Self care in a high stress security sector
For this weeks article I want to discuss an area that we can all suffer from but don’t like to admit it. It’s something that has just been accepted as a fact of life in the industry but which has led to more incidents, accidents, job losses and resignations than any other factor I’ve come across. It’s ever present and driven by the environment we work in. We are surrounded by risk factors contributing to its development, actively resisting measures to manage it and we brush off its effects as a bad day, bad week or bad job. In reality we suffer on without realising the impact this hidden issue has on our skills, our mood, our health and our relationships inside and outside of work.
Today we are going to talk about STRESS. Continue reading “Stress in the Security Sector”
Continuing on the theme of dealing with emergency or crisis situations I want to talk in this article about risk assessment. I’m not here to give the standard lecture on how to write a risk assessment and the hierarchy of control and so forth. In fact I’m going to argue in the opposite direction. I’m going to argue that the paper based risk assessment template that we all know and love (sarcasm) is possibly the worst thing to happen to risk management in history. Right now I can see Health and Safety consultants printing and burning this article as blasphemy but I stand by those remarks. The way we teach and train risk assessment in the security industry is all based on that static, unmoving and restrictive piece of paper. Risk in itself is none of those things. It’s fluid and dynamic and constantly evolving and that is the way we should approach it, teach it and manage it.
Personal Security issues outside the workplace
One of the principles of working as a security operative that I have always stood by is the notion that it is just a job. While it’s a profession that I enjoy and am proud of it is not something that is all consuming for me. I have a life outside of work and I like to think that keeping those 2 things separate helps me to be more balanced and a better person in both. The unfortunate reality in modern society is that with the role comes an inherent level of risk that seeps into our personal life. People who we meet in a professional capacity sometimes seek to do us harm at a time and place of their choosing not of ours. These are the low likelihood/high impact risks that generally get missed from a safety statement or risk assessment due to their rarity but they do happen and it is important to recognise that. What this means is that I must take some of the situational awareness I apply to my professional life and apply some common-sense measures in my personal life to keep myself and most importantly my loved one’s safe.
Why does it happen?
Sometimes these incidents happen because We have made a situation personal with a person through error or bad attitude, sometimes We just come across a genuinely bad person with a criminal intent and sometimes We are a victim of circumstance (wrong place, wrong time). These types of situations can never be completely avoided but we can put some sensible controls in place to reduce risk.
Don’t get paranoid
I’m not trying to make you paranoid here and I don’t want people to become worried to the point where we are ineffective in our work or personal lives due to worry. But it’s sensible to think this through and come up with some strategies. We also don’t want to worry our loved ones (a friend once mentioned to me that if he told his wife half of the incidents he dealt with at work she would have made him change job) but I also think it’s sensible to talk through the what if situations with the important people in your life. What if a person begins to shout at me in the street? What if a person knocks at the front door asking if I live there? What if you somebody asks about my work in the local shop or bar? We can’t expect our loved ones to do the right thing if we don’t explain to them what the right thing is.
Bad things happen in bad places
In the book ‘Dead or Alive‘ by Geoff Thompson (highly recommended) he talks about the very simple concept of bad things happening to good people who go to bad places. The solution is easy; don’t go to bad places. Don’t bring your partner to dodgy bars, don’t bring your kids to dodgy playgrounds. The civil liberty heroes and tough guys will probably argue that we have a right to eat, drink or play wherever we want and they are right. But having the right to do something and being situationally aware enough to know not to are two different things. It’s a simple concept really.
The online arena
Take a read of this article here (don’t forget to come back to finish this article)
We all take our personal safety seriously while we are at work but how many of us leave ourselves vulnerable through our social media profiles.
The security officer in this case found out just how simple it is for criminals to track and target security professionals via social media. Thankfully in this instance nobody was hurt and the perpetrator was dealt with in court.
The physical/online divide
On my security training courses, I regularly discuss personal safety and the uses and risks of social media. My general advice for security professionals when using social media:
1. Adjust your privacy settings to restrict access to your photographs and personal information.
2. Don’t accepts strangers as friends, followers or connections on social media.
3. Don’t post photos of your home or place of work on-line.
4. Restrict public access to photographs of your family and friends on-line.
5. Report and block on-line abuse and threats.
6.Treat all instances of on-line abuse, threats or malicious posts as real.
7. Periodically review your friends and connections and remove those who you no longer wish to keep in contact with.
Social media can be a fantastic tool and asset for security professionals but we should never forget that it can also pose a very real risk to us and should be managed like any other safety concern. The line between online and physical is not as wide as we may like to believe.
I spotted a person walking down a city street about two years ago. Now in my old age my memory is fading slightly but I vividly remember this guy. He wore a black jacket with SECURITY in large white letters on the back and one the front. He had a matching baseball cap (because matching outfits are stylish) a utility belt and boots. What’s worse is that the guy wasn’t working. He was doing some shopping (maybe on a break) and it certainly wasn’t any company uniform I’ve ever seen. My point is that he was sticking out and in the wrong environment that will attract trouble. What we have is a profession and the true professional ones are the quiet ones. Your uniform represents your professional role but outside of that it isn’t needed. I always advise security operatives to lose the uniform as soon as they finish work regardless of the sector.
Don’t make enemies
I know what you’re thinking here; ‘sometimes this can’t be helped’ and you’re right. But let’s restrict the issue to those that genuinely can’t be helped. I’m talking here about the genuinely nasty individuals that regardless of what you do want to make an enemy of you because of the uniform they exist. They are rare but they exist. I’m talking about avoiding making personal issues with all the rest of the people we deal with. There will be enough trouble which comes your way over the course of a career without looking for trouble. Always remember that you might be able to manage a person while at work but it’s a whole different situation on a Saturday morning playground with the kids.
At the end of the day no job is worth constant worry and stress. Personal security is something we all must be aware of but something we can manage and control. I’m not talking about taking circuitous routes home or running counter surveillance detection (although this may be required on high risk contracts) but taking some sensible precautions. We live in an era of freely available information and we work in a role that values privacy. The two aren’t compatible so we need to take measures that safeguard ourselves, our loved ones and our privacy.
BE SAFE OUT THERE
I have been planning to write this article for a long time and have deferred doing so. The main reason for deferring it was the tragic death of a security operative in County Meath earlier in the year and out of respect for the man’s family and colleagues I felt it inappropriate to write on the subject at the time.
The theme of this argument is not going to be lone working procedures in the security industry. It is about the principles of working alone in various parts in the security industry. I say various parts because I would like to look at working alone from both the security guarding and door supervisor perspectives. I separate the 2 sectors because I firmly believe that security operatives can operate safely with the assistance of technology in one and it is fundamentally unsafe to operate alone in the other.
Lone working vs working alone
I’m going to get this out of the way from the start. Legally there is a difference between lone working and working alone. Lone working involves being the only person in a given location such as a closed industrial complex or construction site. Working alone refers to being the only security operative on a site but there are other people there in an employed capacity. This may be a single security operative in a retail shop or a single door supervisor on a door. If we look at the risks involved then there is certainly an increased risk of injury from falls, illness etc. as a lone worker. However there are also huge risks associated with working alone in the security industry. The primary concerns I’ll address here are around violence and injury. While there are a large amount of legal precautions in place for lone working there are much less legal protections in place for those working alone. Businesses who employ lone security employees will point to the fact that there are other staff members and members of the public which reduces the level of risk. In theory this is correct but if we look at reality it often isn’t. Open up YouTube and search “security attacked”. You will see hundreds of videos in there to choose from. The common theme you will see among all of these videos is the amount of bystanders who will simply stand back and watch while a member of the security profession is attacked. This of course includes the person who thinks that the best use of his/her mobile phone at this point is to video the incident for later uploading to YouTube.
When we talk about the reality of these incidents the righteous among us will undoubtedly begin to shout. Comments like “the company should have done more” or ” he should have refused to work alone” are frequently thrown out there. These comments have a certain amount of merit to them and in theory I agree with them. There is a need for companies to step up to the plate and make more effort to ensure the safety of employees and there is also a role for regulatory bodies in ensuring that companies do take these steps. However, I’m not talking about theory here. I’m discussing reality and the reality is that there will come a time in your career where you are working alone and you face a risk of violence. It is here where I don’t believe that you can have an attitude of “the company should do more”. This isn’t going to help you in the heat of the moment and you can never abdicate responsibility for your safety to some policy or procedure. The reality is that it is up to you as an individual to protect yourself and that’s what I would like to look at next.
As I mentioned above I believe that it is important to separate the security guarding (static, retail and commercial) and door security. My opinion from working alone in both sectors is that solid policies and procedures combined with a thorough risk assessment and sufficient equipment can reduce the risk in a static guarding environment to an acceptable level. Door security however is a different story. I don’t believe that working alone on a door is an acceptable level of risk in any venue. I don’t believe in it or endorse it and I hope to see a day where regulation makes it a thing of the past. Some people will argue that this will hurt smaller venues financially and even impact on the perception of a venue both of which are potentially true. I am looking at this from a safety perspective and I don’t see this situation as safe. As far as I am concerned if a venue is deemed busy enough or risky enough to require one door supervisor then it is certainly busy enough to have two.
The supporting facts
Let’s take a moment to look at the role of a door supervisor and the facts that support my suggestion that working alone is not a safe scenario. Let’s take a very simple situation such as removing a patron. For a single door supervisor without support to remove a non-compliant or aggressive patron will require some form of physical intervention. These one v one situations mean that at the very basic level the door supervisor has a 50/50 chance of success. Add in the fact that people vary rarely socialise in licenced premises alone then even having a 50/50 chance is rare.
The door supervisor then must apply and maintain single person restraint in order to control the patron and remove them. This can most certainly be done but it greatly increases the risk to both the patron and the door supervisor. There is vast research out there which tells us that single person restraints are to be avoided and most reputable physical intervention systems don’t teach them anymore. They require substantially more force and pain to be applied to be effective.
Once the door supervisor has applied the restraint we now have a manual handling situation where a load (the patron) needs to be transported a distance to a specified destination. There are all sorts of manual handling regulations and guidelines around this type of task. These include the risk assessment of every foreseeable manual handling task and control measures such as additional support put in place to reduce the risk. It also states that where the weight of a load exceeds the safe lifting guidelines (25kg for a male) for a single person then support should be made available. How many aggressive patrons do you know that weigh less than 25kg?
So, from both a moral and a safety point of view the theory tells us we should always try to have more than one person present. The reality however is that cost, perception and sometimes negligence mean that we will end up working on our own and we need to keep ourselves safer.
I used the word “safer” in the paragraph above and not the word safe. This is because you are never safe when working as a door supervisor but you can make yourself slightly safer by being sensible. We can take steps to reduce risk in some small ways to improve your chances of staying safe while working alone as a door supervisor or even as a retail or static security guard.
- Be honest with yourself- Not everybody has the experience, the ability or the desire to work on their own. If you don’t then be honest with yourself and your employer and tell them. It’s not a poor reflection and it makes more sense than doing the job poorly and getting yourself hurt.
- Have a plan – Discuss in advance with Bar Managers, shop manager, owners or anybody that is available what will happen when things go wrong. Spell out exactly what you will do and exactly what you need them to do. That might be jump in and help, keep people back, watch your back or call for help. If they don’t know what to do, they can’t help you. Also, spell out your limitations. Tell them that if a fight starts between 9 people you will the guy keeping innocent bystanders away and calling emergency services not the idiot jumping into the middle.
- Tighten up your access control – Be more selective about who you let in. Especially in a night time environment. It’s a lot easier to keep trouble out than it is to get it back out once its happens inside. At least at the door you have the option to close the large wooden thing and create a barrier.
- Build relationships- Find yourself some friends. This could be the security team in a nearby venue, the bar man or store assistant who plays a bit of rugby or even the local taxi driver sitting on the rank who can call in the cavalry. It’s here that even the relationship with your regulars can be an asset. They may not help but they might call for help.
- Get yourself trained- The better trained you are the more chance you have of avoiding, managing and responding to violence. I’m not just talking about the physical stuff here (although it’s a big part of it). Having good deterrence strategies, good verbal skills and a good physical skillset is your last line of defence if you do find yourself alone in a violent encounter.
If you haven’t figured it out by now I’m not a big fan of working alone in the security industry. There are very few positives to the situation (aside from not listening to irritating co-workers) and lots of negatives. I have been silly enough to work alone in places I shouldn’t have agreed to over the years and it always struck me that I got no extra pay at the end of the day whether I was on my own or with some support. This article has been part rant about working alone and part safety tips about the precautions you can take if you do find yourself doing it. Now that it’s over I leave you with my final piece of advice.
If you do find yourself working alone regardless of the sector (door, retail or static) recognise the risks you are at and plan for it. Don’t ever get complacent and don’t ever take unnecessary risks with your safety. The wages remain the same.