Safety in the work place
Developing a work safety plan
Policy and procedures
Security in customer service areas
Controlling restricted areas
Working irregular hours
Appointments away from the office
Travelling safely on business
Other workplace harassment
Thousands of people attend work daily and never experience any situation where personal safety is threatened. Whilst a workplace under responsible management may provide a reasonable level of protection, situations affecting personal safety could still occur. Employers are required under Occupational Health and Safety legislation to have policies and procedures in place to provide a safe working environment for staff. This can be achieved by undertaking a survey to assess security and potential risk situations. The information produced by a survey will identify measures necessary for ensuring staff safety and security, and form the basis of developing a work safety plan.
This information, prepared by the Police Community Relations Section, in consultation with various community groups, contains a series of guidelines for both staff and management. While primarily presented with the safety of women in mind, these suggestions can equally apply to any person in the workplace.
Basic steps of a security survey:
- Factors vary according to the size and type of business operation, and a comprehensive survey of a large organisation, may require the specialist knowledge and expertise of a professional security consultant.
- Consider the type of business, location, range of hours open, and incidence of crimes in the area.
- Conduct a thorough analysis to identify potential safety hazards.
- Examine the external environment for areas of vulnerability.
- Assess internal design and operation of the workplace.
- Review current practices to detect any security deficiencies.
- Involve staff in consultation and the security review process where practical.
- Analyse results of the survey to develop a work safety plan.
Basic elements of a work safety plan:
- Establish internal controls, procedures and safety rules to minimise risks.
- Formulate contingency plans for emergency situations.
- Introduce education and awareness training programmes for staff.
- Identify physical security measures required, and install as appropriate.
- Monitor policies and measures introduced, to evaluate effectiveness.
Managers and employees working in customer service environments can assess the safety issues and practices of their workplace, to determine if any changes are needed in physical design features, or in procedures for enhancing staff safety.
Some employees deal with many customers on a daily basis and while the risk of a dissatisfied customer becoming violent may be slight, it should not be disregarded.
The introduction of training programmes on how to respond to abusive or aggressive customers, will enable staff to develop new skills for defusing potential risk situations.
If personal interviews are conducted in an enclosed area screened from sight of colleagues, fit a distress buzzer, or a window for visibility. Alternatively, eliminating enclosed areas creates a safer working environment for conducting interviews.
Certain types of businesses require staff to serve customers from behind counters. Where security is a concern, counters that are wide and high, and fitted with a partial screen, will restrict a customer's physical ability to reach staff.
Some businesses may be subjected to shoplifters who become violent when approached. Retail businesses should develop policies and implement procedures and training, to reduce the risk of staff being assaulted. A Police pamphlet containing guidelines for shop theft and safety advice, is available from your local Community Constable.
The presence of visitors in work areas, may at times, present a risk to staff safety. In larger work environments the employment of security personnel will curtail such risks, and in smaller businesses where employment of security personnel is not feasible, security can still be maintained by introducing access control practices.
Management should ensure that all staff, including temporary staff, are familiar with security procedures, which should include controlling access by visitors to restricted areas, and not revealing security information about the workplace to outsiders.
Work areas, including service and delivery areas, should be secured to prevent unauthorised entry. This can be achieved by high counters, locking doors, use of access control cards, or a staff member checking all visitors.
Staff should be advised to be alert to any suspicious activity, and promptly report to management any person loitering outside the building or in an internal public area, or studying and asking questions about security systems.
Some criminals intent on committing a crime after office hours, will enter a building during the day and seek concealment in a storeroom, workroom or similar place, posing a threat to any employee working late. Security checks should be implemented as a preventative measure.
Access cards should not be lent to outsiders, and together with building keys should be recorded and issued on a restricted basis to prevent unauthorised possession.
The installation of physical security measures such as surveillance cameras, alarm and lighting systems, can be considered as a further means of protecting staff in the workplace.
Be aware of bogus tradespeople, representatives, service personnel or others. Check identifications of anyone not known, confirm the reason for their presence, and verify any appointment.
Be alert for "stair dancers". These people generally seek a stairwell or corridor shared with other businesses, or an insecure rear or side entrance, to gain undetected access to restricted areas for criminal purposes.
To protect your privacy and safety, handbags and personal possessions should not be left in any area where a thief could have access.
When entering or leaving the workplace via any access control systems, be aware of any person who may attempt to use the door for unauthorised entry immediately after you have opened it.
Some businesses may store items of considerable value or hold significant amounts of cash, which may be attractive to criminals waiting for the first employee to arrive with safe keys or access codes. Businesses should have a policy on safe entry procedures for staff arriving at work.
When employees are present outside of regular business hours, plan to have at least two staff working together if possible.
Make provision to escort staff to their vehicles when work has finished, or have arrangements in place to facilitate safe exit from the building and vicinity.
If staff must work alone, measures to enhance safety can include:
- Ensuring the building can be adequately secured from the inside
- Keeping doors locked to prevent casual entry, if appropriate
- Displaying warning signs that video surveillance cameras are operating
- Using security grilles for staff protection if the nature of the business permits
- Providing staff with a remote control device, that can be used to activate an audible alarm and alert a security company, if safety is threatened.
If you arrive early:
- The first person to arrive at work should be alert to any sign of forced entry
- Where any signs of force are observed the premises should not be entered, as an intruder could be present. The Police or a security company should be called, and any other employees warned when they arrive
- Where no unlawful entry has been made it can be a good idea for the first person arriving at work, to leave an arranged all clear signal for other staff.
- Park as near to your building as possible in an area that will be well lit at night
- Consider other transport options if the only parking available is at an isolated location
- Let someone know you will be working late
- Check that you are secure inside the building and that no doors or windows have been left open or unlocked
- When leaving the building check the immediate area outside for any people loitering, before opening the door
- Use the best lit route to your car and have someone walk with you if possible.
Some occupations require meeting clients in their homes or in other isolated situations. If you have this kind of job consider what practices you could adopt to reduce any potential risks to your safety.
Leave a written record at work of where you are going, the client's name, and the estimated time of your return.
When visiting a house or other place, be guided by your instincts. If the person opening the door has a manner that makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable, don't go inside. Make an excuse and leave immediately.
If you enter a place and later start to feel uncomfortable with the person you are talking to, leave as soon as possible. Be aware of potential escape routes.
Carrying a mobile phone will enable you to advise a colleague of your arrival in the presence of the client. Any person posing a potential threat to your safety would be deterred by the fact that others are aware of your location, and identity of the person you are with.
You can also arrange a distress code word for phone use that lets your office know if you are in a risk situation.
When responding to any requests for a meeting, job interview, or similar situation, consider the time and place for the proposed appointment.
If you feel that the situation is potentially unsafe, take a colleague or friend with you.
Policy & procedure
If staff are meeting clients in their homes or in other isolated situations, it is an advisable management policy to send more than one person where practical.
If you are driving, further guidelines can be found on Safety in the Car.
Work travel may involve staying in hotels or motels. There are a number of things you can do to increase your security in these circumstances:
- Make sure your room has a telephone.
- Do not admit people to your room or go to someone else's room, unless you know the person very well.
- Do not admit people with unsolicited deliveries, or persons representing themselves as repair or service personnel, if they have not been requested by you.
- Use a door viewer, if fitted, to identity anyone requesting entry, and phone management if in doubt. Only open the door once you have confirmed that the person is legitimate.
- When in your room, secure the door with an internal bolt or chain for security.
- If your room is on the ground floor, or has an accessible balcony, keep your window closed unless fitted with a security bolt or a stay that restricts access.
- Do not leave items such as house keys, car keys, credit cards or cheques in your room when unattended, unless secured in a safe. This is to ensure that people cannot gain personal items or information that could affect your security.
- It is better security, when leaving your room, to leave your room key at the front desk rather than carry it around. It should be posted through a slot or handed personally to staff.
- Be wary of revealing the name of your hotel/motel to strangers, especially the room number.
- If you see anyone at your accommodation or in the corridors acting in a manner which causes you concern, report it to management as soon as you can.
- Study the layout of your corridor so you are aware of the location of the nearest exit and most direct route in case of fire or other emergency.
If you are alone in a bar or restaurant, be aware that :
- If you drink more than a moderate level of alcohol it will lower your awareness and increase your vulnerability
- It can be unsafe to accept drinks from people you don't know
- Drinks can be spiked.
Some work place environments may be a target for robbery.
The way in which you respond if confronted by a robbery, can affect your safety, and the safety of others around you.
Behaviours that can reduce the risk of violence include:
- Staying calm
- Not staring
- Avoiding arguing or provoking
- Not making sudden movements
- Not tackling the robber
- Complying with demands in order for the robber to leave as soon as possible without harming you.
Occasionally suspicious mail is found in the workplace. Whilst most letters or packages turn out to be harmless, all incidents should be treated seriously.
The mail bomb recognition checklist [PDF, 58KB] can help you identify whether a letter or package should be treated as suspicious.
If you have any reason to suspect that a letter or package may contain an explosive device:
- Do not shake it
- Do not cut any strings or open it
- Do not place in water
- Put it down gently on a level surface and walk away
- Ask everyone to leave the area
- Call the Police.
It can be helpful to have a checklist for recording information if a bomb threat is received. If a bomb threat is received, it is the responsibility of employers to decide whether a search or evacuation will be conducted.
The bomb threat checklist [PDF, 60KB] offers general advice on bomb safety issues; print it out and keep it by your phone.
If you receive a bomb threat to your premises:
- Treat it seriously, it may not be a hoax
- Let the caller finish the message without interruption
- Ask questions seeking further information
- Note what you can about the caller
- Record the time of the call and write down the message immediately afterwards
- Inform Management and Police immediately.
Risks to personal safety in the workplace are not necessarily confined to obvious criminal acts.
Physical injury can occur as a result of contact with machinery or other factors in the workplace resulting in accidents.
The law requires that a workplace should be safe and healthy for employees, and guidelines may be obtained from the Occupational Safety and Health Service of the Department of Labour.
Establishing appropriate procedures for responding to incidents will increase the level of protection for people in the workplace. This can be compromised, however, if an office or building does not meet fire safety standards. The risk of fire should be regarded as seriously as any other threats to safety, and compliance with fire regulations observed. The New Zealand Fire Service can be contacted for information and advice on safety practices.
Under Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines, employees have a responsibility to report any hazards they may identify.
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. This can be physical contact, verbal comments, or non-verbal actions.
A person behaving in such a way may consider it good natured behaviour, but it is harassment if the person on the receiving end considers it unwelcome.
Relevant sections of the Employment Contracts Act and the Human Rights Act refer to procedures to be followed for complaints of Sexual Harassment.
Employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment by developing workplace policies, which could include specific staff being trained in handling such complaints.
Employees should be made aware of these policies and have access to the information.
Options you can take if you are harassed:
- Tell the person to stop the behaviour
- If you are uncomfortable about doing this yourself, have a colleague with you, or ask the,colleague to speak to the person privately on your behalf
- Express your views by writing a letter to the person asking for the behaviour to stop. Keep a copy of the letter
- Speak to the person's supervisor.
If the behaviour does not cease other options can be considered:
- Union members will generally find that most unions have policies on sexual harassment and are able to provide assistance
- A person under an employment contract may find that there are stipulated grievance provisions which can be taken up with the employer, and resolved in the Employment Court if satisfaction is not achieved
- Advice can be sought from your union representative, Equal Employment Opportunity liaison officer (if your organisation has one), or from the Human Rights Commission
- Any person subjected to sexual harassment has the option of laying a formal complaint with the Human Rights Commission which may then take the case to the Equal Employment Tribunal.
The Harassment Act of 1997 provides legal protection from acts of harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, and can apply to sexual harassment in certain circumstances.
The Act defines harassment as a pattern of behaviour directed against another person that includes doing any specified act to the other person on at least two separate occasions within a twelve month period.
A specified act includes:
- Watching, loitering near, or preventing or hindering access to or from the residence, business, employment, or any other place that the person frequents
- Following, stopping or accosting that person
- Entering or interfering with property in that person's possession.
- Making contact with that person, whether by telephone, correspondence, or in any other way
- Giving offensive material to that person, or leaving it where it will be found by, given to, or brought to the attention of that person.
A person subjected to any such behaviour which is defined under the Act as civil harassment may apply to the Court for a restraining order.
The Act has also defined serious types of harassment as criminal offences. This applies to a person harassing another and acting in a way that causes the person to fear for his or her safety, or for the safety of any other person in a family relationship.
If a person being harassed has fears for safety, it should be promptly reported to Police.
A safer work place for you means - Conducting a security review