Margaret Durr, Approval Schemes Manager (Services) at the National Security Inspectorate, provides important updates concerning the Code of Practice covering labour provision of frontline guarding staff. She describes how other Certification Bodies have joined forces to follow NSI’s lead in tackling the hidden risks: for buyers in the security services supply chain; and for professional security officers of worker exploitation.
The guarding staff implications from this winter’s Omicron Covid-19 variant have put significant further pressure on companies providing professional security officers to a variety of clients across the UK.
Increased infection rates amongst security officers and other staff associated with Omicron’s greater transmissibility have exacerbated overall absence rates; this represents a further challenge for those tasked with ensuring safety and contractual obligations to customers are met and maintained.
Such pressures – added to the need to maintain physical distancing when required, check Covid NHS passes for site visitors, and ensure PPE equipment is available and worn properly – have been experienced by staff and organisations managing and monitoring access to a wide range of premises. And all this over and above the routine pressure of the job.
Flexibility and security risk
These factors are all the more significant in the context of the immense flexibility which the market demands of the security sector in managing licensed security officer resources on the front line – a factor that, in the events sector particularly, everyone involved knows only too well.
Flexibility is achieved through two common practices: subcontracting and the use of labour provision (or bought-in labour). When professionally managed they ensure a good quality of service and security standards are maintained.
But when contract management is not up to scratch, labour provision to flex/upscale staffing resources can mean risk is introduced to the safety and security of visitors to venues (the public) through poor integrity in the supply chain, which itself sometimes involves worker exploitation.
Risk can manifest itself in an absence of adequate controls regarding SIA (Security Industry Authority) licensing, security screening to BS 7858, adherence to Working Time Regulations, the paying of minimum wage and checks on identity, right to work and employment status.
It is particularly prevalent in the events sector, where security may unwittingly be compromised by the deployment of untrained, underpaid, unlicensed, non-security screened or worse – terror-motivated individuals.
Overall risk is compounded by less than scrupulous operators undercutting the professional industry with labour rates that strongly suggest immoral and, in some cases, illegal employment practices. Social media posts evidencing this are not hard to find.
Labour provision falls outside the direct scope of ACS (the Security Industry Authority’s Approved Contractor Scheme). It’s also not unknown for some ACS approved companies to operate ‘under the radar’ as labour providers: therein lies a trip-wire – some might say ‘loophole’ – with attendant risk for venue operators.
Over 800 security companies maintain ACS approval granted by the SIA, mindful that ACS signals to buyers a degree of professionalism and competence they can rely on. Yet, as with all approval schemes, the devil is in the detail and while the ACS is robust in its assessment process its reach is limited to Approved Contractors themselves, and not their labour providers directly.
Labour Provision risk and self-employment
One of the biggest challenges guarding companies face in retaining and winning new business is competition from labour providers utilising self-employed staff. Buyers are often unaware when appointed contractors are driven by cost to these providers. Neither main contractors nor buyers can always be certain security labour provided on site at any one time meets basic requirements.
Equally, why would security officers choose self-employment when clearly it can disadvantage them in terms of take-home pay, sick pay, pension, holiday pay and National Insurance contributions? Self-employment is generally not the free choice of the security officer: it is a condition often forced upon them in accepting work.
NSI’s auditing experience indicates some labour providers resort to unsound employment practices, including enforced self-employment, a lack of security screening, and weak SIA licensing and right-to-work checks.
Getting to grips…
Given the scale and significance of these issues, and with support from multiple interested parties concerned with the overarching safety of the public to protect, NSI developed its Code of Practice, NCP 119, for the ‘Provision of Labour in the Security and Events Sector’ (TPSO, Edition 8).
Introduced in April 2020 the Code provides professional security businesses with a tool to manage their labour provision supply chain. It enables them to require suppliers to maintain approval in the discipline of labour provision in the regulated security and events sector. The term ‘labour provision’ used in the Code applies to activities which are described as bought-in-labour, licensed or unlicensed, as well as labour employed and/or supplied by a third party to temporarily supplement the contracting company’s own workforce.
With effect from 1st January 2022 it is now a mandatory requirement for all NSI approved Guarding Gold and Guarding Silver companies to only use labour providers holding NSI approval to NCP 119, or demonstrate they have conducted their own audit of those suppliers as part of their own approval. This shows to buyers that staff welfare and professional standards are maintained, as verified by regular ongoing independent audit and listed on their NSI Certificate of Approval.
Buyers who are serious about protecting the public and rooting out rogue elements in their security provision can ask their security providers to evidence their approval to this Code.
Certification Bodies join forces
Mindful of the need to maximise the benefit industry-wide and in the interest of all security providers and event organisers – and the public attending those venues -– Certification Bodies operating in this sector and appointed by the SIA recently came together to jointly offer the Labour Provision scope of approval to all approved companies operating in the sector.
This means that in addition to NSI the other approval bodies operating in the sector also offer this scope of approval, sharing as they do the view that the widest adoption of this Code by the professional security guarding sector and their labour providers best serves the public in deterring rogue labour deployment.
The three assessing bodies concerned now require all approved companies to use only labour providers approved to the Code of Practice or actively audit them to the requirements of the Code – and evidence it – as part of their own ongoing approval.
Any company operating as a labour provider can apply for approval, to be audited annually against the requirements which include such checks as: PAYE being operated for all staff, National Minimum or Living Wage being paid, holiday pay and pension being provided, Identity and Right to Work checks, screening to BS 7858 and ongoing SIA licensing checks.
Importantly, NSI has also proposed the Code of Practice be adopted by the British Standards Institution in a new industry standard and it’s hoped this will progress during 2022.
Mandatory approval to the Labour Code of Practice will help ensure the integrity of supply chain partners in the security guarding services sector, along with the ability of labour providers to meet statutory and legislative requirements, staff wellbeing, pay rates and relevant environmental, social and governance criteria – all of which reinforce best practice and benefits all parties.
The most recent Omicron variant demonstrates how Covid-19 places additional operational pressure on the security sector. Security officers doing their best, in often trying working environments, with the aim of protecting the public deserve proper support. This is best provided via thorough training and employment terms and conditions which are fit for the purpose of protecting the public.
Organisations wishing to find out more about and apply for approval to the new Code of Practice may contact the NSI Applications team at email@example.com, or similar at ACM-CCAS and SSAIB.
With over 30 years’ security industry experience, Margaret Durr joined NSI in 2008, where she has headed up the organisation’s team of manned services auditors, and is currently its Approvals Scheme Manager (Services).
With roots stemming from the early 1970s, NSI celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021. As the UK’s leading security sector specialist Certification Body with reach in all four nations of the UK, NSI was one of the first organisations to become an assessing body for the Security Industry Authority’s Approved Contractor Scheme. Today we work with companies operating within the Guarding Services sector who wish to differentiate themselves as being amongst the best providers of private security services in the United Kingdom.
Organisation website: www.nsi.org.uk