Feb 062014

It can seem odd that it is accepted practice for organisations to make a big investment in the security of employees inside their buildings whilst at the same time failing to make a substantial investment in general health and safety protection for their employees.

What is the difference?

In security terms, employee protection is just one of a company’s many assets that need to be protected.

On the other hand, health and safety is totally focused on individuals in their environment and the harm that can come to them.

Both are intended to protect the organisation as well as the individual, often including protecting the individual themselves from doing something that will make the organisation vulnerable. This dichotomy is difficult as protecting the individual and the organisation are not necessarily the same thing.

Perhaps this difficulty can be best summarised in the famous quote from Donald Rumsfeld (which although not, could easily have been aimed at risk assessors)

“There are known knowns; there are things that we know we know.

There are known unknowns ; that is to say that there are things that we know we don’t                         know.

But there are also unknown unknowns- there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

Where both health and safety and security provisions do have something in common is the general focus they often have on the employee within the confines of a building, despite the reality that protection outside of a building is a different process.  It could be said that this focus comes from the fact that there are more of Rumsfeld’s ‘knowns’ when inside a building, whereas protection for the ‘unknowns’ that can exist outside are far more difficult to account for.

Organisations have a responsibility to protect their assets: equipment, cash, stock, information systems, products and so on. Buildings are a convenient framework to contain and protect these assets, explaining the previously mentioned indoor focus. What is often missed however are the intangible company assets such as reputation that need to be considered.

In order to ensure focus on furthering the purpose of an organisation, both tangible and intangible assets need to be fully considered.

Security vs Health and Safety

To return the problem of security vs health and safety, the security function has to concentrate on asset protection using the investment in hardware, for example CCTV or access controlled entrances.

Health and safety provision exists for the protection of the workers themselves. People are employed due to their skills and knowledge, but also have minds of their own that they tend to use, and not always predictably. Here lies the key concern for health and safety, risk and unpredictability are not happy bedfellows.

This unpredictability is particularly obvious when employees leave the security of their work building when they become vulnerable to violence, abuse, accidents, illness and injury. All the security paraphernalia available to them within the work environment now becomes useless in looking after them. At this point employees, (despite being the most important part of an organisation) have become their most vulnerable asset.

What can easily be overlooked is the fact that the employees are just as much the responsibility of their organisation as they were when they were in their place of work, despite the discrepancy in the amount of security cover they receive in each location.

People as assets

How often do we hear senior management or a CEO state that ‘My people are my biggest asset?’  So why do more organisations not look after them when they are at their most vulnerable?

A CCTV system will cost several thousand pounds and come with a warranty and a service contract.  There is no such warranty or service contract on an employee. Instead if an employee (to use a crude analogy) ‘breaks’ then the process of mending or replacing them comes at a cost to the organisation rather than a contractor, whether that be in recruitment, morale or even legal costs.

Also unlike CCTV, employees have a voice and are increasingly likely to use their voice to show employers they are not satisfied with the safety provisions they are given. Employees will accept that their job may include an element of danger but they will not accept being inadequately protected when faced with a real life situation that could lead to harm.

Employees will react much more positively if their concerns for their safety are taken seriously and measures put in place to reassure them. If they are not there is real potential for staff to simply find another job where they are better protected, or simply drop their productivity to avoid difficult situations.

Between two factors

Part of the problem is that that the responsibility for health and safety often falls between the two areas of security and health and safety, and exhibitions are a case in point.

At any security exhibition you will see rows and rows of things designed to protect buildings- and by extension any people that are within them.

At any health and safety exhibition the focus is very much the same, lots of things to protect employees inside buildings but very little to protect them when they are outside and more vulnerable.

With many buildings being something of fortress, organisations should have the opportunity to move onto what is now (in our predominately service economy) the most vulnerable part of a company’s operations- their people

Signs of change

Signs of change are however on the horizon. Lone worker safety is one of the fastest growing markets in the industry. In 2012 it featured for the first time at IFSEC and again in 2013, (albeit in a less than obvious corner!), however for 2014, the lobe worker stage has forsaken security altogether and moved to the Safety and Health exhibition.

Companies that provide lone worker services are entrepreneurial, innovative and taking business risk by doing something which saves lives and prevents serious injury. Their services protect employees from legislation and litigation while giving ‘external’ staff greater confidence as they go about their employer’s daily business.

Corporate Manslaughter Act

Many would say that the Corporate Manslaughter Act is a barely relevant piece of legislation because only 4 prosecutions have been made to date. As the following statistics illustrate however, those that underestimate the potential effectiveness of the act will be very unwise:

  • Current investigations: 56
  • Increase in investigations over the past year: 40%
  • Organisations charged in the first 4 months of 2013: 4

(Pinsent Mason, April 2013)

Questions for the future

While the Lone Worker market has grown quickly over the last few years, there are still far too many organisations resisting taking the relatively simple and inexpensive steps required to protect their lone workers.

Why is this? Perhaps one reason is that as such a new market, Lone Worker protection has not directly placed itself as either a safety or a security service.

The best answer to this would seem to be for the Lone Worker protection to stand on its own as market in its own right and not as a part of anyone else’s. The third annual Lone Worker conference held at London’s Olympia in November 2013 illustrated how the market has gone from strength to strength and its potential for the future. Who knows maybe one day it will perhaps replace the Safety and Health Conference and IFSEC?

Next time you think about investing in CCTV, why not focus on the people instead?

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