The interaction of security and safety 

By John Slater

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines security as “the thing that guards or guarantees safety of State, company etc. against espionage, theft or other danger.” It goes on to define safety as “freedom from danger and risks.” The American Society of Industrial Security lexicon defines security as “the condition of being protected against hazards, threats, risks or loss.” So where do security and safety interact?

I am a relative newcomer to the Canadian security industry having spent almost 32 years in the Canadian Armed Forces before joining Commissionaires in 2007. Like many, when I thought of security the default was protecting against criminal and terrorist activity. Other than the safety of my employees, the concept of security being an integral part of a companies’ safety plan never occurred to me. 

Until five years ago my Division carried out traditional guard services including access control, perimeter patrols, static observation and so forth. The object was to deter wrongful activity, and observe and report problems including safety related issues to some other authority, be it the clients’ management or in extreme cases direct to the police.

Here in Northern Alberta that all changed when we began to service major oil sands clients. Notwithstanding the relatively benign threat environment all Canadians enjoy, we expected to perform the routine security tasks as we have done over the past 75 years. What we found was that criminal activity was still an issue, but theft of monster dump trucks and three-foot diameter pipe was rare. More important was enforcing the ever-evolving client safety programs. 

 We have clients where I cannot visit my own employees on site because I cannot get past the front gate without a slew of specialized safety courses. Thus it begins with access control, in some cases, involving thousands of workers. Once on the sites, and some of these sites cover large areas with their own highways, everything from traffic control including radar to catch speeders and the monitoring of GPS tracked company vehicle movement, to drug and alcohol policy enforcement fall under the security services.. These activities are in direct support of the clients’ safety programs which I would argue are more important than the odd tool going home in someone’s trunk.

This is being driven by a number of factors, not the least of which are increasing due diligence by boards and senior management coupled with increasing regulatory demands. With the high cost of benefits, the impact accidents can have on the bottom line though WCB premiums, the risk of hefty government fines, the attractiveness of a safe workplace culture to limited human resources and the potential negative effect on executive at risk pay, safety is trumping security in its traditional sense. Thus our security professionals now find themselves more focused on safety enforcement than ever before.

So in answer to my question as to where do security and safety interact, I would suggest they interact continuously along their parallel paths to protect against hazards, threats, risk or loss.
John Slater is the Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires – Northern Alberta and chairman of ASIS Edmonton Chapter.