Blog: What about Jack?

Whilst out and about this week I visited a very grand building refurbishment site in the heart of Hampshire. At the entrance to the site, I bumped into an old colleague, who for the sake of this blog I shall refer to as Jack. Jack is a nice man; he has been working in the industry for some time and has a good work ethic. Aside from a brief period working the door, which was not really suited to him, Jack has worked in both retail and static site security for a number of years.

Whilst talking to Jack he told me that he had been engaged directly by the building firm on the site on which he now stood. The security company that previously employed him had been dismissed and, apparently the one before that too, both for regular failures to provide suitable staff. Jack told me that the building company's manger had liked him and they had approached him to work for them directly, but in a self-employed capacity; that was around ten months ago.

Jack continued to tell me how he enjoys the work as it is far out in the countryside away from the rest of the world. He spends most of his time sat in a security hut, on his deck chair watching television. He was even able to enjoy the comforts of wearing a hoodie and sandals instead of a hi-vis and shoes or boots, presumably because there was no security manager to insist that he wore a proper uniform. The only downside being that he has found it hard to take a break as there is no one else to cover his leave. That said though, the money is good so he is enjoying it whilst it lasts.

Initially I had no reason to question Jack's situation, as he seems happy with his circumstances. If the building company liked him and wanted to employ him, what was the problem? Nevertheless, as I drove away I started to think about Jack's situation and I could not help but think that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way he had been recruited on a sel-employed basis.

My first thought was that it was unethical of the building company to engage Jack directly after having contracted his previous employer to supply him. I know from bitter experience that this sort of thing goes on and it is not just unscrupulous building firms that get up to it; I am aware of some much bigger, better-known companies that have used underhand methods to poach staff from their security suppliers. However, that was not the problem. After all, if the security company had not thought to protect themselves in the form of a written contract then more fool them!

My thoughts then turned to the fact that Jack had not had a day off in ages. He had literally worked on that site, sitting in his hut seven days a week for ten months. This really got me thinking - had Jack officially opted out of the Working Time Directive (WTD)? He was working 84 hours a week, nearly double the number of hours than is stipulated under the WTD and he was not even able to take a day off. The WTD is a European Union directive, which was designed to protect employees' health and safety from stress, depression and other illnesses caused by over-working. It states that employees should not have to work more than 48 hours in each week and should have at least one day off after every week worked. Of course, it is possible that Jack had chosen to opt out of the WTD but I doubt that would count for much if he were to have an accident, even if it was whilst driving to or from his place of work.

I then started to think about support. Jack worked alone for most of his time. Apart from the occasional site visitor or passing building company vehicle, Jack was very much a lone worker. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers are obliged to take steps to protect their employees from risk. The risks that most employees might take for granted in workplaces alongside their colleagues can be magnified when it comes to those who work alone. What if Jack was taken ill or simply fell and hurt himself? There would be no one to help him, possibly for several hours. After all the role of a security guard is a risky one as it is. Apart from their other responsibilities, guards are required to protect property from theft, sometimes by people who are prepared to use violence to achieve their objectives. If Jack were attacked by violent thieves, he would have absolutely no support and no one to help him in the immediate aftermath.

Aside from all of this, the Private Security Industry Act 2001 requires that all mangers of frontline security personnel must themselves be licensed. They do not necessarily have to have an SIA badge but they must have at least a non-frontline licence, which has been issued by the SIA. Of course, I do not know for sure, but if I were to guess, I would guess that no one in that building firm had an SIA licence, whether frontline or otherwise.

Then there is the issue of insurance. There is no way that Jack had adequate liability insurance for the role he was undertaking and I sincerely doubt that he would be covered by the building company's insurance. If nothing else, the underwriters would be able to argue that, for instance following the loss of some high value machinery, Jack was not suitably prepared to undertake his role, he was ill-equipped and lacking adequate support. Aside from this, they might wonder what training Jack has undertaken and what other measures were in place to support him in protecting the site. I did notice the CCTV, but without the correct level of response that was really only good enough for evidence gathering, provided that is that it had been set up correctly.

I then started to think about things from the building company's perspective. I appreciate that they might have saved themselves some money in the first instance by engaging Jack directly on a self-employed basis as opposed to using a bona fide contractor to do so, but where was the site security assessment? What use is a lone guard, employed to sit for twelve hours a day, seven days a week watching television? It could be argued that Jack was relatively ineffective as access to the site is easily possible from pretty much anywhere along the long perimeter fence, much of which is hidden by woodland and steep banks.

It may also be worth mentioning screening at this point. As I said already, Jack is a nice man; I would even go so far as to say that he seems reliable. However, without systematically checking the backgrounds of employees, how can anyone be confident that the person left watching their site can be trusted? Formal screening should be undertaken to BS7858 and the end user should be able to verify this; not by word of mouth but by certified accreditation to BS7858. Again, this leaves the building company in a very vulnerable position when it comes to their insurance cover.

Ultimately, whilst seemingly cheaper than a contracted security company, Jack offered very little value to the builder, a false economy if you will. He was poorly prepared, lacking support and frankly way out of his depth. If anything was to go wrong, I am sorry to say that Jack would not be able to deal with it effectively and even if he could, he would be risking his own life for the sake of a bit more money in his pocket and an employer who did not much care for his welfare!

Sadly, these types of employment practices, intended to save a bit of cash are commonplace in the security industry. The SIA was set up to improve the security industry and its image, and in some respects, they have made some excellent improvements. However, until they find a way to tackle the more unscrupulous companies out there, particularly the so-called in-house employers, the industry will continue to suffer to the detriment of its workers, end users and the wider public.

Since writing this article I have been asked a number of times as to whether Jack was actually self-employed or employed directly employed by the building firm. I can see the confusion as the wording switches between the two, which was intentional. The point I was trying to make was that, whilst Jack is officially self-employed he would be treated as an employee of the building firm for the sake of Health and Safety, Insurance and of course tax.