Risks to businesses and individuals when an alarm is activated out of hours

Security Alarm

It's 5 o'clock in the evening. It's time to lock up your business premises, not worry about work for another 16 hours, go home and relax. Nothing is going to happen to your business for those 16 hours that nobody is there, is it?

Unfortunately, every organisation, however big or small, is at risk outside of normal working hours. This means that employees are too, because an incident at your business premises will probably activate the alarm, meaning that a member of staff, such as the managing director or the operations manager, will have to come out, potentially in the middle of the night, to respond to it.

What will they find when they arrive at your business premises? There are a number of potential situations and scenarios that could potentially put your employees in danger. Here are some of the most common scenarios which could lead to your alarm being activated.

Flooding and poor weather

Bad weather

Since the turn of the century, we have had three major periods of flooding in the UK: the autumn of 2000, the summer of 2007 and the winter of 2013/2014. Initially branded as one off occurrences and "one in a hundred year events", it is becoming increasingly clear that bad weather is becoming the norm, with many scientists expecting an increase in future years due to the effects of climate change.

Autumn 2000 saw the wettest autumn on record in the UK, with 10,000 homes and businesses flooded. In the summer of 2007, nearly 7000 businesses and nearly 48,500 homes were flooded. The winter of 2013/2014 was the wettest winter for the UK since records began, with 517.6mm of rain fall compared to an average of 330.4mm for the same months between 1981 and 2010. Between the beginning of December 2013 and the end of February 2014, around 6,500 properties were affected by flooding, with many of those having to be evacuated.

It is estimated that approximately 185,000 commercial properties are at risk of flooding across England and Wales, and whilst the average losses from a burglary are just over £1000, and the average cost of fire damage £7,300, flood losses can be around £28,000. In the UK, flooding accounts for an incredible 10% of major business disruptions.

What would happen if your business was flooded? Would your managing director or operations manager get a phone call in the middle of the night to go out to your business premises? Would your staff turn up to work in the morning only to find a flooded building, contaminated with sewage, dangerous damaged electrics, structural damage, rodents, gas leaks, and so on. If your business wasn't affected by bad weather this winter then consider yourself lucky. But are you prepared for the future?

Flooding wasn't the only bad weather witnessed in the winter of 2013-2014 –there were also gales of over 100 miles per hour battering the country. High winds can cause immense damage to buildings and activate alarms. Whilst this winter has been one of the warmest on record so far, the previous four winters have seen widespread snow and ice across the UK. This also has potential risks for businesses, in particular burst pipes leading to flooding.

Fire

Fire damage

Although there has been a reduction in recent years in the number of commercial and industrial fires in the UK, the financial losses from these fires has risen dramatically. It has been predicted that at the current rate, fires could cost UK businesses as much as £10 billion by 2020. There are more fires in manufacturing than there are in warehouses, but the financial impact on warehouses is far higher because of the loss of products and of stock.

Of accidental fires in commercial buildings, the largest amount is caused by faulty electrical equipment like appliances and leads. However, around half of all large fires at business premises are deliberate, and times of economic hardship lead to increases in arson cases. Many arson attacks start out of business hours, because nobody is around to stop them. Fires can spread incredibly quickly, and so time is of the essence. A quick response to a fire is essential.

A fire can have an enormous impact on a business, including business interruption, risk to live, loss of reputation and risk to cash flow. A fire can make your company premises uninhabitable, which might mean you have to look for temporary or permanent accommodation elsewhere.

If there was a fire at your business premises out of hours, what impact would it have on your business?

Crime - theft, burglary and vandalism

Vandalism

The headline findings from the 2013 Commercial Victimisation Survey were released by the Home Office on the 27th February 2014. There were some staggering figures.

  • 45% of wholesale and retail premises experienced crime in the last 12 months
  • 42% of accommodation and food premises experienced crime in the last 12 months
  • 45% of arts, entertainment and recreation experienced crime in the last 12 months
  • 30% of agriculture, forestry and fishing premises experienced crime in the last 12 months
  • 30% of manufacturing premises experienced crime in the last 12 months
  • 40% of transportation and storage premises experienced crime in the last 12 months

The most common types of crime were: thefts in the wholesale and retail and transportation and storage sector, vandalism in the arts, entertainment and recreation, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and manufacturing sectors, and assaults and threats in the accommodation and food sector. Theft was the most common crime type overall – with 5.1 million incidents of theft, or 70% of all crime across the six sectors.

This was the second of a new series of Home Office surveys measuring crimes against businesses. The first was released for 2012. Combining the two surveys, there were 7.3 million incidents of crime against businesses in the six industry sectors covered, affecting 40 per cent of business premises.

It's easy to be complacent and you may think that your business will not be a victim of crime, but looking at these figures, there is a high chance that at some point it will.

Riots

Riots

Following the shooting of Mark Duggan by police on 4th August 2011, there were riots in London which spread to cities and towns across the UK for five days with widespread looting and arson.

Following the riots, a poll carried out by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed that retailers making up around a quarter of the UK's sales sector, reported that just under 900 stores were affected by the riots, either through theft, burglary or arson. From these companies, over 11,000 members of staff were affected and over 7,500 trading hours lost.

It was estimated that over 30,000 trading hours – or over 1,250 days – were lost due to the effects of the riots. Workers were mugged and assaulted going to and from work and some were even trapped in stores when riots broke out and were left reconsidering their jobs because they felt vulnerable afterwards.

Whilst this event was extreme and out of the ordinary, it illustrates the devastating effect that theft, assault and arson can have on UK businesses.

Squatting

This is more likely to be an issue if you have business premises that are empty, but an alarm could be activated because squatters have turned up and settled in to your business premises.

Only squatting in residential buildings such as a house or flat is illegal. Squatting in a non-residential building or land is not a crime. However, it is normally classed as a crime for a person to enter private property without permission and refusing to leave when the owner asks.

If squatters commit other crimes when entering or staying in a property then the police can take action against them. This includes causing damage to the property whilst entering or whilst in the property, stealing from the property and using utilities without seeking permission.

It can be hard to get rid of squatters once they have gained access to your premises. The best way is to make sure your premises are protected out of hours so that they don't get in. Do you really want your employees responding to an alarm, or turning up for work in the morning to find squatters in your building, prepared to defend themselves?

Affects on new buildings

You might think that if your business is based in a new building then you are safe from floods, fire, structural damage, being broken into and other threats, but that isn't always the case. Experience shows that new buildings are just as vulnerable as old buildings, and that often old buildings fare better than new buildings because they are built better – built to last!

Risk to your employees

Offices at Night

Is your business based in a difficult area? Do you know what kind of people are around after night time? An employee that comes to inspect a triggered alarm might be putting themselves in more danger than you might think.

The area surrounding your property might be safe in the day but is it safe at night? Are there pubs and clubs around and people under the influence of alcohol? If an alarm is triggered in the early hours of the morning, will your employee be in a safe frame of mind to be driving or will they be too tired and potentially put themselves at risk? And will they know how to deal with any potential threat that might be waiting?

Regardless of what your employee finds at your business premises, the most dangerous part of the activity might be them actually journeying to your property.

Liability

Happy Employees

It's impossible to judge what potential threat might be waiting at your premises and an alarm activation could lead to a potentially life threatening situation for your employee.

There are two key pieces of legislation to bear in mind when considering the safety of your staff: the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 received royal assent in July 2007 and came into force on the 6th April 2008. For the first time, it created a new offence of corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and corporate homicide in Scotland.

Before the act came into force, a company could only be convicted of manslaughter if every single element of the offence had been committed by one single employee of a company, and if that individual was of such a senior level that they embodied the mind of the corporation. This meant that a corporation was very rarely convicted of manslaughter.

Now, it is an offence if the way in which an organisation's activities are managed or organised causes a person's death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. The way in which the corporation's activities are managed or organised by senior management has to be a substantial element of the gross breach.

If your company's policy when an alarm is activated out of hours is for an employee to respond to it, and for any reason this led to their death, then there could be grounds for prosecution.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain. Section 2 of the act states that "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees".

An employee responding to an alarm response out of hours not knowing what they might find when they arrive there could lead to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Conclusion

London at Night

There are, therefore, a huge amount of problems which can affect your business out of hours when your premises are most vulnerable, and which can put your staff at risk if they have to respond to those problems.

Common reasons for alarm activation can range from something small to something huge. It could just be a spider walking across a sensor, or it might have been activated by the wind. Whilst reasons like this don't put employees in danger, it is incredibly inconvenient that they had to get out of bed at 2am and go to the office for a minor reason. When they come in to work the next day, they will probably be tired and therefore not as productive due to lack of sleep.

However, there is also a good chance that it could be something more serious, as demonstrated above. Having a professional key holding and alarm response service therefore protects your business and your staff from unnecessary risks, costs and inconvenience, and is a cost effective way to keep your buildings and your employees safe and secure.