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Raising The Bar

by msecadm4921

Raising the bar beyond BS 7858 – the British Standard for screening security personnel – is the call by Terry O’Neil of guarding audit body The Security Watchdog.

We live in a dangerous world where terrorism can strike, without any warning, at any time or at any place. We work in a manned guarding industry, which, on the surface, provides comfort and security to any end-user who cares to use its services, and yet can we really be certain of the integrity of the staff we employ? The make-up of the contract manned guarding industry is fraught with danger. In essence, we employ an individual after a three-day basic induction training course and, having only undergone a five-year telephone screening check, then place him or her on a client’s premises to protect, often single-handedly, billions of pounds worth of assets. In reality, we barely know these individuals at all and yet we are prepared to entrust them with huge responsibilities. Are we actually being totally irresponsible?

Embarrassing turnover

The industry protects itself by compliance with the British Standard 7858 (security screening of personnel employed in a security environment) and this incorporates a five-year telephone check, prior to the individual commencing work, and a 10-year comprehensive written check to be completed within 16 weeks of the start of provisional employment. Failure on any aspect of the British Standard should mean that the provisional employment of an individual is immediately terminated. The contract manned guarding industry still suffers from embarrassing levels of staff turnover; little wonder, you might say, given Victorian terms and conditions of employment for its staff. A standard 56 hour week – many work more – low wage rates and an absence of any benefits ensure that work in the manned guarding sector is often a last resort before the dole queue and will then only last until the individual finds alternative employment with much more reasonable terms.

Overrun vetters

It is not surprising that, given such high rates of staff turnover, vetting departments throughout the industry are overrun. Mistakes are often made and individuals slip through the net. How many people currently working in the industry will cut and run when the requirement for licensing becomes mandatory? At the Watchdog we have always been concerned about the practice of inspectorates awarding a certificate of compliance of BS 7858 to a company, based on a minimum random sampling of files. Every individual working in the manned guarding industry is a virtual ‘time bomb’ and every client should insist that individuals working on their assignment have been independently checked against BS 7858. In 2004 nobody can afford to takes such risks lightly.

Second-rate system

The reality is that whilst BS 7858 is better than nothing, it is still demonstrably weak. For too long the industry has ring-fenced itself with a second-rate system. How many individuals in your company start work before the five-year telephone vet is completed? How many files remain incomplete well after 16 weeks and yet the individual is still being employed? How many files never see the light of day when the inspectorates comes visiting – because you know that if they do, it will mean another inspection and extra cost? How many times have you been embarrassed by the files of staff transferred on TUPE from a company itself inspected against BS 7858 failing to meet the requirements of the standard? How many times does a director sign off irresponsibly on a file knowing that he or she could be taking a considerable risk?

Non-UK nationals

Moreover, the surge in the number of non-UK nationals entering the security industry (against a background of decreasing unemployment) has resulted in employment of a high percentage of security officers with extensive working histories abroad. This factor brings its own problems in obtaining a month by month 10-year background check, from the obvious language barriers to restrictions caused by country specific data protection regulations, or indeed, in worst case scenarios, zero response to any references forwarded to the country of origin due to civil war or political unrest.

Risk of getting it wrong

Don’t underestimate the penalties for now getting it wrong. Small companies could well go out of business on the basis of their insurance company rejecting a claim because an individual employee had committed a criminal offence and had not been properly screened against BS 7858. Large companies are likely, at the very least, to be automatically terminated on the specific contract where the offence took place; receive a huge hike in future insurance premiums and to suffer embarrassment by adverse PR in the wider market. So why do insurance companies take a risk on such a flawed system? Is it because there is no alternative?

A ‘nasty’ occurs

Manned guarding companies have relied on being bailed out by their insurers when a ‘nasty’ has occurred; most unlikely in the future, however, as the pot of goodwill has almost certainly run dry.

Unworkable standard

At the Security Watchdog our recent experience of corporate screening – of companies outside the security industry and not hidebound to BS 7858 – has confirmed our view that it’s high time to say goodbye to an unworkable standard and impose one that can give genuine comfort to clients, insurers and, ultimately, suppliers of manned guarding services. We believe that a system based on a criminal record check; a credit check and references from the last two employers (or any over the last three years whichever is the most) will give everyone involved a source of genuine comfort. What was BS7858 designed for? Surely it was to detect any criminality in a background to prevent him/her taking up a job in security. The days are long gone – if they ever existed – when vetting departments examined the quality of the references to determine what position in the company an applicant should take up. With fear of criminality removed, it is right that we should spend quality time on examining the potential of individuals joining the industry – and proper references and qualification checks are the only way to do this – and then place them in appointments appropriate to their skills and ones that carry the proper rewards.

SIA scheme

As an industry we are crying out for credibility and the formation of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), the advent of licensing and the SIA’s Approved Companies Scheme (ACS) give us the platform we have been seeking. It would be madness to take these positives and wrap them in a cloak of negatives from the past. As I mentioned earlier, BS 7858 was better than nothing, but it raised difficulties between companies competing in the same industry – ones that should never have existed. How often have employers been frustrated by their competitors, when trying to screen individuals to the standard? An unwillingness to provide a timely reference – or indeed any at all – has often meant that an individual could not start work with his new employer. Unfortunately no authority has been willing to publicly reprimand such offenders; hopefully the SIA will change all that. Whatever way you care to view it, it’s time to raise the bar beyond BS 7858.

Terry O’Neil adds that he was on the committee of the BSI set to review BS 7858 and would not want the views in this essay to disparage the efforts of that committee which worked on behalf of the industry: “Notwithstanding that, even in the short time the committee since completed its work, the risk to people and property has intensified, such that terrorism now has a very wide agenda. As part of the ‘extended police family’, manned guarding companies need to give confidence to the organisations they serve that the staff they employ do not have a criminal background and are suitable for the job. Quite simply BS 7858 in today’s market cannot guarantee that requirement.”

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