It’s better to reduce the exposure of employees to threats than to simply plan to respond when incidents occur. Too often, employers implement safety and security initiatives that they believe are effective but when tested, reveal that they won’t make anybody safer. Let’s take an example of organisations (commercial and not-for-profit) with employees working in a country with a high level of risk such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the DRC or Mali. Many of these organisations have sound safety and security practices that are enforced every day of the week but others operate a double standard with one set of rules for work nights and another set for nights preceding a day off work. These organisations impose restrictions on the social life of their employees for most nights of the week and this includes having a curfew in place or not allowing employees to leave the accommodation after returning from work, however the restrictions are lifted for some nights of the week and this makes very little sense. Movement restrictions can be very effective safety initiatives by an organisation because they reduce the exposure of employees to risk. However the effective safety initiative is wasted when the company then allows a different set of rules in exactly the same operating environment. In this example, their employees are permitted to have one or two nights of the week where they can visit and stay out late at bars or restaurants, visit friends or go shopping in markets and bazaars. On these nights the company justifies its decision by providing additional transport and security resources to get people back to base by the appointed time and respond if there is an incident involving an employee. In other words, the company allows their employees to be exposed to risk but provides a response mechanism if something bad occurs.
Employees may not be any safer
The problems with this approach are numerous and under Australian law, the manager’s decision and efforts to meet their duty of care obligation would be difficult to justify if an employee was injured or killed. Firstly, the employees are being permitted to be exposed to the same threats and vulnerabilities that most probably exist every night of the week. The employees are away from the safety and security of their home base and the same level of protection may not exist in the place where the socialising is occurring. The employees will be more vulnerable if they are drinking alcohol over a longer period of time and this will undoubtedly impair their judgement and make them more courageous to do stupid things. Secondly, the criminals, terrorists and other people with bad intent know which night (or nights) the people stay out late and they also know which bars and restaurants are frequented. When the criminal knows this information they have a target-rich environment full of people who may be impaired by alcohol, fatigue and strange surroundings and so they (the criminals) have more opportunity to conduct their criminal activities. Finally, there is no guarantee that the security response team will get to a problem in time to save the employees who are in danger. If a person is abducted it may take some time before anybody notices they are missing and the abductors will have departed the scene before the response team or police can do anything. If a bar, hotel or restaurant is attacked the response team will be arriving after the event has already happened. The response team may be able to assist with providing medical aid but they won’t be able to do anything for those who have been killed. Organisations who follow the double-standard path outlined in this article argue that they need to provide their employees with time-out from the hectic life of work in a high risk or difficult environment. They justify the double standard by rationalising that they will get better work outcomes and assist with retention of staff if they relax their safety and security standards on one or two nights per week. By doing this, they expose their employees to unnecessary risk for the sake of being seen as a good employer.
A better approach
A better approach is to accept the reality of the situation within the operating environment and understand that the threats and vulnerabilities that exist on Monday will also exist on Thursday, Friday and every other day of the week. Organisations should consider better alternatives than a double-standard, including the prospect of establishing social facilities within their own compounds and accommodation facilities. This ensures that employees get some relief from the difficulties of working in the environment but at the same time remain safe.