Security alert Site security firms may look alike, but there can be huge differences between how much they can do and how much trouble they can land you in. So, here’s a consumer’s guide

With profit margins being whittled away and companies having a duty to maximise profits for their shareholders, the use of manned guarding services in the industry is often seen as a “grudge purchase”, an unwelcome addition to costs. It is perhaps understandable that many clients will seek to purchase security at lowest cost, without thinking of the impact on quality of service provision.

Buying guarding services can be a complex issue. A decent company will offer good point-of-sale rhetoric about its staff training programme, its high-quality personnel and equipment. And as they will all probably be on the Security Industry Authority’s Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), with their staff (hopefully) possessing the mandatory licences in accordance with the Private Security Industry Act 2001, which do you go for?

Areas to look at when choosing a provider should include membership of trade bodies such as the British Security Industry Association, or additional accreditations such as the National Security Inspectorate’s gold standard. Evidence of how the company operates needs to be obtained: you should ask about salary levels, the benefits offered to staff, welfare considerations, staff turnover rates, if there is a 24-hour manned control room, and whether the company possesses adequate insurance cover.

With the playing field levelled by legislation, purchasers increasingly feel they have little option but to opt for the cheapest bid, and ask suppliers to provide free services as “added value”. This should not simply mean using security staff to deliver post, make coffee, sweep the floor, water the plants or wash the managing director’s car. Added value is the ability of the provider to offer specialist services, if required, such as writing site security plans, giving advice on the selection and installation of security equipment, assisting with traffic management planning or conducting background checks on new employees or prospective trading partners.

Reputable companies should be able to provide tangible evidence of their ability to provide suitable staff with experience in the construction industry – a building site has inherent risks far removed from those in the retail sector. Too often security personnel are required to manage site functions, such as vehicle or pedestrian movements, and do not have the management support, skills or credibility to do the job. Purchasers of services therefore need to ensure that contracted security personnel are adequately trained to cover site specific requirements.

Security personnel are the public face of the main contractor interacting with the public, employees, subcontractors and the authorities, even though they are an outsourced provider. A professional security team should be an integral part of the site management team – good communication is essential to ensure that all parties are aware of changes in process or procedure and can make the necessary amendments to standard operating procedures.

Of particular concern is the use of security staff who hold a door supervisor’s licence. Their training in no way reflects the requirements for site security personnel.

Security personnel are increasingly used for assignments that are far in excess of their training. Mandatory SIA training merely covers the basics, so specific onsite induction courses for security personnel must not be seen as optional. Ensure security personnel in general are in possession of a valid CSCS card and have undergone first aid training, while managers should undergo site management safety training and be familiar with the contents of the publication, Construction Site Safety GE 700.

Of particular concern is the use of security staff who hold a door supervisor’s licence. Although legally entitled to work as a security officer, their training in no way reflects the requirements for site security personnel and, in the event of an incident, this may leave companies open to litigation.

It is advisable that, from the outset, both parties agree on service level agreements and key performance indicators for the duration of the contract, linked to financial incentives or penalties. These might cover the number of supervisor visits to site, the level of customer complaints, deployment hours, how many searches are conducted, or how many patrols are undertaken, and so on.

Traditionally, the security sector is poor at demonstrating, in monetary terms, the value of its services to clients; it is therefore the security industry’s role to educate clients as to the value that quality security services can provide. There is definitely a price to pay for selecting the cheapest provider – and most certainly, you get what you pay for.

Gavin McCormick, special projects manager, Linx International