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Changing Standards

15 July 2006

The NSI's security guarding contractor approval schemes operate at Gold, Silver and Bronze levels. Reliance's Security Group's guards are approved at the highest Gold level

The addition of new regulations for security guards and security operators should drive up standards and clarify the ‘good’ from the ‘bad and ugly’. However, as Julian Stanton explains, the making a choice of security contractor is not as clear as it should be

THE PROGRESS OF SAFETY STANDARDS CONTINUES to be a topical issue. As we demand even higher standards from every field and the security and fire sectors we also look for every opportunity to reduce our costs, with the result that far from seeking out value for money, we are sometimes tempted by the cheapest option. So we choose the cheapest option and pray that nothing goes wrong.

Rarely is it that simple. When the service falls down or our insurer won’t pay up or we even end up being prosecuted for failure to comply with regulations, we cry foul. It would be unfair to say that we are always looking for the cheapest option irrespective of the consequences, but it happens enough to allow the bad to thrive.

Security and fire protection responsibilities provide no exception to this trend. Both are often viewed as a ‘grudge’ purchase and the temptation to keep the cost of such a service to a minimum is often a direction company decision makers opt to choose. The resulting problems can lead to a chorus of complaints and action has to be taken to protect the whole. Sometimes successful action can be achieved by an industry policing itself by creating its own codes of conduct, which suppliers can sign up to and customers can select from. However, government intervention through regulation is sometimes required and both approaches can be seen in the security sector today.

The electronic security sector, embracing technologies such as intruder alarms, CCTV and access control systems, has a strong record of regulating itself to an acceptable level.

For 35 years, the National Security Inspectorate (NSI), through various guises including NACOSS, has been leading voluntary regulation in this area. The need to develop higher standards was a result not only of customer demand, but was also driven by insurance companies seeking to lessen their risk exposure and the Police seeking to reduce false alarms.

Although voluntary regulation has been successful in the electronic sector, it has had less impact in the manned security area. This can probably be attributed to a number of issues including price competition linked to the customer expectation of paying low prices. Insurers have not always been as rigorous in their specification of approved companies in this area - although this is changing. NSI operates voluntary regulation for manned security companies and many have chosen this route.However, there are those who continue to operate outside voluntary regulation, many providing an unacceptable service or operating with criminal intent.

The resulting problems caused by some unregulated companies combined with lobbying from various security and customer-interested organisations including NSI, led to the Government introducing the Private Security Industry Act 2001 (PSIA) with the objective of improving standards in the security industry. The PSIA resulted in the creation of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) under the direction of the Home Office. The SIA has in-turn introduced two initiatives - licensing of security staff and the approved contractor scheme.

Licensing of security staff operating in door supervision and wheel-clamping is in force, and in March 2006, contracted manned security (but critically not in-house) and public space CCTV surveillance was added. Other areas, such as private investigators and security consultants, are likely to follow in the near future. However, licensing has not been without its problems that have arisen from administration issues and delays in the SIA issuing licences. On the 20th March 2006, licences became a legal requirement for manned security staff, but only 36,000 had licences out of an estimated 93,000 applicable security personnel. Two months on, there are only 52,000 with licences and many of the rest could be working illegally. The SIA blame the delay on applicants and their employers for applying late.

The SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) has proved to be much more controversial. Introduced in March 2006 it would, ‘for the first time, provide a universally recognised hallmark of quality for suppliers of private security companies’, by approving manned security companies based on specified criteria. Although it could be argued that the SIA has laudable intentions, it completely ignores the fact the NSI has, for over a decade operated voluntary guarding schemes to a very high standard. The ACS could be argued to be mandatory. It provides a dispensation for ACS approved contractors to operate by allowing a percentage of new security officers (who have applied) to be employed without licences. With the high turnover of security personnel and the necessary fluidity of staff resources, the ACS will be essential for security companies needing to operate flexibly.

The ACS is based on the business improvement ISO9001:2000 Quality Management and the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) models. This scheme also refers to British Standards. ACS applicant companies are assessed by any one of currently eight assessment bodies, including NSI’s parent body Insight Certification Ltd. Approval is based on completion of the SIA’s self-assessment workbook. Companies are re-assessed on an annual basis and have to re-apply for the ACS every three years.

The weakness of the ACS is that its standards are not robust or security-specific enough, and it does not allow for comparison between ‘mediocre’ and ‘excellent’ companies. Although it may result in some companies, who previously failed to meet any level of recognised standards, improving their performance, it could also have an impact at the other end of the scale where companies operating to higher standards, such as those approved through NSI’s guarding schemes, might consider abandoning these to focus solely on the criteria of the ACS. Such a step could be detrimental to the quality of service delivery and would not allow excellent companies to distinguish themselves from the mediocre.

The SIA was created to find a solution to improve standards in the security industry. The ACS focuses heavily on how companies are run as businesses, taking a holistic view of its management. Although any approval needs to examine overall company performance to assess whether the business will perform satisfactorily and reliably, the key emphasis must surely focus on aspects relating to security. Hence, NSI focuses more on the service delivery elements of the business by inspecting to security specific British Standards, as well as providing a rounded view of the business in terms of its ability to perform to expectations. This non-security focus of the ACS is reflected in the nature of the assessment bodies it is using. Only two currently specialise in the security sector of which Insight Certification is one.

Why are NSI’s guarding schemes better? Firstly, NSI require approved companies to comply with the relevant British Standards. These Standards have been developed over many years by expert security and customer consensus. Secondly, NSI structures its approval through three levels, Gold, Silver and Bronze. The premier Gold scheme includes the majority of NSI approved companies and all these must comply with the industry specific ISO 9001:2000 Quality Management System. The Silver scheme provides for newer and smallern companies where ISO 9001:2000 is not appropriate and Bronze is a time-limited entry scheme focusing on encouraging approval at an early stage of a company’s life.

It will take time to see whether the ACS improves or reduces standards, but it will lead to increased costs that are likely to be passed on to customers. However, for customers wishing to differentiate between the best and the average ACS approved companies, need look no further than those displaying the NSI logo as a mark of the highest quality.

European standards Intruder alarm systems, British Standards (BS 4347 etc.) were recently replaced by a UK scheme (known as PD 6662) calling up European Standards (EN 50131/EN 50136). Common with any changes, confusion has arisen in some areas. As a rule, UK insurers are following the guidelines set down by these standards and are specifying that new systems must be installed to an appropriate grade relative to the level of risk. For many commercial property installations, this is Grade 3. Some installers are in some situations, undercutting competitors by recommending Grade 2 systems that are not always suitable for commercial locations (although there may be technical reasons for Grade 2). Customers should always consult with their insurer before the system is installed. This avoids the problem of your insurer declining cover until a Grade 2 system is upgraded to, or replaced by, a Grade 3 system. Be warned – check with your insurer first – it could be a costly mistake!

Fire regulations
Fire is another area currently undergoing regulatory change that has implications for all organisations. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and the Fire Scotland Act 2005 focus on improving fire safety standards in business premises and multi-tenancy domestic dwellings. As a result, the quality of the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire protection systems will be a major consideration of the risk assessment required for every premises. Owners will be required to prove that new and upgraded systems are ‘fit for purpose’ and risk prosecution in the event of system failure. Certification to the BAFE SP203 scheme, provided by third-party certificated companies approved by the likes of NSI through its Fire Gold and Fire Silver approval schemes, provide the authorities and insurers with approved fire companies that they can depend on.
.Julian Stanton is marketing manager at NSI.
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