Keeping Your Employees Safe at Work
“Keeping Your Employees Safe at Work”
As an entrepreneur, one of your priorities should be ensuring the safety of your employees. Read these tips for creating a more secure and potentially more productive work environment.
You create a win-win situation when you make an effort to protect employees. It shows that you care about them as human beings, not just worker bees. They feel safer and more secure at work, thus removing distractions that can undermine their productivity.
You may also have a legal obligation to safeguard employees from harm. By taking steps such as installing brighter lighting in your parking lot or providing training on emergency evacuation procedures, you can prove you are proactive about security.
Some entrepreneurs assume that upgrading employee security eats up money while making workers needlessly afraid. Yet investing in simple tools can prove cost-effective. Issuing photo ID badges to employees or coded key cards for building access doesn’t cost much over the long term and, if enforced, can help keep everyone safe.
This Quick-Read focuses on safety from outside threats. The Quick-Read "Avoiding Workplace Violence" prescribes ways to keep employees safe from dangerous co-workers.
In this Quick-Read you will find:
- Steps to take to improve employee security.
- Factors to weigh before hiring a private security firm.
- Ways to educate your employees about safety issues.
Your employees expect you to provide a safe, non-threatening work environment. Threats, violence and unsafe working conditions lower both productivity and morale. You can delegate some aspects of workplace security, but you must oversee the process to ensure everyone treats it seriously. By raising awareness and reinforcing the need for vigilance, you send the message that safety matters.
Employee security requires two steps:
- Risk assessment. Before you can improve your employees’ safety, you must identify how it might be compromised. Conducting a safety audit helps.
Create a checklist to analyze potential perils. Include sections on risks posed by both criminal attackers (including disturbed former or current employees, customers and the general public) and emergencies that may require evacuation (such as those caused by a fire, chemical leak or natural disaster). Also consider field employees whose work takes them into clients’ homes or high-crime areas.
Examples of safety audit questions:
- Concerning criminal assault: Is the parking lot attended or otherwise secure? Is the perimeter of your building free of bushes or other hiding places? How many places can people enter your building, and are all entrances secure? Do workers have late-night shifts?
- Concerning emergency situations: Do employees know escape routes? Are they trained on how to evacuate? Are exits clearly marked and kept free of obstacles? Do workers use hazardous materials?
- Prevention strategies. The audit can help you train employees to be more security-conscious. If your building has many points of entry, for instance, you can designate certain doors for employees to use and teach them to note suspicious activity. Consider having a sign-in sheet, ID tags and employee escorts for visitors. You can also install a security system or surveillance cameras.
Installing security cameras makes sense if your premises include many buildings or remote sites and if workers often walk alone at night in unsecured areas. Cameras are especially useful in garages, lobbies, loading bays or other high-risk areas.
Have an official response plan in place for safety issues, and institute a crisis management team. Train employees on all safety and security procedures, and make updates and changes to the plans as needed. Make sure first aid information, building escape routes and emergency numbers are posted in common areas, and perform regular inspections of company equipment and vehicles.
Guns are a major factor in workplace violence. In most states, carrying a concealed weapon is now legal in some situations. Employers should have a written weapons policy dealing with guns in or around company property and vehicles.
Whether to Hire Private Security
If you are considering hiring security guards, evaluate whether your employees are at risk of violence. Do they often work alone late at night? Do they handle cash or other valuables? Are your customers or clients often fuming after waiting in long lines? Have layoffs occurred? A security force won’t help much if your employees are usually on the road, as are utility workers or home health assistants. Also consider these factors and assess how they apply to you:
- Employee perception. Workers may appreciate knowing that professional security personnel patrol the premises. They may feel safer and more secure.
- Intimidation. Well-trained guards can dissuade potentially violent individuals from even trying to enter your building, and reduce employee theft.
- Inspection. Attentive guards can help you spot and eliminate breaches in security.
- Cost. A hired security force can be expensive. Other, less expensive security measures include issuing coded access cards, training employees to be more vigilant and creating a Safety Committee — a corporate version of a neighborhood crime watch.
- Complacency. Once you hire a security force, you and your employees may lower your collective guard, act carelessly or take needless risks that jeopardize security.
- Public perception. Customers or other visitors may feel uneasy if uniformed guards greet them.
Before hiring a security force, do these things:
- Check with your local police department to gather crime statistics in your area.
- Survey nearby entrepreneurs to see if they use private security teams, what experiences they’ve had with them and if you can sign on with another company to earn a group discount from the security firm.
- Interview at least three security firms to compare the cost and level of service each proposes.
- Ask your insurer if hiring security guards and/or installing video cameras will lower your premiums.
Finally, teach your employees how to respond to threats of violence. Write a policy that defines unacceptable behaviors and includes a forum for dispute resolution so that conflicts don’t fester. One possibility is to enlist a local mediation center — or nonprofit group that provides support to victims of domestic violence — to be "on call" for your employees.
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]
For Bonnie Michelman, security director at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the key to keeping employees safe is to be proactive. Rather than wait for problems to occur, she regularly initiates risk assessments of particular areas within the organization. For example, she recently reviewed security at shipping and receiving, where valuable goods change hands at all hours.
Michelman also sent employees to a "Management of Aggressive Behavior" seminar, which taught them how to handle irate or threatening individuals effectively.
To help employees who are victims of stalking or domestic violence, Michelman offers them a range of services. These include arranging for escorts to accompany them to and from work, joining forces with the local police and even going to
court to help an employee get a restraining order.
DO IT [top]
- Equip traveling employees, especially those who enter clients’ homes (such as salespeople, nurses, social workers), with cell phones. Don’t assume clients will have working phones or will allow your employees to use them.
- Ask traveling employees to submit a daily schedule to a designated co-worker. If they’re going to visit three clients a day, for instance, they should report in advance where they’re going and when they expect to arrive and depart each place.
- Check state law to see if it restricts company surveillance of workers. In some states "unreasonable intrusion" upon one’s "seclusion" can trigger an invasion-of-privacy claim.
- If you’re going to use video cameras to monitor your employees, get their written consent first. This is especially important if you install cameras in public places, such as rest rooms or the lobby.
- Ask your insurance company to arrange a free visit by a professional risk manager. Most insurers will send experts to tour your building and help you spot and correct workplace hazards or security problems.
- Contact your local police department’s "crime prevention" officer to set up an employee-education workshop.
Violence on the Job by Gene Darling, editor (Labor Occupational Health Program, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of California, Berkeley, 1997).
Risk Analysis and the Security Survey, 2nd edition, by James F. Broder (Butterworth Heinemann, 1999). There are useful checklists of options and actions in Chapter 2, "Vulnerability and Threat Identification;" Chapter 14, "Response Planning;" and Appendix A, "Security Survey Worksheets."
White Paper on violence in the workplace. Guardian Security Services.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, (800) 356-4674
New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) provides a list of "COSH" groups in the United States, (212) 627-3900.
Writer: Morey Stettner