Together raising standards: understanding the value of certification
Need for security standards
Security and fire safety have moved squarely into the public consciousness in response to recent events.
Questions are being asked about how buyers and consumers, be they householders, commercial organisations or government bodies, can be confident that companies delivering security and fire safety services are working to the highest standards.
As a result of the changing security landscape, useful guidance documents have been developed, such as the NaCTSO publication from 2016 outlining options for the private sector to enhance their security at a time of raised threat levels. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/575923/National_Stakeholder_Menu_of_Tactical_Options.pdf provides a best practice framework for how society as a whole (the security services, the community and private security companies) can work together to combat the threats we all face.
Such guidance, typified by the NaCTSO publication, although important in raising awareness and galvanising a broader audience, cannot be considered in any way a standard, as it doesn’t address supplier competence.
Determining high levels of professionalism requires a benchmark for working practice. In the case of the security and fire sectors, there are recognised standards that govern the design, installation and maintenance of fire safety systems, CCTV systems, access control and intruder alarms, as well as the provision of key holding and guarding services and alarm receiving centres. The full gamut of security services has specific standards to which operational practice can be audited. Industry experts who write the standards are supported by input from certification bodies such as the National Security Inspectorate (NSI). We play an important role in ensuring that the standards are effective and that adoption of standards by service providers adds value to the users of services who can be confident that the standards have teeth, and are robust benchmarks against which to test businesses for compliance.
Why choose a certificated contractor?
Independently assessed organisations hold certification (i.e. approval) demonstrating their integrity, competence and professionalism to consumers and buyers of services. In a demand-driven market, consumers seeking proof of competence select suppliers able to demonstrate capability to meet the required standards.
Choosing an organisation holding certification gives the confidence of knowing the organisation has been regularly audited by an independent third party certification body, and approval from such bodies is a clear signal to buyers about commitment to quality and compliance with standards.
What to consider
There are several aspects that buyers should consider as part of the supplier selection process:
1) Does their prospective supplier hold appropriate approval for the service being offered?
Anyone selecting a supplier should make sure that the organisation holds the relevant certification in relation to the services that are to be procured. The competences required to install an alarm system are very different to those for event stewarding, for example. This is easily checked with the certification body itself if there is any doubt as to the validity.
2) Is the approval granted based on a regular independent audit?
To maintain certification, an organisation is subject to ongoing regular annual or twice- yearly audits. Improvement notices form part of the output from audits when an auditor identifies certain processes, training or customer service procedures that are not completely compliant. These are subject to root cause analysis and monitored for effective, corrective action. This is a cycle of continuous improvement that would be difficult to prove otherwise. Service providers risk losing approval if they are unable to adapt to achieve compliance.
3) Has the approval been granted by an independent UKAS-accredited certification body?
UKAS Accreditation demonstrates competence, impartiality and performance capability on the part of the certification body. In short, UKAS ‘checks the checkers’ with regular rigorous audits. Check for the UKAS logo being displayed. You can learn more about UKAS’s activities here www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBQV2A-M45c.
With regard to the ‘people’-related guarding services, such as key holding or close protection for example, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) Licence, mandatory for every individual, checks for criminal records, evidence of training and competence. Over and above individual licensing, the SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), and schemes demanding compliance with British Standards such as NSI’s Guarding Gold, provide in varying degrees, rigour over the activities of security services providers.
Food for thought
The standards for the fire and security services themselves are of course important, but increasingly, what has an impact is the corporate (with a small c) management framework, i.e. how the business itself is managed. This includes quality management, environmental management and health and safety, which are also subject to standards – ISO 9001 being probably the most commonly recognised. Working to these standards is playing a part in raising the levels of professionalism in the security sector. NSI has long realised the importance of joining-up the assessment of the management system alongside technical or product standards. This has a significant benefit to the approved company, not only because they are assessed as part of an integrated audit regime, but equally because the context for improvement notices is borne out of audit teams rooted in the fire safety and security sectors.
Formally recognised standards are a way of raising the levels of professionalism, but only when effectively implemented. Ongoing verification of compliance through independent, competent auditing and assessment means service providers can signal their ongoing integrity, competence and professionalism to both their clients and the community at large.
Head of Certification Services, National Security Inspectorate (NSI)