMovR treadmills that don’t have the built-in click-wrap waiver functionality — it is likely not going to hold up in court very well based on legal precedent. For the same reason that no employer would allow an employee to rent a car with a GPS navigation system that doesn’t have a click-wrap waiver built in, for true protection from liability it is vital to obtain a re-affirmation of the user’s consent to the liability waiver before each and every session.

Future, cloud-based software iMovR is developing will allow enterprise customers to retain contemporaneous records of who did what on which machine, in case anyone ever tried to claim the treadmill “ran away on them.” They’ve also developed an independent sensor that works with any brand of treadmill and can detect all the basic use parameters such as speed, distance, step count and time — completely independently of the treadmill’s controller — and can automatically shut off power to any treadmill that exceeds the maximum speed limit established by that organization.

A Checklist for Safe Treadmill Desk Usage in the Enterprise

Whatever a user might decide to do in their home office, on the business premises there isn’t likely going to be much tolerance for homemade, DIY treadmill desk contraptions. Best to stick with genuine, commercially produced treadmill desk systems. The safest bet is to stick with the following criteria when selecting treadmill desk equipment for the large enterprise:

  1. Make sure the product is UL listed, and tested to current certification standards. Any unit that was certified prior to 2015 is likely not compliant with current standards — which were recently and significantly tightened — and manufacturers are under no obligation to run their products through again once they’ve received a certification approval.
  2. The treadmill should not be able to exceed 2.5 mph maximum speed.
  3. If the unit does not have a built-in “click-wrap” liability waiver (which so far is an exclusive feature of the iMovR treadmill), insist that all employees who use a treadmill desk sign a liability waiver document that is filed with the legal or HR department. We’ve prepared a draft template of such a Treadmill Desk Liability Waiver that you can feel free to adapt to your own organization’s requirements. As noted above this is a much weaker level of protection as compared to getting users to re-affirm their consent before every session on the treadmill, but it is better than nothing and at least serves to educate users on the company’s safety protocols.

If you want to make sure a treadmill will work for you, you should read our article on guidance to see how you can test one out for yourself.

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