Staff welfare in the security industry

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Two weeks ago I was contacted by an experienced security professional asking if I had any research available on staff welfare  in security and in particular around security staff using their own cars as a welfare area when protecting a site. I did a little research and asked some regulatory bodies about their opinion on the matter. The answers I received are outlined in this article and are quite essential reading for the industry. The safety, employment and insurance implications that may not be currently considered have the potential to cause significant issues for both companies and employees. They aren’t listed here to bash anybody but rather to make people aware and improve conditions.

My story

I can remember as a 17-year-old being asked to do some static security on a construction site for extra hours. It was a new site that had come up at short notice and my boss at the time needed immediate overnight cover. I was happy to help and met my boss at the site. I’d never done static security before and only had a little experience on doors and in retail. I arrived not really knowing what  to expect. At the site at 1750 I was handed a torch and a jacket. I was then left there watching 3 construction vehicles for the next 14 hours.
It was November and the temperature was below zero and sleet was falling. I was left with no toilet, no shelter and no contact with the outside world. I asked what my job was and was told I was to ensure nobody stole the machinery. That was 17 years ago. Before the Safety, Health and Welfare in the Workplace Act 2005, before the General Applications of 2007 and before the PSA standards. I would have hoped that following all of those things that things would have changed dramatically. In many cases this is correct but unfortunately it still seems that there are some cases where this isn’t the case.

What’s the Law?

The Safety, Health and Welfare in the Workplace Act 2005 (part 2 Section 8)  covers the general duties of employers in relation to staff welfare. It says that an employer is responsible for  “providing and maintaining facilities and arrangements for the welfare of his or her employees at work”.
That’s pretty vague and isn’t much help to employers or employees in determining what they are required to do. So there’s also the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007. Contained within this is the detailed outline of what employers have to provide in relation to welfare facilities. You can look at the whole document here but the main sections which deal with welfare are 18-23.
Some of the main point include:
  • There must be shelter. Even at outdoor work stations the employer must ‘provide’ shelter from the weather.
  • In the rest area there must be seating which is ergonomically designed and assessed. (not a car seat)
  • There must be ample room to walk around in the rest area.
  • The employer must provide a means to heat food and eat that food in a comfortable environment.
  • There has to be a toilet facility on site
  • The employer must provide a source of potable water.
  • The employer must provide heating
  • There must be first aid equipment provided by the employer
  • A suitable means of communication must be provided throughout the shift.

These are not just health and safety requirements they are basic human rights in some cases.

Does  an employees car meet these requirements?

The answer to this from reading the above should be pretty obvious but to be sure I decided to contact some statutory bodies and ask the question. I got in touch  with the Health and Safety Authority, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Motor Insurers Bureau. The first one is obvious but why the other two?

The WRC issue and regulate the security industry ERO. Section 2(5) of the ERO talks about staff welfare. It says ;

“Security firms will provide, or make arrangements with clients to provide, appropriate facilities and protection to ensure the safety, health and welfare of their workers at their place of employment. Such facilities/protection shall include: protective clothing, shelter, toilet, heat, light and access to canteens or means to heat/cook food, communication equipment and first aid. The employer shall
also ensure adequate monitoring procedures to ensure the safety and security of workers”.

If a company is not providing these then they are in breach of the ERO.

The contact with the insurers was based around the employees own liability. I wanted to ask the question about the status of an employees motor insurance  if they are using their own vehicle as a welfare area.

The answers I received (or indeed didn’t receive) from each body are below.

Health and Safety Authority

I made a phone call to the workplace contact unit in the HSA they were very helpful. Their answer was that sitting in a car overnight would not meet the criteria in the regulations. They also said that while they cannot investigate this issue as whole if there were specific instances reported to them they would certainly form the basis of an investigation.

I followed this up with an email to the HSA. They replied within a week and referred me to document which relates to safety in the security industry. I’ve linked the document here. The HSA admit that it is outdated but it is still relevant.  The blue box at the bottom of page two supports what they told me verbally in that all of the listed (above) welfare facilities have to be supplied by the employer and not the employee.

Workplace Relations

I contacted the WRC via email asking if the failure to supply welfare facilities would be a breach of the ERO and may result in compensation to workers. Thus far they have failed to supply an answer in writing so I called them. On the phone they could not comment on individual cases but said that any breach of the ERO can be reported for investigation. They did say though that the employer is ultimately responsible for providing welfare facilities to workers and if this isn’t happening them it would be a breach of the ERO.

Insurance

The motor insurers bureau didn’t reply to my email either so I called a number of insurance companies directly. All of them without hesitation responded in the same way. Private motor insurance  policies cover you and your vehicle for social and domestic use. it covers you to drive to and from work. It does not cover the vehicle or you for use as a work vehicle. If you are using your private vehicle for work purposes or purposes other than social or domestic use then your insurance will not cover any loss or damage caused to it.

Some companies said you can pay extra to get business use or occasional business use cover but this still wouldn’t cover using the vehicle as a welfare facility. This also applies to commercial policies for patrol vans. They are insured as a vehicle and not a welfare facility.

Stop the practice

It amazes me that this practice still exists. It should be stopped immediately. Not because its illegal (event though that’s a pretty good reason) but because its wrong and its immoral. It is a breach of an employers duty of care to their workers and its exploitation of the worker.

If there is any employer out there who disagrees with me on this point I’m happy to have a debate with you an any forum you wish but I really doubt I’ll get anybody to accept. The argument that a company can’t afford to put welfare facilities in place doesn’t count. If you can’t run a company safely for your staff then don’t run a company. Putting security operatives health and welfare at risk for a profit is indefensible.

Employees

If you are one of the people who is employed to  sit in your own vehicle then  read this article carefully. There are so many avenues you can go down to rectify the situation. Somebody is sitting in a nice warm office making a profit from your condition. Of course the excuse will be that if you don’t do it then somebody else will. That is correct as long as there are people willing to accept it then the practice will continue. Talk to your employer and ask for your welfare arrangements. If they refuse then you know exactly where you stand.

Summary

Like I said above these items  are not luxuries. The fact that we have an industry where the provision of shelter and a toilet are a luxury tells a sad story. They are legal requirements and in some cases human rights. They are not overly expensive to provide. Many well ran companies out there have invested heavily in them and support their staff very well. The minority however continue to overshadow them. They can undercut the well run companies by not investing in staff safety. This holds the entire industry back as the poorly run companies sit back and make a profit from a person sitting in their own car and the good ones struggle to get business. How long it continues is up to us as an industry.

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