Security Lax at Businesses With Fewer Than 20 Employees

Fewer unauthorized visitors are entering the workplace, but many employers - especially those with fewer than 20 employees - still are not taking consistent actions to keep their workplace secure.

According to a national workplace survey sponsored by The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., between December 2001 and July 2002, the number of unauthorized visitors entering workplaces dropped from 32 percent to 13 percent. The decline was consistent throughout the country, possibly due to a 15 percent increase in the number of companies instituting ID requirements or hiring security personnel during that period. The Hartford is one of the nation's leading providers of workers' compensation insurance.

The survey showed that shortly after Sept. 11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks, employers rushed to institute or increase their security measures. Companies with procedures for handling suspicious mail or packages skyrocketed from 17 percent before Sept. 11 to 49 percent in December. Similarly, companies holding regular emergency evacuation drills increased from 56 percent to 60 percent; those with procedures to control serious threats and physical violence increased from 51 percent to 58 percent; and companies screening visitors rose from 51 percent to 60 percent.

As time passed, though, many companies became less rigorous in carrying out these new procedures. Only 58 percent of the respondents in companies that have security measures in place report that those measures are being consistently enforced.

"The drop in unauthorized visitors is clearly a sign that businesses are taking security seriously," says Richard Vaughan, director of loss control technical services at The Hartford. "At the same time, the survey shows that while businesses have made a good start in securing their worksites, many need to be more consistent in their follow-through."

Of particular concern, he notes, is the lack of security measures among smaller companies, defined as those with between three and 20 employees. These businesses were significantly less likely than larger companies to have security measures in place, the survey found. While 71 percent of midsize and larger companies had screening procedures to keep out unauthorized visitors, only 40 percent of small companies do. Similarly only 34 percent of smaller companies have procedures for screening suspicious packages and mail compared to 57 percent of larger businesses; 49 percent of smaller versus 63 percent of larger companies have ways to deter violence in the workplace; and 45 percent vs. 68 percent hold emergency evacuation drills.

"Small businesses may take fewer safety measures because they don't have enough time or resources to devote to that task. They also may feel less threatened because they know their employees and, often times, their customers as well," says Vaughan. "But they have just as much a need as large business to protect their assets and employees."

Vaughan notes employers can find out about workplace safety programs through their insurance agent or insurance company. In the interim, he recommends employers get a head start by implementing the following precautions to reduce common workplace safety threats:

  • Unauthorized Entry: Use picture or other positive identification cards for employees. Reduce the number of entrances into the building. Require visitors to sign-in upon entry and make sure an authorized employee accompanies them during their visit.
  • Emergency Evacuation Drills: Conduct drills periodically, under a variety of circumstances. Assign, in advance, specific gathering places for evacuated employees to meet. Designate and train employees on each floor or area to coordinate the evacuation drill and report on results.
  • Harassment: Educate employees - especially managers and supervisors - about what constitutes harassment. Provide an unbiased and confidential method for employees to report harassment. Always follow up on reports and respond consistently.
  • Violence: Train managers and supervisors on "warning signs" that potentially violent employees may exhibit, such as significant changes in personality, personal care, personal habits and appearance, as well as in social interaction. Carefully control access to workplace facilities to employees and authorized visitors. Provide vulnerable employees (receptionists, customer relations representatives, human resources personnel and others that have similar front-line visibility) with a discreet way of alerting for help, such as a hidden alarm button. Do not tolerate violence of any kind - verbal and physical threats, or destruction of property.
  • Mailroom Procedures: Screen mail for proper return address; be wary of mail with odors and/or noise. Instruct employees to refuse delivery of any suspicious/unexpected package. Centralize your mail-handling facility and locate it away from other work areas.

The nationally representative study surveyed 486 adults working in companies with three or more people.

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