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What price Safety and Security?

November 30, 2015

Recent events around the world have served to bring into sharp focus the need to constantly revisit existing security measures in the face of ever evolving threats.

Perimeter security products and protocols designed to meet the requirements of risks at the time of specifying have failed when presented with more determined and repeated attempts to breach them employing guile, tools and force.

The addition of temporary sharp spikes bolted along the top of sections of the existing fence around the perimeter of The White House this year will, according to a Secret Service and National Park Service statement, ‘satisfy security needs while a long-term solution is designed and implemented'. Elsewhere in the USA, an Associated Press Investigation published in April this year reported that on at least 44 occasions in the past two years, intruders have made it to runways, taxiways or to the gate area where refuelling and loading takes place and in seven cases they even got onto jets. What’s perhaps more shocking is that seven international airports in four states accounted for more than half the breaches.

While governments and their advisers working together to manage ever-changing long term security issues, I would pose a couple of questions: In this world obsessed with high-technology security solutions, can be any doubt that a humble, risk appropriate security fence performs a critical function in providing protection and safety? And is playing a percentages game in cost vs future-proofed effectiveness really appropriate when the security and safety stakes are so high?

In the same vein but not receiving anywhere near the same media attention, the issues around gate safety have also been brought to light.

Pedestrian and vehicle gates and barriers provide controlled access to a site, they act as a safety and security checkpoint but also have the potential to present a high risk to site occupiers and visitors.

The recent cases of a child losing their fingertips in park gate accident in Rochdale, the council worker killed when crushed by a gate in Limerick, the father-to-be killed by an unlatched parking barrier and the successful prosecution of the two companies responsible for installing and maintaining the electric gate that killed a child in Bridgend, attest to the risk to people and damage to reputation when things go wrong, whether by design, implementation or inadequate maintenance.

The Door & Hardware Federation Powered Gate Group estimate there are more than 500,000 automated gates in service in the UK, yet only around 30 percent of these are estimated to be safe to use and comply with current legislation and best practice – what percentage of the millions of humble manual swing gates and barriers do you think would comply with legislation if it existed?

It can appear too often that security and safety are considered separately, sometimes with disastrous consequences, unless equal emphasis given to:

• surveillance, detection and prevention of unauthorised access 
• control of authorised pedestrian and vehicle access 
• provision of access for emergency vehicles and equipment
• consideration on the safe and rapid evacuation in the event of an incident 
• visitor and user safety of fencing, gates and other access control equipment

There’s a lot of talk in the risk management and security sectors about the continuing pressure to reduce prices and in doing so, trimming specifications to the point, where from a design and engineering perspective, the performance of the security product becomes questionable with little or no redundancy to cope with evolving or escalating risks; whether that’s fencing, gates, their maintenance, security staffing or health and safety.

In physical perimeter protection, the difference between a fence, gate or barrier system designed to mitigate risks across a narrow range of constant threats against one which is capable of safely withstanding broader escalating risk is small when the cost of civils and infrastructure is considered.

You can always buy cheaper but rarely when you factor-in the total price of failure.

The two companies prosecuted for the tragic and preventable death of the five year old child in Wales mentioned earlier were fined a total of £110,000.00 and will suffer irreparable damage to their reputations.

What would have been the price to prevent the incident with the right product and correct maintenance regime? Significantly less.

As a company in business to make profit, we have taken a firm stand on the performance and safety of the products we design, manufacture, install and maintain and won’t sell a fencing system that we know is inappropriate for its intended and likely extended purpose or design and install a gate or barrier which is unsafe or falls short of required safety legislation. It’s a simple principle which has won us more business than it has lost and one that will protect our reputation, the reputation of our clients and the integrity of our staff.

Perhaps if more companies adopted a stronger stance rather than chase short term gain, the tide can be turned and more clients and consultants be made aware of the consequences of deferring costs by designing just for today or buying on the lowest price.

I believe that if we can collectively drive a paradigm shift to a discussion centred on implementing security and safety regimes with products and processes appropriate to current and foreseeable risks, we will be better placed to emphasise our real value to clients and their advisers.

So, what is the real price of security and safety?

I reckon it boils down to, as little as appropriate or as much as you can stand to lose.


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