Security and fire safety are very much at the forefront of the public consciousness in 2018. Questions are now being asked more frequently than ever before as to how people, properties and assets can be best protected. All purchasers, from domestic to commercial and community environments, must be confident that companies delivering security and fire safety services are working to the highest standards. Richard Jenkins focuses on the key detail.
In response to this changing security landscape, a number of useful guidance documents have been developed. These help to provide a Best Practice framework for how society as a whole (the security services, the community and private security companies) can work together to combat the threats we all face. A good example is the National Counter-Terrorism Security Office’s publication from 2016 outlining options for the private sector to enhance security at times of raised threat levels (www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/575923/National_Stakeholder_Menu_of_Tactical_Options.pdf).
Another such initiative is the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s scheme designed to help those organisations operating CCTV systems in public places to work within guiding principles. These principles provide a framework for operators and end users of surveillance camera systems facilitating a proportionality and transparency in their use of surveillance. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner has launched an easy-to-follow guide for non-experts who are thinking about buying a surveillance camera system referencing the value of services provided by approved companies (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/surveillance-camera-commissioners-buyers-toolkit).
Although important in terms of raising awareness and galvanising a broader audience, the guidance typified by these publications cannot be considered in any way a standard. Establishing professionalism across the sector requires a set of recognised standards to serve as a benchmark for working practices.
In the case of the security and fire sectors, there are recognised standards in place governing the installation and management of intruder and hold-up alarms, fire safety systems, CCTV systems and access control solutions in addition to Alarm Receiving Centres, key holding and security guarding services. In fact, the full gamut of security services has specific standards to which operational practices can be audited.
The need for defining and agreeing on those standards with experts is coupled with input from certification bodies such as the National Security Inspectorate (NSI). The NSI plays an important role in determining if the application of a standard can be tested and audited for compliance.
Why choose an approved contractor?
Independently assessed organisations hold certifications (ie approvals), in turn providing consumers with a means of checking competence. In a demand-driven market, consumers will ask for proof of competence as part of their selection criteria, forcing suppliers to meet the required standards.
The main reason for choosing an organisation holding approvals is the confidence of knowing that such organisations have been audited by an independent third party certification body and found to be compliant.
There are several aspects consumers (ie end users) should consider as part of the supplier selection process:
(1) The independent body that has undertaken the audit should hold a United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accreditation. This demonstrates competence, impartiality and performance capability. In short, UKAS ‘checks the checkers’ with a rigorous audit. The organisation is issued with a UKAS logo which is openly displayed. You can learn more about UKAS’ activities here www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBQV2A-M45c).
(2) Approval of an organisation by an independent body is a much stronger endorsement of competence than self-certification. This is because, in order to maintain approval, the organisation is subject to ongoing annual audits. Improvement notices form part of the output from the audit where an auditor has identified certain processes, training or customer service procedures requiring a different approach in order to be considered compliant. These are subject to root cause analysis and effective corrective action, generating a cycle of continuous improvement that would be difficult to maintain without an independent audit.
(3) It’s vital for anyone selecting a supplier to ensure the organisation they select holds the relevant approval in relation to the services that are to be procured. For example, the competencies required to install an alarm system are very different to those for event stewarding. If there’s any doubt as to the validity of the approval then this is easily checked with the certification body itself.
(4) In regards to the ‘people’-related services such as key holding or close protection, for example, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence checks for criminal records, evidence of training and competence. The SIA licence is one part of the requirement that certification may place on a security services business.
Approval for guarding services: the criteria
To become NSI Guarding Gold or Silver approved requires a company to undergo and pass a twice-yearly, independent and expert compliance audit against the relevant British Standards and, in the case of NSI Guarding Gold, the NSI Quality Schedule.
Audits are tailored according to the specific services for approval and may include security guarding, key holding, canine services, door supervision, close protection and CCTV operations. The audit includes an in-depth assessment of front line services, management systems, support infrastructure, staff welfare and benefits and people development. The auditor spends time at the security company’s head office and other administrative centres, as well as visiting customer sites and interviewing on-site security officers.
The NSI’s in-house team of highly trained auditors review a range of Best Practice criteria such as:
*Security screening of every employee covering the right to work in the UK. This manages risk to the host business and protects its clients
*Compliance with British Standards and International Standards that prescribe key benchmarks ensuring the integrity of client-supplier relationships. These benchmarks include excellence in guarding service delivery, staff training, Health and Safety practices, contract management and customer services
*Compliance with the NSI quality schedule
NSI Guarding approval is only awarded to those companies complying with, not merely considering, the relevant British Standards and, in the case of NSI Guarding Gold, the NSI Quality Schedule.
Once approved, NSI Guarding Gold or Silver can be a passport to the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), a combined assessment covering both NSI Guarding approval and the ACS. There are currently 87 indicators in the ACS workbook of which 49 are directly cross-referenced as common criteria to ACS and NSI Guarding approval. NSI auditors cover these together, thereby reducing the length of the audit should the two schemes be assessed independently of one another. There is typically a saving of 25% in audit duration depending on circumstances specific to the individual company.
Food for thought
The standards for security and fire services themselves are of course important, but increasingly what has a further impact is the corporate (with a small ‘c’) management framework (ie how the business itself is managed). This includes quality management, environmental management and Health and Safety systems which are also subject to standards (ISO 9001 for Quality Management Systems being probably the most commonly recognised). Working to these standards plays a critical part in raising the levels of professionalism in the security sector.
The NSI has long realised the importance of joining-up the assessment of the management system alongside the technical standards. This has a significant benefit to the approved company, not only because the business is assessed as part of a single audit, but more importantly the improvement notices and context are grounded in the company’s core business activity.
Formally recognised standards are a way of raising the levels of professionalism, but must be effectively implemented. Ongoing verification of compliance through independent, competent auditing and assessment ensures that service providers can quickly demonstrate their professionalism to both clients and the community at large.
Richard Jenkins is CEO of the National Security Inspectorate