“Safety and security don’t just happen. They are the result of collective consensus and public investment” – Nelson Mandela.
Violence against security workers appears to be at an all-time high. The murders of security guards Tudor Simonov (2018) and Abu Sammour (2019) were not merely isolated incidents, but instead represent the most extreme examples of a destructive and ever-worsening pattern of violence being played out against Britain’s security workers.
The security industry has grown and diversified enormously in recent years. Much of this growth has occurred post-pandemic, whereby the tasks undertaken by security professionals have varied greatly as operatives have been presented with new and unfamiliar responsibilities. However, this trend was already in evidence in the pre-pandemic era as well.
Additionally, the image of the security professional has changed a great deal in recent years. Operatives are now seen as capable and dependable in areas far beyond those of door supervision and basic protection.
Door supervisors also act as ambassadors for the brands/venues they work for and as emergency responders and leaders in times of crisis. Retail security guards now fulfil a dual function as helpful, approachable guides aiding customers as they navigate post-pandemic ‘one way’ systems, while street-based security teams often act as the ‘eyes and ears’ of local police.
- 36% of frontline security staff are physically attacked monthly
- 36% have to use physical force on weekly basis
- 51% are verbally abused every time they work
- 57% say that an incident has affected their mental state more than 24 hours after the event
- 48% say that they have had a flashback/nightmare about a specific incident
- 65% of our respondents were resigned to the fact that violence within the security industry was inevitable
- 68% of respondents said they had not received any on-going training after gaining their SIA license.
- 86% said that they felt that the levels of violence they see and experience whilst at work had increased over the last five years.
Transport and venue security labour under the unenviable responsibility of being front-line defenders against potential acts of terrorism.
In 2017, British police, much beleaguered by government spending cuts, were forced to re-evaluate what crimes they would and would not be able to investigate. This move reclassified crimes such as shoplifting, petty theft, car crime and criminal damage as being less important compared to other offences. With Britain’s police stretched so thinly, it often falls to security operatives to ‘fill the void’ left by them.
In the last few years local councils have turned to security companies to ‘fill the gap’ left by police in a more obvious manner, by actively putting patrol onto the streets.
The results have been mixed. With security operatives lacking the powers of police, they only really have the ability to prevent violent crime, to act as deterrents or simply to report what they see to the police. However, there were some positive aspects to this, as the security firm 3D Security based in the south west told us,
“We did ‘street wardens’ for a while and often got called ‘plastic police’, so we wore green uniforms. We were a lot more approachable and friendly, to a point the homeless and drug addicts would only respond to us and not the police”
We also heard from Base Security based in Manchester,
“We’ve had work as street marshalls working specifically around the Piccadilly & China town areas of Manchester, As it was classed as a no go area with lots of antisocial behaviour”
And we spoke to those over at Venture Security, they said
“All our officers are provided with a uniform and smartly dressed. They do not look like police officers but are clearly identifiable as fulfilling an enforcement role. They can deal directly with a defined range of antisocial issues, managing them professionally and effectively – and as required, escalating and reporting anything relevant to the appropriate authorities”.
This goes to show that the Professional Security Industry plays a bigger role within society than many appreciate.
Sadly, as a consequence of this and other emerging circumstances, Britain’s security workers are finding themselves increasingly at risk, with no more legal protections on their side than those of any other members of the general public.
We decided to take a closer look at this often-neglected area of study, in order to find out how the country’s security professionals think and feel about this terrible trend.
Over the course of this report, we will present the data in full, as well detailing our conclusions based upon this data. We will also offer suggestions as to what steps relevant parties may take to remedy this dire situation and call for measures and systems to be put into place to tackle the violence against security staff.
Violence in the Workplace: An Analysis
Violence in the workplace is defined as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other aggressive disruption that occurs within said workplace.
The term ‘violence in the workplace’ or sometimes ‘workplace violence’, is not limited to actions such as fighting or physical assault, but in fact covers a range of possible incidents, including verbal abuse, combative behaviour and harassment.
It is possible to explore this subject further by breaking workplace violence down into 4 key categories. These are:
- Criminal Intent – This would be a violent incident such as a robbery or an incident of terrorism. In such cases, the incident is probably linked to an attempted crime, such as if a person caught shoplifting attacks the security guard in order to attempt an escape.
- Unruly Customer – This category is mainly self-explanatory. In these incidents, a legitimate customer becomes abusive or violent with a member of staff. An example may include an inebriated patron in a pub or club who becomes belligerent and/or aggressive after being asked to leave.
- Worker Vs. Worker – In these incidents, either one employee is harassing, abusing or attacking another, or else both are engaging in aggressive behaviour against one another. Disagreements at work are common and, to some degree, unavoidable. However, if such disagreements or personality clashes become abusive, aggressive or violent, the resulting event can be considered an incident of workplace violence. This definition also includes ex-employees returning to the workplace in order to cause trouble.
- Personal Relationship – In some cases, a person who has a relationship with the employee outside of work (for example a spouse, neighbour or family member) may enter their workplace with malicious intent. This category would include, for instance, an employee being regularly beaten by their partner at home who then suffers the same treatment by that partner while at work.
In the case of security workers, all of these categories are potentially applicable. However, the first two categories are by far the most likely (accordingly, they were the most commonly described by our survey’s participants).
These are the
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974,
- the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977,
- the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996,
- the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (also known as ‘HSW’) makes employers legally responsible, within reason, for the safety of those in their employ. These obligations were further defined by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which states that employers must provide the safest possible environments for their staff via measures such as planning, organisation and proper monitoring.
The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and its updated counterpart, the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996, stipulate that employers must consult with their employees regarding matters of personal safety. In some cases, a chosen representative (such as a Union Representative, or an employee appointed by the majority of the staff) may speak on the workers’ behalf.
Finally, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (updated from the original 1995 legislation and commonly known as ‘RIDDOR’) states that employers are legally obliged to notify their enforcing authority (in the case of security work, that would be the SIA) of any accident or incident occurring at work that resulted in death, serious injury or 3 or more days spent off-work as a result.
Workplace violence tends to be far more prevalent in occupations that involve prolonged interaction with the general public than other occupations, such as office work.
In 2020, public order offences (defined as violent crimes or crimes that incite violence), increased by 30%. One area that has been particularly affected by this rise in violent crime is the retail sector, a sector that also employs a high number of people with a large amount of interaction with the general public, along with a number of security operatives.
BRC Retail Crime Survey
Earlier this year, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) created a crime survey, which examined what respondents felt would likely be the biggest threats to their respective businesses over the next two years.
With chilling unanimity, the vast majority of retailers (nearly 7 out of 10) answered that violence against staff was the greatest impediment facing their businesses. An overwhelming 88% of responders placed it among their top 3 concerns going forward.
According to the study, there are an average of 455 incidents of violence or abuse directed at retail staff every day, with 110 of these involving physical violence. When spread over the course of a 9-hour opening time, this amounts to nearly one incident per minute. Of these incidents, just under half go unreported and only 6 out of every 100 result in prosecution.
With the police stretched so thinly during this time – and many crimes simply not being investigated as a result – it should not be surprising to learn that around 155,000 such incidents a year are going unprosecuted.
In response to their findings, the BRC called for a legislative response from the government, with the aim of creating harsher punishments for those who abuse or assault retail workers.
Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018
Those employed by various branches of the emergency services have been similarly afflicted with unchecked aggression, abuse and violence. Between 2017 and 2018, there were over 26,000 attacks on police officers and 17,000 attacks on NHS staff.
In this case, the government actually responded, creating the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. This act of Parliament effectively doubled the maximum sentence for abusing NHS staff (as well as security operatives employed in hospitals), search and rescue services, paramedics, fire fighters, prison officers, custody officers and police officers.
This was a positive step, but the protective measures did not, in the vast majority of examples, extend to security operatives.
For an example of both the violence and abuse typically faced by security workers in the United Kingdom, we refer you to this incident captured outside a venue in Birmingham in May of this year.
After politely being denied entry by the door supervisor on duty, a woman becomes angry and proceeds to hurl racial epithets at him. She then physically shoves him and spits in his direction.
Upon viewing the footage, one security employer admitted that the incident depicted was “sadly pretty standard” for door staff employed across the West Midlands.
We asked several frontline door supervisors what type of violence they face while at work:
“My teams deal with weapons, threats, verbal and physical. Mostly mental health problems from the public”
@treemendous4 (female door supervisor)
“Mix of verbal and physical, such as jobsworth, power crazy slag and physical…cracked rib, kicked and spat at and hair being ripped out” “i’ve also been followed after work and people waiting outside threatening to get me”
The year ending March 2020 saw UK police reporting 1.8 million cases of violent offences. This marked a 6% increase from the previous year. As of March 2021, there were only 137,704 active police officers in the entire country.
To reiterate, this data clearly demonstrates that security operatives are directly in harm’s way and that, by dint of their profession, they occupy an area close to the epicentre of this increase in violent crime. They also significantly outnumber police officers.
Violence in the workplace is on the rise and, when such incidents occur, everybody looks to the security guard.
Security Workers & Police: What the Data Says
The relationship between security operatives and police isn’t always harmonious. We covered this topic in considerable detail in our 2020 study.
At that time, our data concluded that security workers overwhelmingly wanted to see more police on the streets.
The data also showed a measure of understanding towards the police’s present situation (e.g., being hamstrung by particularly severe cuts to funding). In some cases, respondents detailed the heavy toll that an underfunded police service had exerted upon their own professional lives.
As one respondent put it, “[We need] More officers on the street. [They are] Too stretched to visit every venue. [We need] More local officers. Some officers have to travel 45 minutes to our venue despite a station being 10 minutes away, this is due to lack of officers.”
Or, to quote another, “The police need to understand that we know they are stretched, but we as doormen have to do their jobs because they’re not about. If we radio for assistance, 70% of the time they don’t come. [It can sometimes be] an hour before they arrive. We get assaulted more than them and have to deal with much more abuse. The moment the police are present it can stop 90% of issues immediately.”
Our 2020 data indicated that security staff often feel misunderstood by police and that, in their opinion, police did not respect the job they do.
More encouragingly, we found that when door supervisors or other security staff are able to build a solid working relationship with police officers, almost every aspect of their jobs run a lot more smoothly.
In fact, those who did have such relationships largely reported that they had very positive, even friendly, interactions with police.
However, such a relationship is usually dependent upon regular contact and collaboration, something that is often frustrated by the lack of regular police patrols and fewer officers being assigned to specific areas in general.
Our respondents called for more respect and increased collaboration from the police, but also seemed more than willing to work alongside them in the pursuit of their shared interest, namely the safety of the public.
As far as the police’s take on things goes, we can look to a 2017 study conducted by Charlotte Howell and Professor Martin Gill. Conversely to our own, this study concerned the attitudes of police officers to security operatives.
The Howell/Gill study found that police do not, on average, see security operatives as playing a major role in public safety. It is interesting to note that this view was primarily held by police officers with little/no experience of working alongside security operatives, while those with more experience tended to think differently.
Close to 8 in 10 were strongly opposed to the notion of security operatives acting in the capacity of first responders, a view that is somewhat understandable given that security operatives often receive only minimal formal training in these areas.
Police did, however, appear to trust the ability of private CCTV operators to capture reliable evidence of crimes. They also valued the contributions made by security staff confined to specific roles (e.g., working at festivals or other large events and aiding police within that context). Again, this may theoretically be expanded upon to include door supervisors, as many of the answers given appear to refer to the notion of security firms either working alongside or functioning as police.
The main consensus appears to have been that police had no great issues with security operatives working within clearly defined parameters. In fact, in certain contexts, this was viewed as helpful.
A majority felt that private companies holding events were helping to conserve police resources by hiring private security. However, they did not take well to the notion of security operatives functioning as police.
The following quote, taken from one of the survey’s police respondents, effectively summarises this viewpoint.
“Door supervisors/club and casino security are perfect examples of areas where the security industry has a greater front-line role in protecting the public than the police. Good calibre security staff, with good CCTV capabilities, can prevent incidents of violence taking place, and prevent minor incidents from escalating into serious ones. This does rely on well trained and good calibre security staff though”.
However, some quotes did demonstrate the lack of understanding that came across in our study. One respondent said,
“Night-time door supervisors are there to enforce dress-codes [and] entry conditions, eject troublemakers and as a licencing requirement. Marshalls at festivals and sports events are there to check tickets, eject troublemakers, direct crowds [and] act as information points i.e., location of toilets. None of the above are instances of private security companies carrying out policing functions and they will inform the police of anything they have concerns about.”
While this is technically true, it is an overly simplistic take on what a security operative actually does. We feel that this quote does not demonstrate a working understanding of the demands of the role beyond that of the basic job description. It would, in effect, be akin to simplifying the job of a police officer to “they arrest criminals” and leaving it at that.
The big problem that is clear from both studies is that cuts to police funding are damaging to both professions.
Current View of the Security Industry
At the time our data was gathered, there were 378,543 SIA-licensed security workers in the UK. Of these, 65.7% hold a Door Supervisor’s license, 14.7% have a Security Guarding license and 3.5% have a Close Protection license. These three groups formed the focus of our survey.
In the 6-month period prior to the study’s completion (January – July 2021), there was a 3.65% increase in license holders. This is a positive trend compared to 2020, when 68,568 people completed training
courses and qualified to hold SIA licenses, but only 47,912 actually applied for them. This was a drop of around 8% from 2019. 2021’s upswing in the numbers of new license holders certainly looks encouraging.
During the first six-months of 2021, the SIA received 79,559 license applications. Of these, 66.3% were renewal requests and 33.7% pertained to new licenses.
While there is certainly room for improvement (especially with regards to the discrepancy between males and females, as males make up 89% of the industry overall), these figures nevertheless demonstrate signs of significant growth within the industry.
It is now incumbent upon all relevant parties to ensure that these new license holders, as well as their pre-existing counterparts, can find (or continue to find) a rewarding and fulfilling career in security, in the hopes of guiding the industry’s trajectory further still from the decline of recent years.
Ensuring a greater degree of safety for security workers therefore represents an important step in this direction.
We asked several industry leaders to give us their take on the issues that people on the frontline have to face:
“Some jobs are sedate, comfortable, and routine. Others are not.Door supervisors go to work expecting to face aggression and abuse because their role is to ensure the public do not have to face it. If they (the party goer) do encounter it, they take for granted that someone (the door supervisor) will be there to protect them.Often protectors become the targets of anger. Their role places them at the epicenter of conflict that is, all too often, fueled by alcohol or substance abuse. These risks are accepted as part of the job of protector but that does not mean it is acceptable. No more acceptable than a Police Officer or Paramedic being subjected to the same abuse or violence. Assault is assault and when your job is to protect the public, you should be afforded the support of the law. If we do not protect Security Staff and Door supervisors with specific legal reinforcement for offences against the person, how can we attract the right people to perform this vital role.”
“This survey is one of the most important pieces of research into the experiences of front line security personnel, in the last decade.
It clearly demonstrates the awful and growing issue of violence towards security professionals, going about their duties. These men and women are paid to protect people and property and are there for the safety of the general public, but are treated as second class citizens in law, and in the eyes of those whom they are tasked to protect.
The role of these individuals is no less important than many emergency service personnel, however they are not afforded the added protection that new legislation has conferred on many others in the field of public protection, nor do they have the respect or appreciation that the nature of their roles demand”
“Any Violence against Frontline Security is Unacceptable and the levels shown by this survey are shocking.Apart from the obvious detrimental physical effects, aggression and violence aimed at security officers can often be a major cause of wellbeing and mental health issues. The IFPO is working hard to support the welfare of frontline security personnel with education and support”
This survey is particularly relevant within healthcare, following the demise of the NHS’s centralised monitoring and reporting of national violence statistics in the healthcare sector in 2018. With this function being wrapped up and a new agency only just in its infancy, this couldn’t have come at a worst time with the arrival of covid, leaving the healthcare sector with no reliable national monitoring of violence against staff figures and no analysis of the nature and changes of that violence.
It is a sad truth that violence has always been a problem in healthcare, in part due to the conditions patients are suffering, the open nature of healthcare premises attracting crime, and the high levels of stress people are under. This doesn’t appear to account for the full increase being described though, so this must be attributable to other factors, possibly a combination of covid and a lack of the centralised national monitoring meaning healthcare Trusts haven’t been scrutinised for their security and violence prevention measures nor being required to report these nationally impacting the levels of investment in security and violence prevention. There is now a new organisation within the NHS (part of NHS England & Improvement) set up to deal with the specific issue of violence in the NHS, however in the meantime, this survey by WtD will go some way to filling the void and providing some figures to understand the consistently reported increase in violence within healthcare during this period.
Purpose & Scope of the Survey
The purpose of this survey was to gather data relating to the frequency and severity of acts of violence being perpetrated against security staff in the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, the aim was to either affirm or reject perceived notions that violent incidents are presently worsening and/or increasing in number.
If the findings corroborated our suspicions regarding worsening violence, a subsequent aim was to propose potential solutions for combating this trend, using the data gathered as a guide.
The central concern of this study was (and remains) the general safety of Britain’s security workers.
To compile this data, we questioned 1259 people, making this the largest study ever undertaken on the subject of violence against security workers.
The survey ran from 17th May to 16th June 2021 – a period of just under 1 month.
We only wanted answers from UK-based security personnel, as this study was specific to Great Britain. We received no answers from outside the UK as a result.
The qualifying questions we used were ‘Do you have an SIA license?’ and ‘What SIA license do you have?’. Those who answered ‘no’ to the first question were filtered out automatically. 33 respondents were filtered out as a result of this policy, leaving 1226 viable responses to our questions.
In order to gain a tighter focus on the data, we then filtered out any license holders besides Door Supervision (DS), Close Protection (CP) and Security Guarding (SG).
These are the three licensees that are most likely to have contact with the British public and, crucially, are the licenses that apply to working in areas such as pubs, clubs, corporate events and retail.
These 3 licenses make up 83.9% of all licenses issued by the SIA, which assured good coverage of the industry as a whole.
2 respondents were filtered out via this method, leaving us with a total of 1224 viable participants.
Questions were made multiple choice, with an option for respondents to furnish their answers with greater detail should they wish to.
The questions were asked via our website. The survey itself was promoted on the site, as well as on a variety of social media platforms.
Limitations of the Survey
As with any data gathering exercise of this kind, this survey was not without limitations.
First of all, we had no way of discerning whether or not the respondents actually held the licenses they claimed to. It is therefore theoretically possible, if unlikely, that some responses may have been given under false pretences, which would invalidate those responses. However, as previously stated, we have no way to either confirm or deny this possibility.
Secondly, this survey was completed entirely online. This means that we had no way of gaining answers from people who were not online.
Lastly, although nightmares and flashbacks are symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), we cannot say with any certainty that the respondents who reported experiencing these symptoms are actually suffering from this condition without a credible medical diagnosis.
We can infer that it may be possible that these respondents have PTSD but can only provide evidence that they are experiencing symptoms linked to the condition, not that they have the condition itself.
The majority of our responses (65% overall) came from those who were employed by private security companies. Of the remaining 35%, 20% were self-employed, 11% were working in-house and 4% were employed via other means.
Frontline security staff are in the firing line for the publics’ frustrations and anger. Physical and verbal violence is common for those working in security.
Our findings showed that 51% of the security professionals we asked, said they are being subjected to verbal abuse every time they go to work. For many door supervisors this could be between 3-4 times a week and more likely over the weekend days.
A more accurate measure of this is the fact that 31% said that it happens on a weekly basis and 13% said that it that it happens daily, 2% claimed to never have been verbally abused while at work and this is likely to be people working in parts of the industry that are not public facing.
When we asked how often our respondents are physically attacked while on duty, an alarming 36% claimed that it happened on a monthly basis. 26% were attacked even more frequently, informing us that an incident of violence against them occurred roughly once a week.
Thankfully, only 4% replied that it happens every time they go to work, but this is still far too high in our view. Nobody should be attacked at work at all, much less every single time they work a shift.
10% of respondents told us that they had never been attacked while at work, which is definitely a positive, while 24% admitted that it happens once a year on average.
A 2019 groundbreaking study was undertaken by researchers Dr. Risto Talas and Professor Mark Button at the University of Portsmouth. The study, which is the largest to date in the area of mental health among private security operatives, revealed that almost 40% of their informants were showing symptoms of PTSD.
The University of Portsmouth data also found that over 64% of their 750 informants suffered verbal abuse at work at least once a month. Our study, conducted this year and involving 1224 participants, found that 95% of those asked were experiencing verbal abuse once a month (or more frequently than that).
Many factors could account for the differences between the two studies, but one possible explanation may be that violent and abusive behaviour towards security personnel has worsened dramatically over a short space of time. This is by no means the only explanation, but it does raise some fairly disturbing points of discussion.
Some may argue that verbal abuse is simply ‘part of the job’ and that they don’t take any notice of it. However, verbal abuse can be very dangerous to a person’s general well-being and self-esteem.
Research has shown that verbal abuse can directly lead to depression, dissociation (whereby a person’s identity and sense of self is eroded), self-medication, self-harm and even abusive behaviour towards other, unrelated, parties.
In accordance with UK law, security personnel may only respond to threats or non-compliance via the careful application of ‘reasonable force’, a somewhat loosely-defined term that essentially states that any force used by a security operative must be directly in proportion to – and must never exceed – the threat being presented at the time.
Of our respondents, 36% revealed that they use force once a week, with 33% claiming the need to use force once a month. 17% said they only used force once a year and 6% said they’d never used force as part of their job.
However, 8% confessed that they had to use reasonable force every time they work.
This is not an insignificant number by any means. Since door supervisors legally won’t use force unless the patron is refusing to comply with instructions or presenting a threat, we have to conclude that there are venues in Great Britain with a clientele so unruly that they are being removed by force on an almost nightly basis. In such places, the risks of a DS experiencing verbal abuse or physical assault would appear to be very high.
Accordingly, 65% of our respondents were resigned to the fact that violence within the security industry was inevitable, while 35% did not feel that it was.
Some of the responses we received to this question were rather illuminating. One respondent explained, “You have to expect it – and [you] can’t really do anything about it if a member of the public wants to act up”
To a certain extent, the respondent is absolutely correct. If a member of the public has decided to attack, or attacks in the heat of the moment, it probably cannot be stopped. However, if more security operatives were better trained in mediation and conflict resolution, many instances may be resolved before they are allowed to reach a crisis point.
Another respondent told us that “Employers aren’t bothered by the fact [that] we have to deal with so much violence”.
This speaks directly to a breakdown in trust between employee and employer. It also clearly demonstrates that some employers are not doing enough to mitigate the risks faced by their staff.
The notion that some employers simply “don’t care”, illustrates a lack of willingness to listen on the part of these employers. It was, however, mentioned regularly throughout the survey.
This view was compounded by the respondent who explained, “Companies believe we should just expect to deal with violence without extra training or back-up from the company”. If this is indeed the case, it demonstrates a clear and deeply troubling abdication of responsibility on the part of some security firms.
The ramifications of such cavalier operating methods could see both the security operatives and the company facing legal challenges should a situation go awry due to an operative’s lack of training or support.
Some respondents voiced frustrations regarding the ‘reasonable force’ laws, with one stating that, “We must wait to be assaulted before we restrain someone”. The respondent identified this as a key cause of violence against security workers.
Airing similar grievances, another respondent explained the difficulty in knowing when (or if) to utilise reasonable force, “If the security officer intervenes, we are then having to use our own level of ‘should we?’ or ‘shouldn’t we?’, allowing the aggressor more freedom to abuse the security.”
Another stated, “It seems OK that we can be abused in our role, but as soon as we defend ourselves the authorities are all over us, threatening to take away our SIA licence”
These and other responses came from fully trained, licensed and gainfully employed security operatives who are nonetheless struggling with a core aspect of the job as it is defined by the law.
While we agree with the laws governing the use of reasonable force, the need for further training and clarification in this area is very clear. Such confusion and frustration regarding the use of reasonable force should not be allowed to continue. These issues should be addressed immediately, ideally with further training.
One respondent made the important point that authorities appear to have lower behavioural expectations towards the general public than they do towards security workers. This makes sense to some extent, as security workers are trained, licensed and occupy a position of some authority, while members of the public generally do not.
However, security operatives are afforded no extra protections under British law. This means that, in legal terms, a member of the public assaulting a security operative is basically no different to a member of the public assaulting another member of the public. In such a case, were the law to appear to definitively take one side over another, onlookers and commentators could rightly cite it is a case of discrimination.
When this happens, the consensus appears to be that security operatives are punished more harshly by authorities. Essentially, more is expected of them, but no extra safeguards are extended to them in return for this increased authority.
We have challenged this status quo elsewhere (and we will again), but responses such as these are proof that such unfair treatment levelled against security operatives can – and does – happen. Perhaps, with an increase in training and responsibility, there should also come an increase in trust and goodwill?
Also concerning were the respondents’ opinions regarding their initial training. While opinions were divided on this subject, the most popular view, to which 29% of respondents subscribed, was that their training was only of an ‘average’ standard.
The most popular answers after this were (jointly) ’bad’ and ‘very bad’, taking 20% a piece. 16% rated their training as ‘very good’ and 15% said it was simply ‘good’.
This result shows a general level of dissatisfaction with basic SIA training in the use of force, perhaps implying that it does not do enough to prepare security operatives for the rigours and difficulties of the job they face.
Damningly, 68% of respondents also informed us that they had not received any on-going training after gaining their SIA license.
Ongoing training is very important to any industry. Constantly learning new things and improving upon an existing skill set helps to prevent workers from feeling as if they’re ‘running in place’ and not progressing professionally. It also helps to keep their skills (and thus, the company they work for) competitive within their respective industry.
Additionally, ongoing training helps a company to keep up to date with the latest industry trends and challenges, as well as demonstrating that the company is a growing one that cares about those it employs.
26 of our respondents mentioned on-going training in their responses. One explained, “A lot of security companies do not wish to incorporate ongoing physical restraint training, and [they] just make the presumption that all staff are trained when it is often not the case”
On-going training is especially important with regard to the security industry, as it can directly help to mitigate instances of violence and thus help to keep operatives and the public safer.
When answering our question about patience, 51% rating themselves as ‘very good’, 37% describing their patience levels as ‘good’ and 11% declaring themselves ‘average’. Only 1% of respondents claimed to be ‘bad’ and no one at all considered their level of patience to be ‘very bad’.
The results here are certainly encouraging, if hardly surprising. When it comes to security work, patience is a prerequisite.
In today’s industry, an impatient security operative with a quick temper and a low tolerance for difficult patrons/members of the public would very quickly find themselves seeking alternative employment. Lack of patience and ability to work within changing guidelines is likely a large contributing factor to the 1,891 SIA licenses that were revoked in 2015.
Similar answers were given when we asked respondents to evaluate their ability to verbally diffuse a situation, with 48% describing themselves as ‘very good’, 44% stating that they were ‘good’ and 8% admitting to only possessing ‘average’ skills in this area. No respondent described themselves as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.
This result potentially suggests that the standard of basic SIA training in de-escalation techniques is better than some other aspects of their initial training. It also becomes very troubling when considered alongside the data regarding violence. If the respondents’ assessments of their ability are accurate (and there’s no reason at this time to seriously doubt that), then it follows that well-trained security operatives, who are experts (or, at the very least, highly proficient) at verbally defusing and de-escalating violent situations, are still finding themselves regularly endangered by workplace violence.
If we now return to the respondent who told us that, “[You] can’t really do anything about it if a member of the public wants to act up”, this comment now assumes a chilling new significance, describing violent individuals who have escalated to the point of aggression away from their encounter with security operatives, but who are nonetheless willing to attack them over it.
If these malign (or possibly disturbed) individuals were emboldened by the lack of a significant police presence, coupled with the knowledge that security operatives are only afforded limited means of self-defence, would it not grant them greater freedom to violently assault a security operative?
Whilst our data does not conclusively prove or disprove this idea, it certainly raises it as a worrying prospect.
Of course, the opposite could also be true. Perhaps our respondents are indeed over-stating their own abilities to verbally diffuse a situation? If so, this would offer clear motives for employers to offer a greater degree of on-going conflict resolution training.
De-escalation techniques are a vital skill for the modern security worker. Today’s security industry increasingly de-emphasises physical action and/or intimidation tactics in favour of verbal de-escalation strategies and well-developed mediation skills.
Whilst we support this approach wholeheartedly, it is nonetheless reckless and dangerous to remove a person’s natural methods of deterring would-be attackers and defending against assault without first ensuring that these methods are at least adequately replaced by effective training in the alternatives.
We now come to the potentially difficult issue of PTSD. As stated above (see ‘Limitations of the Survey’), we cannot infer that a person is suffering from PTSD simply because they are exhibiting some of the symptoms. That would constitute a medical diagnosis, and we are not medical experts. However, the answers given to two of our questions do present the possibility that at least some of our respondents may be suffering from PTSD. As the Portsmouth study tells us, it is certainly a statistical possibility.
When asked if an incident affected them more than 24 hours after it occurred, 57% of our respondents reported that it had. 12% weren’t sure, answering ‘maybe’, while 31% said that it had not happened at all.
The fact that well over half of our group of 1224 people, who are all employed in similar areas within the same industry, reported this to be the case should definitely set some alarm bells ringing.
The second question on this subject asked if respondents had ever experienced a flashback or re-lived an incident through dreams or nightmares. 48% reported that they had, with 10% adding that they weren’t sure. Shockingly, this means that almost 60% of our respondents are potentially suffering from PTSD.
For those who may be unaware, flashbacks are a common symptom of PTSD. A flashback occurs when a person mentally re-lives a specific event from their past as if it is happening in the present. This can include mentally ‘seeing’ full or partial images relating to an event or replaying the event in full.
Sometimes, flashbacks are not at all visual, instead consisting of physical sensations relating to the incident, or the sufferer becoming aware of sounds, smells or other triggers that put them in mind of the incident. A flashback may also simply involve a person experiencing the emotions they felt during the incident but devoid of any context.
PTSD, in effect, is an unwanted by-product of our basic survival instincts. When confronted by a frightening event (or even a relatively mundane one as PTSD is not, in most cases, a reflection of the severity of the event), the human brain enters a state known as ‘reactive mode’. While locked in reactive mode, the sympathetic nervous system releases all the hormones relating to our ‘fight or flight’ instincts. All non-essential physical and mental activities are then forcibly shut down and the person’s only goal becomes survival.
Once survival has been assured, the parasympathetic nervous system reasserts control, releasing the hormones that place the person back into what is termed ‘responsive mode’ as things return to normal.
However, there are cases wherein this changeover never actually occurs, leaving the person stranded in ‘reactive mode’ long after the event has concluded. In these cases, people constantly feel the way they did during the initial incident, sometimes even years or decades after it happened.
The answers to these two questions specifically constitute a compelling call to action aimed towards employers, security operatives and government legislators alike. Whether that call will be heeded or not remains to be seen.
The final two sets of answers we will examine here are equally concerning, albeit for slightly different reasons.
We asked respondents if they felt that the general level of violence they see and experience whilst at work had increased over the last 5 years. 86% said that they felt it had.
When we asked if the respondent’s workplace, primary venue or company had attempted to decrease this level of violence via new working practices or helpful initiatives, 84% told us ‘no’.
As one respondent told us, “[There is] No real will from [my] company or the authorities to tackle it [violence against security workers]. It’s seen as part of the job and we’re expected to just ‘get on’ and deal with it. It’s certainly not reflected in the pay !!!”
By looking at the data, we can confirm that, as far as our 1224 respondents are concerned, the threat levels being faced by them are indeed growing (a fact that has been corroborated by recent crime statistics, which show rises in assault, knife crime and homicide offences, among other violent crimes).
Elsewhere, government cuts to police budgets are negatively affecting security workers, PTSD is likely going undiagnosed and untreated, and most do not have much confidence in their training, which can negatively affect both confidence and job performance, as well as worsen dangerous situations.
Neither on-going training, nor mental health treatments appear to be easily available to the majority of our respondents (the latter also confirmed by the Portsmouth University study), even with violent incidents increasing in both frequency and severity.
Our previous study revealed that police do not appear to fully understand the complexities of security work, while the Howell/Gill police survey indicates that police are, on the whole, somewhat distrusting of security operatives in general.
All of this, unfortunately, adds up to a potentially desperate situation, with security operatives clearly ill-equipped to handle many of the extra responsibilities that are being heaped onto them (as exemplified by our respondents’ lack of faith in their training and further corroborated by the opinions of the police survey).
The fact that the situation has not already worsened beyond a certain point speaks directly to the professionalism, dedication and ‘can-do’ spirit of Britain’s security workers.
We have a culture in the UK where violence is tolerated in the night time economy. Many clubs, pubs and venues often don’t try and mitigate the risk or reduce the levels of violence, alternatively relying on security personnel to control the problem.
We asked ‘are there any initiatives at your workplace or from your security company that has decreased the level of violence?’ 84% said that there wasn’t any such initiatives, with the other 16% saying that there was some initiatives at their workplace.
As a follow-up to our question concerning violence reduction methods we ‘if No’ Why do you think they haven’t tried to tackle it? and if ‘If Yes’ can you tell us what it is and why it work?
The answers contained some interesting suggestions and concepts, some of which we will discuss here.
One respondent (a retail security guard) described the adoption of a ‘hands off’ approach at their workplace, that basically forbade them from laying a hand on the customer unless in self-defence.
In this method, if the guard suspects that a customer may become violent, they are instructed to simply stand back and let that customer leave, even if they subsequently abscond with stolen goods.
This may seem like a soft approach, but it does demonstrate that the retail outlet in question is placing the safety of their security operatives ahead of their profits, which is admirable. This policy would (and, according to the respondent, does) also greatly limit the number of physical altercations that the guard in question may be involved in.
In these cases, the thief would be captured on CCTV and the incident reported to the police, with the guard acting as a key witness if the suspect were ever to be prosecuted.
However, one downside may occur once word gets out that security guards are no longer allowed to restrain a thief if they become aggressive. This may lead to an upswing in shoplifters becoming aggressive simply in order to gain an unfettered escape.
Also, if the shoplifter is wearing a COVID-protection mask or face covering, as well as other items such as sunglasses and/or a hooded top, it would be very difficult to definitively identify them on CCTV.
Another respondent told us that their company favours an ‘increased presence’ approach. This includes regular “high visibility” patrols, sometimes involving dogs. Security guards in this firm are deployed in pairs (or sometimes groups of three) and are constantly moving around in order to clearly demonstrate the presence of a trained, capable security service.
This is probably an effective approach. However, such a strategy is potentially quite costly and would also require patrol routes to be altered regularly, lest they become predictable and therefore easier for criminals to exploit.
The same respondent also suggested hiring a local person, well known to the community, to work on the door with the guards, thus facilitating a more comfortable environment for prospective patrons.
Since 98% of our respondents believed that local knowledge of known gangs and troublemakers is useful, this approach definitely plays to that point.
It is unclear if the intent here was to hire this person in the capacity of a DS, or simply as a friendly, familiar presence on the door. In either instance, it seems like an interesting tactic.
Body Worn Cameras
One respondent (a security manager) was very positive on the subject of body camera technology. The respondent stated that at least one member of their staff is always equipped with a BWC (Body Worn Camera).
The respondent explained that the presence of body cams, “deliberately increased the visibility of CCTV installations around the venue. This had a definite effect on decreasing the frequency of incidental violence, especially from members of the public [that have been] knocked back on the door”.
The respondent discussed the effect BWCs can have as a deterrent, even going as far as to address the reservations that some venues have about BWCs regarding the privacy of their patrons. Our respondent countered these reservations by pointing out that the very same venues usually operate CCTV, thus filming patrons already.
These statements were echoed by 31 other respondents.
The notion of body cams as a deterrent has also been discussed by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who once pointed out that people are more likely to plead guilty “when they know we have captured the incident”.
However, BWCs also have their critics, who cite, among other things, that video footage does not always offer an entirely accurate, impartial testimony, despite alleging to do so.
Critics of BWCs subsequently point out that it would be possible for a BWC operator to deliberately provoke a person, then activate the camera once that person has lost their temper, presenting this as evidence of abusive or aggressive behaviour without revealing the full story.
Statistically speaking, studies of BWC usage among police officers have offered mixed results and it’s likely that a similar study conducted among security operatives would expose similar ambiguities.
One respondent told us that inebriated patrons rarely seemed bothered by the presence of BWCs, “Many aspects have been tried including use of body cams etc. Customers especially under the influence are not bothered about being seen to act the way they are”
Ultimately, we’re more inclined towards the position of the original respondent, a 21-year veteran of the security industry, as well as the 31 others that also echoed these sentiments.
This is not to diminish the accuracy of the second statement, however. Patrons under the influence of drink and drugs are often so mentally impaired as to not understand that they are even on camera. However, such people should have either been ejected already or else denied access to the venue in the first place – incidents like this are often policy shortcomings on the part of the venue.
BWCs are by no means the answer to all the industry’s problems, but they certainly do seem to work as a deterrent. The trick to maximising their efficacy is to ensure that BWC operation (and training) is procedurally enshrined by security firms and venues, making sure that the cameras are used in the same way by all staff and that there is a clear and well-defined set of rules in place for their use.
Another technology that was cited as highly effective by our respondents was SmartWater.
SmartWater is a liquid taggant containing a unique chemical code. The liquid’s essence, which is totally invisible except under UV light, lasts for months, even with regular bathing. It also causes no harm at all to the culprit. When sprayed upon a person’s skin, property or clothing, however, SmartWater ‘stains’ its batch’s unique code onto them, meaning that a suspect can be conclusively linked to a crime using only a UV light.
When paired with small UV pen lights or similar technology, SmartTag makes it possible for door supervisors to quickly and efficiently scan patrons and ensure that none have a recent history of rowdy or difficult behaviour.
If, for example, an aggressive patron was to be ejected from a local night club and sprayed with SmartTag before they left, the door supervisors on duty at the next club would know not to allow this person access – and the aggressive patron would not be able to complain in any serious way, lest the police be called.
This would also create a deterrent in the form of aggressive/violent patrons (who, at present, may fear no recourse for attacking a security operative) being effectively ‘banned’ from every club in town until the SmartWater stain fades (it lasts about as long as a suntan). This tactic could therefore make certain troublemakers think twice before attacking a DS or other security operative.
In the more severe cases, the use of SmartWater could even lead to conviction – and may work well in tandem with the ‘hands off’ strategy described above, allowing the patron to escape, but marking them definitively as a troublemaker or thief.
The major downside of SmartWater and other taggants is the expense, which is considerable. When used once, a new batch should be procured in order to save confusion. SmartWater operates via a subscription-like service. If used, it should also be integrated into the venue/firm’s official procedure, just as BWCs should.
Standards and Practices
New technologies by themselves are not enough to effectively stem the tide of violence against security operatives. What’s needed is for these technologies to be procedurally integrated into the standards and practices of the companies, venues and businesses that use them. Extra training in their use is also essential.
A similar, but far less expensive version of the ‘SmartWater tactic’ involves the venue joining an initiative like ‘Pubwatch’.
5 of our respondents mentioned that their premises were involved with the ‘Pubwatch’ scheme and that this had been at least partially successful in deterring violence and/or abusive behaviour.
Since businesses have the right, within reason, to refuse service to patrons whom they believe to be dangerous or antisocial, participating Pubwatch venues will act together in order to enact a broad ban on a person who has behaved aggressively in any one venue.
The result is that the troublemaker is banned (sometimes for life) from all participating premises and venues. This strategy not only stops the patrons from causing further trouble, but also potentially discourages others from acting unpleasantly.
Conflict Management Training
Other suggestions given were centred around conflict resolution and management, with some respondents citing extra/ongoing training in this area as being a factor in building a safer working environment for themselves and their colleagues. We are in complete agreement on this point, with the only drawbacks being the expense of the courses themselves.
Another popular measure taken by some employers and security operatives was to pursue a greater degree of cooperation with police. As our previous study shows, this can be difficult, but if a harmonious working relationship can be achieved, the results are undeniably positive. Accordingly, we feel that all security companies should strive to cultivate such a relationship with the police.
One excellent suggestion came from the respondent who said, “The Club I work in most weekends fosters a good team spirit with all members of staff, not just door staff. They also keep a good blend of younger staff and older, more experienced staff”.
The creation of a positive company culture has incredible benefits – and is something that every business, from the smallest start-up to the biggest corporation, should attempt.
According to Forbes, “Your company culture is a reflection of what your organization stands for, and as the voice of your business, your employees are key to ensuring that it succeeds. When you provide a work environment that your staff enjoys spending time in, it can help to improve their performance each and every day”.
A venue that has friendly, approachable door staff outside is probably more likely to bring in not only better (i.e., non-violent) customers, but also encourage repeat custom, as many people enjoy going to venues for their atmosphere, which is often a more desirable factor for patrons than low drink prices, musical styles, branding or even décor.
A mixture of youth and experience in the team, as well as personalities that mesh well, can contribute enormously to the long-term survival and overall prosperity of a venue.
The same respondent also added, “There is also a policy to get door staff to openly converse with customers and build a sense of trust where a customer can approach staff with problems in confidence”.
Again, this speaks to a good company culture. The more approachable a DS is, the more likely people will be to speak to them, as well as trust their judgement. This will certainly help patrons within the venue who may be feeling intimidated by other patrons – and may allow patrons to reach out to security operatives before an incident occurs, thus helping to avoid violence altogether.
Operatives described respectful conduct as being a great deterrent to violence, as well as trusting their colleagues to back them up.
One respondent explained, “We try to talk to people more [in order to] find out what their issues are. [We] would go that extra mile if it means that person leaves happier than they arrive. It’s all about the way you speak to people that makes that difference”
Other respondents also listed better communication techniques as a key strategy to deterring violence.
However, one respondent stated that, in their experience, attempts to be friendlier and more communicative with the general public could be seen as a weakness by those wishing to cause trouble.
The respondent in question, who “guards multiple sites” and has often encountered thieves that quickly become violent in their attempts to evade capture, said,
“We are the lowest paid contractors, afforded no respect from anybody, including site managers and [the] folk whose property we look after. Our employers ask us to stay safe, ring police, don’t try to tackle thieves, but that is not always possible when encountering thieves while patrolling a site. We are ‘hi vis’ targets, lone workers in high crime areas because our health DOES NOT MATTER and is worth less than a generator to the companies employing our service. We can be trained to be nice, calm and understanding but that is viewed as a weakness by offenders and will encourage further crime”
This is a serious point. It shows that security personnel are not always respected for the work they do and also highlights a separate (but still important) issue that pay rates do not always reflect the risks that are undertaken as part of the job.
In this case, it is clear that the company guidelines are insufficient when contrasted against the realities of this respondent’s experience.
The respondent in question has shone a much-needed light on a communication failure between employee and employer, as well as a discrepancy between expectations and reality on the part of some employers.
Another respondent informed us that they often found themselves struggling to juggle the expectations of the venue they work at with those of the company they work for, with each having different ideas of what the DS’ responsibilities actually are.
“The responsibility of managing customers is seen [by the venue] to be that of the security organisation, whilst the security organisation sees this as a joint approach [with the venue]. We (as individuals) have tried to work with the venue management [to] suggest trialing initiatives we feel would benefit the venue”
This lack of clear, effective leadership from either the company or the venue places the individual security workers in a highly invidious, even dangerous, position.
As we have seen, the door supervisors at this venue are trying to clarify their duties, as well as make their working environment safer for everyone (including themselves). Whilst this is admirable, such policies and initiatives really ought to come from either the venue or the security firm in question.
At least one respondent felt that their company’s management lacked ‘front line’ experience, which negatively affected their decision making overall.
“Unfortunately, some management aren’t on the front line enough to see how violent some customers can be so they just carry on like everything is ‘tickety-boo’”
In these cases, promotions from within can really help. This way, at least one of the company’s leaders would have recent front-line experience. It may also help if managers volunteered to work a few shifts themselves in order to get a better idea of what their employees go through.
Again, situations like these can be remedied through the creation of a positive company culture. According to a 2020 study, Google is the best company to work for in the UK, a list the company also topped in 2015 and 2018. The study examined the general levels of happiness and job satisfaction being felt by employees of various companies.
Others that made the list included ‘Equal Experts’, ‘Topps Tiles’, ‘Salesforce’, ‘Microsoft’, ‘easyJet’, ‘Apple’, ‘Rolls-Royce’ and ‘Hiscox’. Not every company listed is as well-known or glamorous as one might expect and they provide a range of varied products and services, but all have clearly devoted time, energy and money to the overall job satisfaction of their staff.
Google, in particular, tops the list for a reason, namely that it has a highly positive and productive company culture. The data affirms the fact that these measures pay off, with Google not only turning in record profits, but also being world-renowned for employee satisfaction. This is partly because the company goes out of its way to make its employees feel valued and appreciated.
Of course, there are few, if any, security companies that bring in ‘Google money’. Some of the measures taken by Google will therefore be beyond the reach of a small security firm. However, the bulk of Google’s success in the area of employee happiness isn’t about money. In the first instance, it’s about listening to, caring for and valuing employees – something that, according to our results, appears to be conspicuous by its absence from the British security industry circa 2021.
Lack of Care
61% of our respondents cited a lack of care and/or consideration on the part of their employers, which came as something of a surprise to us, but is sadly quite in-keeping with the general tone of the answers we received.
Companies prioritising profit margins over staff safety was a recurring complaint, mentioned by many of our respondents.
One respondent noted, “Employers just want their ‘door lads’ on doors for their profit. If one of their ‘door lads’ gets hurt on the door, it’s just a headache for them to find cover [for] the next week. They don’t care about our wellbeing”
With regard to the issue of callousness within the industry, one respondent saliently observed that,
“Most large companies are a third party that behave like recruitment agencies that only really care about numbers. However, a culture has tried to be created within the industry by the SIA with concerns to conflict management, de-escalation tactics and the use of necessary proportionate force/techniques and the right to self-defence as a last resort. The refinement of these skills however can only be achieved whilst working real-time and with experience without having to book additional courses (the cost of which would be fronted by yourselves)”
This echoes the confusion we saw earlier regarding the use of reasonable force, as well as the general lack of on-going training for Britain’s security workers. This is an issue compounded by the general lack of faith our respondents had in their own basic training.
The respondent also highlighted the fact that additional training is, in many cases, financed by the security operatives seeking said training.
Levels of Training
We feel that training that is essential or even simply beneficial to a job should be funded by the employer and/or the venue. It simply isn’t fair to expect security workers (especially those that are low paid), to pay for extra training, especially if discounts would be available to companies who booked courses and sessions in bulk.
It’s difficult to know what could be done about the industry’s apparent lack of caring. We can only suggest that each company reaches out to its staff directly (or perhaps via anonymous surveys), analyses the issues raised and initiates strategies to resolve them. Then, perhaps following a period of 12 months or so, the companies could reissue the same questions or survey and see how effective these strategies have been. Of course, it would also help for employers to consult the above notes about company culture.
Male to Female Balance
Another interesting point was raised by a respondent who stated, “Being a woman, most people respect women and sometimes it [the situation] can change from someone being aggressive to me talking to them and calming them down”
On a societal level, the effect sex ratios have on violent behaviour (especially among men) is fascinating and reasonably well documented. An American study, conducted in 2016 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, concluded that in communities where men outnumber women, their behaviour tends to be more respectful towards women. However, the reverse becomes true in situations whereby women outnumber men. Could this also translate microcosmically to the landscape of a nightclub or venue?
It is possible that a female security operative poses less of an immediate physical threat in the mind of a man (keeping in mind that men are statistically more responsible for violence than women). Some men may actually find a woman easier to relate to in certain circumstances and many men will not allow themselves to hit a woman under any circumstances, no matter how angry they may become.
There would seem to be several benefits to security companies and venues hiring more female security operatives. Not only does a mixed-gender team make searching patrons a far easier and more comfortable process, but female security operatives can also follow female troublemakers into areas such as the ladies’ restroom without causing a stir. In general, female security operatives may also be perceived as more approachable, especially by female patrons.
Studies have shown that women are generally less selfish, less prone to narcissism, have a higher pain threshold and have superior organisation and multitasking skills than men, all of which are traits that would be a benefit to any security team, especially with regard to diffusing tense situations.
At present, the security industry is heavily male dominated, but a significant increase in female operatives could potentially help to diminish some of the violence faced by security staff across the country.
One recurring issue raised by the survey, the last we will examine here before drawing our conclusions, is the ubiquity of drugs and alcohol, which often exacerbates violent situations.
One respondent said, “No matter what [measures are] in place, people under the influence of drugs or drink will still attack you. Then police get involved and they even attack the police”
Another respondent pointed out that, in addition to problems caused or worsened by alcohol and drug misuse, de-escalation and conflict mediation techniques are difficult to employ with loud music playing.
“Alcohol, loud music and large groups are difficult to formulate logically against. It becomes part and parcel of the job. The most skilled talkers will still have physical altercations because every now and again you meet people who can’t be reasoned with because they can’t hear what you’re saying.”
Elsewhere on this site, we’ve talked about the procedure for searching patrons, as well as what to do if they are found in possession of illegal substances, weapons or other contraband. We’ve also discussed drug use at length, as well as the effects certain drugs typically have on people. As with the other issues raised here, there are no easy solutions to these problems.
A 2014 survey conducted by The Guardian newspaper found that nearly 1 in 5 British adults have used an illegal substance at some point in their lives, with 1/5th of those continuing to use recreational drugs. These statistics are alarming (although probably not surprising to any door supervisors reading this).
It is unclear exactly how much of this drug use is occurring in Britain’s pubs, clubs and venues, but according to the Guardian survey, around 16% of respondents expressed a preference for using drugs “in a pub, club or bar”.
This unfortunately places Britain’s door supervisors directly in the path of the negative consequences of drug and alcohol misuse. Without access to extra training (e.g., first aid or drug training), we find a potentially harmful situation for everybody involved.
We will depart this section with the words of one respondent, whom we felt made an excellent statement that concisely summarises our findings as a whole,
“We doormen now work in a time when alcohol and drugs are as common as household products. No matter how polite we are[or] how professional, we will always be the ‘bad guy’ because we are the guys and girls making the decision to allow them [the patrons] into the venue or not. The grief we take for saying “sorry, not tonight” is unbelievable in some areas of the UK. I can only imagine it’s the same all over the the world – but we turn up every night dressed for work and do it all over again, week in and week out – because that’s what we do”
Summary and Moving Forward
A wealth of information was collected by this survey and the picture it paints isn’t always a pretty one. We found that the levels of violence, aggression and abuse being experienced by security operatives in the UK are perilously high – and appear to be rising.
This trend has reached the unacceptable point that a majority of security operatives we interviewed expected to be assaulted and/or verbally abused while at work.
As we have demonstrated, regular negative experiences such as these often have a deleterious effect upon a person’s mental health and/or physical wellbeing.
We’ve also seen that certain SIA policies of non-violence and promotion of de-escalation techniques, while well-intentioned, are not necessarily reflective of the real-world challenges faced by security operatives. We have seen a desperate need for extra training in this and many other areas.
Sadly, our respondents also felt resoundingly unsupported by the companies/venues that employed them, indicating that these businesses need to take better care of the people they pay to protect them.
If companies can find no other motivation to start taking better care of their security staff, they should at least consider that the potential exposure to PTSD is egregious to say the least. PTSD has been conclusively and unambiguously linked to depression and suicide and to allow any workers to be placed under such risk without taking any safety precautions or providing any treatment options is truly reprehensible. Much work needs to be done in this area.
We also heard a lot of instances of security firms, venues and private employers ‘cutting corners’ on expenditure, with security apparently being viewed as something that can be skimped on. This leads to over-worked, under-rested (and often under-paid) security workers being regularly subjected to aggressive, violent or otherwise unpleasant working situations, without access to much-needed training, resources and back-up.
The measures taken to improve working conditions are not, in many cases, close enough to the ‘duty of care’ stipulated by the law.
What we would like to See Happen
Put simply, we feel that it’s time to give more to the British security operative. What follows is a list of measures that, based on careful analysis of the data we accumulated, may go some way towards remedying this dire state of affairs.
Firstly, whilst we acknowledge – and do not shy away from – the fact that security work can sometimes be hazardous, we nevertheless feel that the protections offered to security workers in the UK are out of proportion with both the threats faced by them, as well as the expectations and duties placed upon them. These factors should be brought into closer alignment as soon as possible.
Here at ‘Working The Doors’, we have previously called for security workers to be incorporated into the government’s ‘Assaults on Emergency Workers Act 2018’. At the time of writing, however, nothing has changed vis-à-vis this law or the legal protections extended to security staff.
Analysis of the data gathered in this study has highlighted other possible courses of action, which may be taken separately, or in addition to this one.
We believe, for example, that legislation should be introduced that specifically criminalises overly abusive or violent behaviour directed at security staff.
At present, assault of a security operative is deemed as no more or less an offence than the assault of any other member of the general public. However, since members of the general public are not subject to the same risks as security operatives, this feels wholly inadequate.
Hypothetical English, Welsh and Northern Irish legislation aimed at combating this could mirror the similar laws that have been successfully introduced in Scotland, that protects shop workers from abuse and attacks.
We are calling for legislation for a separate offence for a crime of violence or abuse against Licenced security staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as in Scotland – to improve the prosecution and reporting of such crimes especially when they are enforcing the law.
If such legislation were in place, more crimes against security staff would be reported and, after a few convictions, word would spread among the general public, hopefully rendering assaults less common. At the very least, they would come with greater consequences attached than they do at present.
SIA Online System
We are also proposing the SIA creates an online system of reporting such crimes as abusive behaviour and assaults on security workers, as a way of making it easier for the targets of said crimes to seek justice. The platform would be linked to the, already existing, internal licencing system within the SIA, meaning that only active licenced staff would have access to the system to report violence and abuse.
The system would allow uploading of evidence, via body camera and CCTV footage, this would give security personnel more of a voice against the violence they receive and give the appropriate authorities chance to respond when there is an increase in violence in certain areas or against an individual that is targeting security staff or is a danger to the general public.
But there is also additional benefits to this system, it can also provide a whistle blowing system to the industry, to be able to raise concerns about certain individuals or companies that are not practicing within the law, and to provide better information and stats to ensure all violence against security staff is recorded fully.
We also feel that security firms and those who employ security firms should provide access to ongoing paid training in a number of skill sets and disciplines, including first aid/lifesaver training, fire safety training, conflict resolution and a greater familiarity with UK law. Not only would this help to keep the public safe, but it would also help to minimize violent incidents.
We believe that, where possible, security firms should make counselling available to any security operative who experiences a serious assault and that both employers and staff should be aware of the symptoms of PTSD and other psychological ailments that their employees may be exposed to.
In the short term, we feel that every security company, as well as any organisation or individual that regularly employs security operatives, has an obligation to create initiatives aimed at reducing the violence faced by those operatives. They should also regularly liaise with their security staff in order to make sure that appropriate safety procedures are in place at all times, improving upon them where necessary.
In the end, no one measure could ever be taken that would completely remove security staff from harm. Such notions are fundamentally at odds with the nature and duties of the job. However, certain strategies can – and should – be employed in multiple areas that would alleviate some of the pressure that is presently being felt by security personnel.
On a governmental level, introducing legal protections akin to other personnel in harm’s way would act as a deterrent to would-be attackers
On an industry level, a clear and well-considered strategy for reporting assaults and permanently banning troublesome or violent patrons would also help minimise instances of violence. The addition of extra training from expert teachers would help enormously as well, as would the development of positive company cultures and better working practices.
On an employment level, venue owners and those who employ security personnel should ensure that they are taking at least some responsibility for the security of their venue.
Initiatives such as the reporting or banning of offenders from the premises, utilising the correct signage, ensuring that any CCTV and alarm systems are high-spec and up-to-date and, above all, being prepared to support, stand alongside and trust the judgement of the security staff they employ are all measures that would really go a long way towards achieving this goal.
Where possible, it is also worth investing in technologies such as body cams, SmartWater and improved CCTV, as well as signing up for schemes such as ‘Pubwatch’ and fostering a better relationship with other venues in the local area, as well as police.
On a personal level, security operatives should seek out counselling and professional help, where needed, rather than attempting to simply ‘push through’ any personal problems. They have a duty to be at their best when protecting the public and grappling with mental health issues such as PTSD without professional help can allow violent situations to proliferate in a number of ways.
Additionally, self-training (even something as simple as reading books or blogs on related subjects or watching instructional videos on YouTube) can also pay big dividends when it comes to conflict resolution.
No matter our age or profession, we each have a duty to educate ourselves. If an employer is not forthcoming with any additional training in these and other areas, we recommend the operatives train themselves (especially by utilising free courses). Arming oneself with information is one of the best strategies anyone can employ to handle any difficult situation.
Finally, something that was abundantly clear from the study is the effort and professionalism being demonstrated in all areas of the security industry right now. These are challenging times and security workers have been given many new roles to occupy and new responsibilities to undertake. Every single one of our respondents appeared to be hard working, honest and thoroughly dedicated to the job. We are proud to represent an industry that would employ such people.