Re-evaluating your workplace: Is it safe and secure?

Since North Americans spend the majority of their time at work, feeling safe is of great importance. But personal safety initiatives can often be pushed aside because people are wrapped up in the many demands of their jobs. This was all put into perspective on Sept. 11, and security experts say workplaces worldwide are now much more concerned about the safety of their people.

“It’s affected us all in terms of our workplace security concerns. Some people are more concerned than others. We’ve just intensified some of the things we know we should be doing,” says Ken Owens, director of corporate services at Saskatchewan Resource Counsel.

Owens, who is also a member of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), says the concern for security goes beyond terrorism and bomb fears, people are worried about disaster preparedness, recovery initiatives and on a smaller scale cases of intrusion, workplace violence, personal theft and threat.

As a result, employers are reassessing security policies, procedures and the technology used to safeguard workplaces.

Barbara Nadel, principal of New-York based Barbara Nadel Architect, a firm specializing in designing institutional facilities, says there’s always the potential for something to happen, you’ve got to be ready for it.

“All it takes is one or two incidents and people wake up,” she says. “The first thing you need to consider is threat. Make an assessment of what the needs and the threats are in the environment.”

It’s also helpful to go straight to the source and ask your employees what they think, says Owens.

“Ask employees what concerns they have in terms of security. Include it in the routine employee survey. Ask them, ‘What makes you feel safe and unsafe? What can we do to alleviate those concerns?’”

While every facility has its own unique needs, there are a number of basic factors employers should consider.

Site planning

Consider the area you’re in to determine the kind of security you’ll need, says Nadel. If you’re in an area that’s known for it’s high-crime rate, consider implementing greater security measures.

“It may be worth calling your law enforcement office to get some crime statistics,” says Nadel.

Many employers don’t pay attention to environmental design, but that can help a great deal, she says. Having well-placed and trimmed landscaping is essential.

“Low landscape will help, not hinder security. If it’s kept low a passing security or police car can cruise by and take a look at what’s going on.”

Fencing is also an option, but should only be used if there is a need for high security based on the surrounding area.

Lighting is one of the most significant deterrents to criminal activity. It promotes high visibility and makes people feel more comfortable in lonely and isolated areas. Good lighting and good camera surveillance may cut the costs of hiring security guards for round-the-clock service. These create more visibility and you may only need a security guard for one shift, Nadel says.

“The camera will be recording so if an incident happens, they’ll keep it for 24 hours or more and you can go back and catch it.”

Technology trends

Most work buildings have surveillance camera. Black-and-white monitors provide poor resolution and make it hard to identify suspects, whereas digital cameras have become more common because they have enhanced colour resolution and recording ability. Since everything is recorded digitally, it removes the need for videotape storage. However, there are other safety devices that can be used, especially in times of emergency. Some places have panic buttons connected to a command centre, and voice-activated devices are also available.

In high-traffic, high-risk workplaces, such as airports, employers are considering the use of retina scanners as a main source of identification because of its speed and reliability. Although this technology can be quite expensive, once the device becomes more popular, the price will drop, says Nadel.

Swipe access cards have been achieving widespread popularity because of their security effectiveness, Owens says. That’s one of the best ways to deter intruders.

“Card access to me is the greatest thing since slice bread. There is documentation of who has it, you can phone the administrator and the card can be denied and you can terminate a lost card,” he says.

Another way to monitor the traffic coming into your workplace, especially visitors, is by having a sign-in-and-out procedure, which most offices have, says Charles Claar, IFMA’s vice-president of professional development. The visitor must wear a visitor badge separate from the regular employee badge or card and it must be clearly displayed at all times.

Some workplaces are on the ball when it comes to screening visitors, Nadel says. Several places she’s visited required her to call one week in advance to confirm her name and appointment. Upon her arrival, she had to present photo ID and have the person she was meeting escort her to their office.

Training people

“For a comprehensive security program to be effective, it takes planning, communication and training,” says Owens. What good are swipe cards if they’re not used properly?

If staff are properly trained and follow through on procedures, when they see someone without a badge or card in the building they will ask who they are and where they’re going, and then direct them to the receptionist.

Good training can reduce incidents of workplace violence.

“There was an incident where a violent husband came into a plant looking for his wife, everybody knew him so they let him through and he killed her,” says Nadel. “You can’t force employees to say, ‘Hey, I’m having a problem,’ but how would that man have gotten into the workplace if they had policies in place (that were followed).”

If possible, employers must continuously reinforce security policies, procedures and rules on a monthly basis, she says. Maybe every month send out a memo reminding employees of the security issues.

HR and senior management should review security needs on an ongoing basis, Owens suggests.

Associations like IFMA can be additional sources for information, as can conferences and workshops on the latest trends in security.

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