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The vast majority of security industry leaders agree that the key to professionalizing our industry is establishing and maintaining high standards. However, there is one standard that leaders in our industry continue to ignore that may hold the key to our success: security officer physical fitness standards. Unfortunately, the establishment of universal security officer physical fitness standards has long been the proverbial “elephant in the room.” Truthfully, the absence of reliable security personnel physical fitness standards may be the primary reason our industry is sometimes challenged with high levels of professionalization.
Since perception plays a major role in both personnel and corporate safety and task effectiveness, being physically unfit or obese contributes to the stable, negative cultural perceptions of the “overweight and inept security officer.” Whether we like it or not, every time a physically unfit security officer interacts with the public they reinforce these negative cultural stereotypes. Unfortunately, institutions that hire physically unfit security personnel do more harm than just reinforcing the negative security guard stereotype; they create unsafe conditions for employees, consumers and visitors and impede the security industry’s professionalism process.
Professionalized vocations such as attorneys, doctors, nurses and teachers are characterized by their individual and collective influence, high degrees of relevance, productivity, effectiveness and trust, are well compensated (pay, fringe benefits and retirement) and upwardly mobile. The establishment of high standards plays an important role in professionalism process of these and other vocations. Similarly, the success of the law enforcement vocation is the result of serious physical fitness and training standards (POST).
Security officer physical fitness standards improve officer and organizational safety. Physically fit security officers as less likely to have their authority questioned and less likely to be physically challenged. On the other hand, when security personnel need to exert themselves, like having to run a distance, or to run up a flight of stairs, or to physically defend themselves or others against an assault, physically fit security officers are able to maintain an adequate level of physical stamina necessary to overcome an attacker and survive the encounter. Conversely, unfit security officers are often a danger to themselves and others and become an “added” liability when their required to physically defend themselves. In fact, positive public perceptions of a security officer’s physical fitness reduces the quantity of uncooperative interactions and officer assaults. Likewise, when physically fit security officers are involved in physical interactions, they’re less likely to be injured which reduces potential workers compensations claims.
Physically fit security officers are better able to provide high levels of organizational safety and customer service for employees, consumers and visitors. Organizational and community stakeholders expect their security personnel to play a valuable role in crime reduction and personal protection. Physically unfit security personnel take more time to perform basic crime prevention tasks, like patrolling an area on foot and often require additional personnel to perform a task that would typically require only one officer. On the other hand, physically fit security officers are able to perform their job functions more efficiently, lose less time to illness and injury, and file fewer workers compensation claims. The failure to maintain safe environments or the inability to provide “due care” creates potential civil liability and discourages patrons from frequenting an organization. Once an organization is perceived as unsafe, it’s extremely difficult to maintain financial stability.
It’s impossible to have a serious training standard if security personnel are physically unfit. Unfit security personnel make it impossible to train to serious standards that require a high degree of physical interaction and realistic scenario training. Unfortunately, if security personnel are unable to test their competency levels in a safe and controlled environment the only other environment left to train in is the actual work environment! The inability to practice tactics, theories and tools in a realistic training environment leads to a greater quantity and quality of field injuries, time lost and increased workers compensation claims.
I recently surveyed my security manager clients to determine their opinions on the implementation of a security officer physical fitness standard. The vast majority wanted to implement a physical fitness standard, although only two organizations currently had one. When I asked them why their organizations didn’t currently have a physical fitness standard, they cited two primary reasons: resistance from their human resources personnel and the fact that the majority of their personnel couldn’t meet the standard. As I dug deeper into these answers it became obvious that the implementation of a security officer physical fitness standard was thought to be an administrative and socio-political burden for these organizations. Unfortunately, like most organizational behaviors that are enabled and accepted over time, they ultimately become the de facto organizational standard. However, difficult as it may initially be to implement a security officer physical fitness standard, it’s honestly a moral/ethical imperative to make these changes in order to provide a safe and secure environment for patrons, employees, visitors and security personnel.
Managing the Challenges
Begin the process by reviewing the current security officer job description. At least 50 percent of the security officer’s job task needs to be related to physically protecting employees, patrons and visitors. In order for a physical fitness standard to be “necessary” there needs to be a direct connection between the need to be physically fit and actual job requirements.
Start the process by first requiring new hires to meet the new “pre-employment” physical fitness standard before rolling it out to current employees. There are several advantages to beginning this process as a “pre-employment standard.” First, the quality of the applicants will improve. Physically fit applicants have a higher commitment level, have already established a personal lifetime fitness standard and are drawn to organizations that have high standards. It’s also much easier to change a hiring practice when it only applies to applicants and not currently employed personnel. Moreover, these new “physically fit” security officers will quickly become the new “unofficial” standard and become role models for the currently employed security personnel.
Next, introduce the new security officer physical fitness standard to current employees and choose at date in the future (between 6 -12 months) when all personnel will be required to meet the new standard as a condition of continued employment. It’s best to regularly test and access the employees physical fitness progress as they move toward the official implementation date of the new standard. To ease the transition, try requiring security officers to reach a minimum percentage of the new standard as a sign of their progress and commitment as they move toward the enforcement date.
Expect that some security personnel will resist the new standard while others may attempt to sabotage it. These employees will spend more time resisting the standard rather than working on improving their physical fitness level. In truth, some security personnel no matter how much time they’re given are not interested in being physically fit. Some personnel will challenge the legality of the new standard and try to create social and political barriers to its implementation. Physical fitness standards have been legally tested (EEOC challenges of disparate treatment) and have consistently stood up to legal challenges (Title VII of the Civil Right Act). However, enterprises need to seek legal advice prior to initiating a new standard.
Finally, security enterprises need to have a plan on how to process those who are either medically unable, or those who are not interested in changing their physical fitness level to meet the new standard. Under some circumstances an unfit security officer may be able to be reassigned to another job classification within the enterprise. However, in some enterprises there may be no choice but to release the security officer from employment for failing to meet the new minimum job requirements. Although some stakeholders may fiercely resist taking this kind of employment action, I consider it the only legally and ethically defendable position for a responsible enterprise to take.
The Good News!
This is universal agreement for security officer physical fitness standards across all stakeholder categories. Organizations that have implemented a security officer physical fitness standard have seen an outpouring of support from their organizational stakeholders for (finally) requiring their security personnel to be physically fit. Employees, it seems, understand the relationship between being physically fit and an individual’s ability to protect them!
I think of myself a “field risk manager” not a “risk eliminator.” My primary responsibility is to create high levels of safety for my clients and employees while mitigating potential liability. Every enterprise must decide the scope of their safety mission and then implement policies and procedures to mitigate the risks associated with that desired level of safety. However, it’s impossible under every condition to eliminate all liability, especially when dealing with uncooperative and violent individuals. It seems rather obvious to me and other security and operational professionals that allowing physically unfit security personnel to perform security related tasks is a greater risk than the risks associated with establishing and maintaining a serious physical fitness standard.
Establishing and maintaining serious security officer physical fitness standards is an important first step to providing high levels of organizational, community and officer safety and ensuring the security industry gets back on the path to professionalization.
About the Author:
Over the past 25 years, Andrew Tufano has held various positions in the security industry such as uniformed security officer, loss prevention agent, loss prevention investigator, loss prevention manager, security guard company owner, security trainer and security consultant. He holds various security industry instructor and end-user certifications such as baton, firearm and Taser. He is a recognized subject matter expert (SME) in private person use-of-force and field conflict resolution. He is also an experienced speaker and writer on various security industry related topics.
Editor’s Note: Physical fitness standards have been legally tested (EEOC challenges of disparate treatment) and have consistently stood up to legal challenges (Title VII of the Civil Right Act). Therefore, enterprises need to seek legal advice prior to initiating a new physical fitness standard. In addition, according to AlliedBarton “Research has shown that the EEOC is very much interested in protecting employees with disabilities from physical fitness tests that are not 100% job related and consistent with business necessity. Enterprises should do a site by site, post by post analysis to determine what standards are required for each individual job.”