Gym requires owner to sleep on premises and cover 24/7 shift as part of COVID-19 restrictions

A gym owner on the NSW Far South Coast has resorted to sleeping at his business premises in order to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions for the fitness industry.

NSW gyms were first told to shut down in March, before being allowed to reopen again in June. But further restrictions were imposed in August, which required all gyms and fitness outlets across NSW to have a dedicated hygiene marshal on duty at all times.

Shaun Ruzicka has been the director of United Fitness Studio in Bega for 10 years, and said the current restrictions were unfair for gyms in low-risk areas.

“I haven’t seen any outbreaks from the gym industry anywhere … and feel a little unfairly targeted, especially since we’re in a regional town.”

Shaun stands in front of a mattress on the floor in a storage cupboard.Shaun stands in front of a mattress on the floor in a storage cupboard.
Shaun Ruzicka has resorted to sleeping at his gym to cover COVID marshal requirements.(ABC South East NSW: Adriane Reardon)

Mr Ruzicka said most of his clients were shift workers in the health, factory, or construction industries, who frequent the gym at all hours of the night.

He felt he could not cut back on operation hours because it would break contracts with his patrons and result in a significant loss of income.

“It wasn’t possible restricting my hours to keep my business financially viable,” he said.

Mr Ruzicka is the prime COVID marshal, with two casual employees and six volunteers who have completed their infection control course and are available to fill in when he needs a break.

He said most of his full-time staff left the business during the initial lockdown to secure other work, and he was hesitant to employ more staff at the gym in case they went into lockdown again.

“I feel like I let them down by not being able to provide them with work,” he said.

“I don’t want to make anyone else move away from their families to stay at the gym for the night working.”

A close up of a bike with a covid 19 restriction sign on itA close up of a bike with a covid 19 restriction sign on it
All gyms across NSW are required to have a COVID marshal on duty during operation hours.(ABC South East: Adriane Reardon)

With a lack of other options, Mr Ruzicka has resorted to sleeping at his gym, which has proved challenging for his four children and partner, who also works full time.

“Initially, I was up every time a member would come in … now I wake up with a monitor on my phone beside me.

“If they do something wrong, I go out. But everyone is doing the right thing.

“I’m trying to get as much rest as possible, but it’s pretty hard to function on a couple of hours’ sleep per night.”

Mr Ruzicka said he would like to see the unstaffed 24/7 gyms resume, as seen in the ACT.

He would also like to train patrons to become their own COVID-safe marshals, which would allow him to resume working his traditional hours.

Shaun leans against the door to his bedroom at the gym. Shaun leans against the door to his bedroom at the gym.
Shaun Ruzicka sleeps in a storage closet at his gym in Bega.(ABC South East: Adriane Reardon)

In a statement NSW Health said marshals were not allowed to train at the same time because they “should be paying attention to all gym users”.

“There’s no answer on when it’s going to end,” Mr Ruzicka said.

“It seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”