Health and Safety in the Security Industry

To some people, the words ‘health and safety’ when used together are three of the most irritating in the English language.

Here in the UK, the media is keen to play up stories of H&S being taken to ludicrous extremes, such as tales of plasters being taken out of workplace first aid kits, beaches banning the flying of kites and the 34-year-old man who was ID’d before he was allowed to purchase a packet of Christmas crackers.

As Dame Judith Hackitt, former chair of the UK Health & Safety Executive has stated, “if your only source of information was the UK’s tabloid press, you would see health and safety as a nuisance”

Accordingly, H&S has come to be seen by many as an annoyance at best and an obstacle to productivity at worst. Managers and workers alike will often shrug their shoulders in a helpless and defeated manner when they utter the dreaded phrase “health and safety”, as if within those three words contain everything wrong with small-minded, petty bureaucracy

Although we can all point to examples of H&S being taken to an illogical extreme, we very often don’t stop to consider how vitally important health and safety legislation actually is to Britain’s workforce.

In October of 1913, a mine explosion in Sengenhydd, Wales, killed 440 people. Today, experts believe that many of those lives may have been saved had modern H&S practices been in place at the time.

Prior to health and safety legislation being passed, British workers were being hurt, even killed, on a regular basisand something needed to be done about it.

During the 1960’s, around 1,000 British workers a year lost their lives, with injuries mounting up to over half a million.

The last straw came one weekend in June of 1974, when a massive explosion (the largest in Britain since World War II), tore through the Nypro chemical plant in Flixborough, near Scunthorpe. 28 people were killed, with 36 people suffering the effects of toxic gases released by the blast. Had the event occurred on a weekday, the death toll would have been even higher.

These grim figures added to the 651 other work-related deaths that also occurred in 1974, as well as the 336,701 serious injuries that were also sustained by British workers that year.

Before the year was out, the British government had passed the Health & Safety at Work Act (sometimes abbreviated to HASAWA). This legislation lays out a clear list of responsibilities for both employers and employees and mandates things like employers ensuring that proper clothing and equipment are provided for all workers, that all workers are correctly trained and that all workplaces meet a standard set of minimum health and safety requirements.

By the terms of HASAWA, employees are required to disclose any illnesses or injuries that may affect their ability to work, to always take care of one another and not tamper with equipment that may be needed in an emergency (for example, fire extinguishers). As legislation goes, it’s pretty straightforward stuff, but HASAWA’s scope is broad and far-reaching, and it has saved (and continues to save) countless human lives.

In fact, between the act coming into effect and 2014, the number of fatalities at work fell by 85%, while non-fatal injuries fell by 77%.

While various economic shifts mean that modern workers are more likely to find themselves in an office than on a factory floor these days, we should still be proud of the fact that, according to recent figures, Britain has the lowest rate of workplace injuries anywhere in Europe, making the UK one of the safest places in the world to work.

Employers and businesses found to be in violation of H&S regulations are routinely punished with heavy fines and even jail time, a fact that keeps all but the most unscrupulous employers more-or-less in line. In Britain, failure to take proper care of a workforce can – and occasionally does – ruin a business entirely.

So, while H&S may not be everybody’s favourite subject, it is nonetheless of great importance to this country, as well as to everybody who lives and works here.

In this feature, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at how health and safety regulations affect Britain’s security workforce. We’ll examine what measures legally need to be taken to keep operatives, venues, and patrons safe, as well as what specific protections should be in place for any security operative working in the UK.

Employer Responsibilities

Under the terms of HASAWA (Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974), employers have a duty to protect the ‘health, safety and welfare’ of their employees, as well as anybody that happens to be on their premises. This is a list that includes, among others, security operatives, private contractors, temps, casual workers, cleaning staff, the self-employed, clients and members of the general public.

Employers legally have to ensure that their staff are properly trained in the correct working practices that apply to their job. If, for example, workers are required to operate equipment, training must be provided as to the proper safe methods of using said equipment.

Imagine a security worker with a walkie-talkie they couldn’t use, or a fire marshal with no idea how to operate a fire extinguisher, and you’ll hopefully understand why such training is enshrined in law.

Employers are also required to provide a risk assessment detailing any potential risks to employee safety, as well as strategies or policies designed to mitigate or minimize these risks.

As it pertains to equipment or anything hazardous, HASAWA states that these must always be stored, transported, and handled according to safety arrangements made in advance.

Employers must provide safe working equipment, meaning that, where applicable, all equipment will have been checked by an expert and certified as safe to use, as well as conforming to all current legal guidelines for safety, so that it presents no unnecessary risks to the worker(s) using it.

Employers must also provide their staff with health and safety training, instruction, and information.

Regarding the premises, employers have a duty to provide safe, accessible entrances and exits to and from the workplace. The workplace must also meet at least the minimum safety requirements insisted upon by law. They must also provide protective clothing, equipment and items where needed – and at no charge to their employees.

A company must also provide a written health and safety policy, which should be prominently displayed and easily accessible to all employees. Where required, a safety committee should be created.

It may seem like a lot of responsibility, but human safety must take precedence above all else.

We feel that it is important to look at the laws of any country with a questioning mind. The question, in this case, being, ‘why should such a law be required to exist?’

In general, if there is a law against doing something, it means that somebody, somewhere, at some point in history, was harming others by doing it. Otherwise, why go to the effort and expense of creating a law against it? Keep this in mind the next time somebody complains about H&S.

Employee Responsibilities

Personal accountability is an important part of any H&S regulations.

Security operatives are designated as ‘employees’ by the terms of HASAWA. As a result, there are certain responsibilities expected of them.

Like all employees, security operatives are, first and foremost, expected to take reasonable care of their own health and safety. This may include taking sick leave where necessary and informing management of any health issues that may be an impediment to the proper discharging of their duties (including, but not limited to, long-term health problems, ongoing medical conditions and/or mental health issues).

HASAWA also requires employees to always be cognizant of – and to continually utilise – any training they have received.

Any employee that fails to discharge their duties properly, because of inaction, incorrect action or omission is held responsible for the consequences of these decisions, just as their employer would be if they had shirked their responsibilities.

Employees are also expected to co-operate with their employers regarding health and safety issues. This includes the active promotion of the company’s H&S policies, engaging with (or, if necessary, reporting) fellow employees found to be violating said rules and paying close attention during all H&S-based training.

Employees must keep up to date with their employer’s H&S policies, obey all safety rules and use all protective equipment and clothing properly, reporting any damage or malfunctions to management immediately. They must also be acutely aware of all relevant emergency procedures (such as what to do in the event of a fire or medical emergency).

There is also a responsibility not to damage any equipment that may be needed in an emergency (e.g., fire extinguishers, defibrillators, first aid kits, smoke detectors, etc). If any emergency equipment is found to be damaged (or damaged accidentally by the employee) this must be reported to the relevant parties immediately.

Enforcing the Rules

If either party fails to meet the responsibilities detailed above, punitive action may be taken.

Understanding how H&S laws can be enforced requires an appreciation of the differences between civil law and criminal law. Criminal law defines what is and is not legal and ascribes punishments to those who perform illegal acts. Civil law exists to ensure that people’s basic rights are met.

Civil law cases attempt to restore the status quo for a person affected by a breach of their rights (in this instance, an employer’s failure to follow proper H&S guidelines may, for example, have resulted in a worker being injured on the job). Under civil law, the worker would be entitled to compensation and whatever else they may require in order to return them to the circumstances they were living in before the incident occurred.

Criminal law, on the other hand, is about punishing offenders (i.e., people who break the law). The overall aim is the rehabilitation of the offender, as well as to make it known that actions such as these will not be tolerated by society. Under criminal law, an employer who, through their negligence, allowed harm to come to their employee, may in some cases be tried as a criminal.

Regarding H&S laws, Health & Safety Executive Inspectors and local authority Environmental Health Inspectors are the individuals directly responsible for the prosecution of businesses and people found to be in violation of these laws.

These inspectors are empowered by law to carry out inspections, seize and destroy dangerous objects or substances and issue warnings to those found to be transgressing H&S laws or company-specific policies.

In most cases, a warning will be issued that requires its subject to put the problem right within a designated period. In extreme cases, all activity may be stopped until the dangerous situation is properly resolved. In such instances, the HSE may also prosecute the parties responsible.

In the majority of cases, H&S inspectors simply offer advice and suggestions for improving workplace safety. Their goal is not to prosecute, issue warnings or shut companies down, it is to increase awareness of public safety and thereby prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.

If the company and its employees are complying with all general H&S laws, as well as any that are specific to its sector and the company’s own H&S policies, then it will likely have nothing to fear from an inspection. 

Risk Assessment & Management

As chemical safety expert Trevor Kletz once wrote, “People say that accidents are due to human error, which is like saying falls are due to gravity”

Understanding risks is a key step on the path to avoiding them, which is why every employer is required by law to carry out a risk assessment of their premises. This may seem like a ‘nit-picky’, even superfluous practice, but in truth, it is anything but.

Besides, human beings, like all animals, naturally assess risk. Risk assessment ought to be looked upon as a formalised, but no less organic, extension of this instinctive, natural practice.

As an example, imagine that you are making a cup of tea or coffee and then bringing it from a kitchen to a living room.

You are aware that the kettle is going to be hot before you switch it on. You are also aware that the lid must be pressed down on the kettle. You avoid touching the kettle or putting your face and hands close to it when the water is boiling (and for a while afterward).

When pouring the liquid into the cup or mug, you use the handle and ensure that you have a firm grip on it before attempting to lift it. You then pour the boiling water into the receptacle, being sure not to splash any on your hands or spill any onto your feet.

You then carry the beverage into the next room, walking slowly and steadily, so as not to spill the liquid. You also keep one eye trained on the floor, avoiding any obstacles that may cause you to trip.

British people drink an estimated 165 million cups of tea a year. The average British person drinks between 4 and 5 cups a day. In short, we do it all the time. Boiling water is highly dangerous, yet serious tea-related accidents are relatively rare. Why? Because we know the risks and manage them accordingly.

We are aware that the water is hot. We know not to touch the kettle or leave the lid off when boiling water. We know to be extra careful when carrying a hot drink to another room. In a very real sense, this is risk assessment.

If you were training somebody else to make tea, you would instruct them in these very steps as a matter of course. If you wrote these risks and strategies down in any official context, you would be creating a risk assessment form. At its core, risk assessment is really that simple.

Risk management, then, is simply the act of developing strategies to lessen those risks as much as possible, while anticipating new risks that may present themselves and doing the same for those.

As stated above, all UK employers are required by law to conduct thorough risk assessments of their respective premises. By doing so, they can identify workplace hazards. A hazard is properly defined as anything that can cause harm, while the term ‘risk’, describes how likely that hazard will be to cause harm.

In security terms, risks are to be resolved instantly if possible and/or reported to the relevant party if this is not possible.

Remember that what may not present much of a risk to a healthy, able-bodied adult may potentially cause great harm to an elderly, infirm or disabled person or a small child. Likewise, a person with experience working in a particular environment may find small risks to be negligible, even somewhat silly, but to a person unfamiliar with that environment, they could present a problem and even cause harm.

Personal Safety

For security personnel, personal safety is often, by necessity, a secondary concern. After all, a security operative is in harm’s way as a matter of course. However, this is not to say that personal safety is not important – it absolutely is.

We’ve discussed, on multiple occasions, how security workers are under an increasing threat of violence, but there are many other ways that an operative may come to harm as well.

In 2014, two security workers, Arthur Ebirim and Javiad Iqbal died in separate incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the case of Mr. Ebirim’s death, the company he worked for had failed to perform a proper risk assessment on the petrol generator that ultimately killed him and was found guilty of breaching section 2 (1) of HASAWA and fined £20,000, plus a further £35,656 in costs. The company has since gone into liquidation.

Mr. Iqbal’s death saw two companies being fined £8000, plus £4,854 in costs each. Mr. Iqbal, a lone worker and father of three, was not given access to adequate heating on a freezing cold night shift. He requested help, which he did not receive and so in desperation resorted to trying to warm himself up by lighting some barbeque coals in a confined space, the fumes from which ultimately killed him.

An HSE investigation found that Mr. Iqbal received no emergency support, was not properly monitored, or assisted in any way and was effectively left to fend for himself – all factors that contributed to his tragic death.

Another way that security workers may come to harm is via the transmission of various diseases. From 2020 onwards, exposure to coronavirus has become an occupational hazard for many in the security industry and those with underlying health issues may still find themselves at risk.

However, it isn’t just COVID that threatens security workers. Operatives also face an increased risk of contracting Hepatitis B, HIV and AIDS while on the job. Infection can occur while searching an infected person, performing first aid, coming into contact with dirty needles or while restraining a disorderly patron.

It is important that these risks are understood and properly assessed before any security job is undertaken.

Precautions That Should be Taken

We wish to strongly reiterate that every security firm should ensure that it is fully compliant with HASAWA regulations and that company specific H&S policies are followed by all staff members, with no exceptions. This may seem obvious, but health and safety is a very serious issue, especially in relation to the security industry, as the examples listed above can attest.

We also highly recommend that every security operative (especially those in close contact with the public) get vaccinated against Hepatitis B, Coronavirus, and anything else they deem prudent. Flu shots in winter are also an excellent idea.

Those with open cuts, wounds or abrasions should keep them covered with plasters or bandages (keep spare plasters should they be required). Even light grazes can become infected, so we advise keeping them covered at all times.

If you find yourself performing mouth-to-mouth in a medical emergency, be sure to use a face shield or, if one is unavailable, a handkerchief or some other face covering.

Be sure to get patrons to clean out their own pockets/bags during searches as much as is possible. This greatly lessens the risk of coming into contact with dirty needles or other hazardous objects. Any such objects must be disposed of carefully and appropriately.

You should also strive to clean your hands regularly, especially after handling drug paraphernalia.

If you come into contact with a person’s blood, spit, vomit or any other fluid (not the most glamorous part of the job, but it does happen), be sure to clear it off as soon as is possible, especially if you have any open sores, exposed cuts or other injuries. If your clothing is covered, you should clean it with very hot water.

All security operatives should wear protective gear as required. This also includes reliable, appropriate footwear, and Boots, latex or vinyl surgeon’s gloves for searching patrons, high visibility clothing for use outdoors and weather appropriate clothing according to the time of year, along with a torch and body camera

We believe also that employers should offer ongoing training to their staff, part of which should involve basic health and safety training. Training in conflict mediation and de-escalation strategies are also an important way of reducing risk to security operatives.

In Summary

Even though many people in the UK view health and safety as little more than a nuisance, the reality is that we would all be much worse off without it. Even today, whenever standards are allowed to slip, people can be hurt and even die while at work. It is of vital importance, then, that we all do whatever we can to look out for both our own safety and the safety of others.

HASAWA legislation exists to help. It only makes life more complicated when it is misunderstood, overapplied (as is commonly the case) or intrudes upon cases of negligence. Since its inception in 1974, HASAWA has saved countless lives, very possibly including your own or that of someone close to you.

Security is a dangerous job, but the risks to security operatives can be greatly lessened by the proper observance of good health and safety policies and practices. This should always be the case.

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