European Agency for Safety and Health at Work

Managing psychosocial risks in the private security sector

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The private security sector can sometimes be a dangerous line of work. People employed in this field are regularly exposed to psychosocial risks. These can include third party violence, job insecurity, and strenuous mental and emotional workloads. But tools exist to help employers minimise risks and keep their staff healthy and motivated. By identifying psychosocial risks and implementing measures to tackle stress, employers of private security staff will be able to reduce costs, prevent absenteeism, and avoid dips in productivity. The private security sector is growing. Companies and governments are increasingly subcontracting their security services and private security staff are employed to provide protection to their clients. This often means protecting buildings and businesses from theft or burglary, both during and after business hours.

It also means closely monitoring surveillance cameras, patrolling premises, or even being assigned to protect particular individuals. Each role involves different pressures relating to emotional and mental workloads. Those responsible for public or national security, such as airport security staff may face even greater job pressure.

The sector can be a pitfall for stress stemming from a myriad of psychosocial risks, according to a training manual on preventing occupational hazards in the private security sector  prepared by the Confederation of European Security Services (COESS), together with the trade union UNI Europa . Firstly, competition for contracts in the sector is quite high, with staff often unaware if they will be kept on or not when a contract is reallocated. This lack of job security is a key source of stress. Another key pressure is monotony, especially for staff working nights or alone. Drowsiness and mental exhaustion resulting from the need to remain alert and vigilant for long hours can compromise a worker’s ability to react – and thus the safety of themselves and those they are hired to protect.

Ambiguous roles are another psychosocial risk typical of the sector. Private security staff normally don’t have authority beyond that of an ordinary citizen, yet in many cases they are put into the compromising position of being asked by employers or clients to take on the authority usually reserved for law enforcement. In addition to this, feelings of fear, confrontational work situations, risk of assault, and, in some cases, previous traumatic experiences are also serious issues.

Fortunately, there is a tailored Online Interactive Risk Assessment tool  available to help private security workers and their employers assess and deal with occupational safety and health risks and particularly, with psychosocial ones. Developed by EU social partners, once adapted to each country, private security companies could use the tool to identify risks for their staff by getting them to think about what psychosocial pressures they will face or whether employees have received proper training.

Once risks have been identified the tool directs users to control and prevention measures and implementation assistance, and ultimately suggests solutions that can be tailored to the company. Some sample solutions include implementing a stress prevention policy and the provision of training for employees to help them better manage their mental and emotional workload.

By following best practice and enacting the necessary preventative measures, private security companies can do much to mitigate psychosocial risks. With the correct workplace design, training programmes and support network staff are more likely to remain healthy and motivated. This will in turn result in a safer and more productive work environment which is good for staff, companies and customers.

You can find out more about this and other Online interactive Risk Assessment tools (OiRA)  online, or visit the campaign website  to access other practical tools designed to manage stress and psychosocial risks in the workplace.

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