By Dr Tony Zalewski
According to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 700,000 Australian employees suffer some sort of work-related injury or illness each year. Some work is inherently more hazardous than others, including the various roles performed by operational security staff across high-risk sectors and within public-facing environments.
It is not uncommon for security services to be provided to government departments through a contract security firm; in fact it has become the norm in most government settings. The process is usually formalised through a contract for security services where, amongst other things, safety of staff and the protection of workplace assets is a key responsibility for the contracted security provider.
In addition to any formal agreement between the parties and express conditions regarding safety, it is also implied in a contract of employment that security providers take reasonable care for the safety of their employees. There are many resources available to assist providers in minimising risks associated with the safety of staff and others in and around a workplace; this article will discuss some of those resources and methods for minimising risk.
Responsibilities for Workplace Safety
Government agencies that utilise contract security providers have a non-delegable duty of care to all persons in and around the workplace. In most contracted security environments, the government agency and its security provider work closely to minimise security and safety risks. In addition to a formal risk assessment and risk treatments, employers can further minimise risk by:
- introducing operational safety strategies for staff carrying out work without exposure to unnecessary risk, such as protective ‘zones of control’
- warning staff and others of foreseeable, unusual or possibly unexpected risks that might arise in the workplace
- instructing and further developing staff in the performance of work where instructions might reasonably be thought to minimise the risk of danger and injury
Further to this shared responsibility, contract security providers also owe a duty to take reasonable care for their staff.
Taking Reasonable Care
An employer’s duty to take reasonable care to avoid a foreseeable risk of injury is well-known. In determining the potential for liability, it is usually enough if the circumstances reveal injury to an employee was a possibility that would have occurred to a reasonable employer. This includes matters such as inattention or misjudgement in common work functions by an employee, hence the importance of appropriate induction, training, supervision and protocols.
Reasonable care is not a guarantee of safety and some Australian cases have emphasised the need for employees to take personal responsibility.
Australian Standard for Guard and Patrol Services
The Australian Standard AS4421:2011 Guard and Patrol Security Services has been adopted by regulators and the security industry as an appropriate guide to minimum operating standards for providers of security services. The standard reinforces concepts of taking reasonable care including, amongst other things:
- Unless declined by the client, a protective risk review of the client’s premises be conducted by a competent person who highlights the various strengths and weaknesses of the system and what has to be done to provide reasonable protection (Section 2.6.1).
- Where site risks are identified, records shall be kept and communicated to security officers at the time of despatch or deployed to site (Section 2.6.2).
- A clear written contract or agreement between the parties (Section 2.7).
- The company (security firm) shall formulate assignment instructions for the effective security of the site, dealing with emergency procedures, lines of communication and accountability. The assignment instructions should be agreed between the parties (Section 2.8).
Most providers of security services align closely with the standard and in many cases exceed the minimum requirements by introducing additional services such as regular meetings about operating performance, debriefing after incidents, system reviews to enhance the system of work and data analysis relating to operational performance. Although alignment with the standard is optional, it is common industry practice for security providers to adopt the recommended practices as outlined within the standard. This approach minimises risk and provides some evidence that a reasonable approach to care has been taken by the employer.
Resources that Assist to Enhance Safety
There is a plethora of information freely available to assist employers in enhancing workplace safety, including online advice by safe work regulators. For example, Safe Work Australia has a number of resources on risk minimisation in the workplace. The NSW WorkCover publications Occupational Health and Safety in Hospitality (2003) and the guide Violence in the Workplace (2002) assist employers in understanding risk issues for particular sectors or work functions. Other states and territories also have similar publications, with additional guidance through Australian standards such as AS/NZS 4801:2001 OH&S Management Systems.
Typically, employers who adopt various methodology and recommendations in relevant guides to minimise risk in the development of their formal (documented) security/safety systems minimise a broad range of operational risks.
Problems arise for employers when they do not adopt appropriate practices, align with standards and guidelines or do not regularly review their safe work system. Problems that are typical when there have been incidents involving alleged safety breaches include:
- an absence of or a deficient safety policy, plan or procedures
- poor workplace supervision
- no additional professional development training to progress the safety culture or competence of workers
- failure to adjust the system of work from other incidents or near misses
- poor, deficient or dated risk assessments
Workplace safety programs need to be carefully thought through. They must be developed or further contextualised in consideration of the operational work environment.
Various standards and guidance materials, including AS/NZS 4801:2001 OH&S Management Systems and AS4421:2011 Guard and Patrol Security Services, should be reviewed to assist employers to adopt and operationalise a system that is evidence of a reasonable standard of care.
Security industry employers should work with their clients to develop a system of work that aligns with industry best practice. Addressed correctly, such practices will meet the safety needs of employers, employees and others in and around various workplaces. It will also ensure a more productive and profitable operation.
For over 20 years Dr Tony Zalewski has provided expert security reports to courts in all Australian jurisdictions. He has four degrees, including a law degree, from Australian universities and has worked on over 500 cases, including some of Australia’s leading security-related civil actions. He also provides advice about security across industry sectors and is a security adviser to governments locally and abroad.