Throughout the pandemic, the topic of mental health has been widely discussed, as millions of people were stripped of their freedom and placed in nationwide lockdowns to protect their health and safety.
According to a recent study, one in five UK adults has experienced depressive symptoms over the last year. This was largely a result of a lack of job security, money worries and health concerns amid the crisis.
But while most companies were forced to work from home to protect their staff, frontline workers were forced to resume their day-to-day jobs, including those in the security industry.
In a statement issued by the UK Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, it was revealed that security and fire safety personnel were to play a vital role in protecting the country. Throughout the crisis, not only did their role entail providing support work to those in the emergency services, but they were also expected to maintain their duty to secure and safeguard property and the public against threats to their safety.
But at what cost?
Here, we discuss why now is such a crucial time for organization’s within the security industry to protect their staff not only from physical risks, but from the implications the global crisis has had on their mental health.
A high-risk job physically and mentally
Security workers risk their lives every day to protect the public. To be successful, they must be in good physical condition and ready for any eventuality.
However, with this, they must also have a strong mental capacity to ensure they are always alert, vigilant and can respond quickly in the face of emergencies, all whilst remaining calm and composed.
It's not always easy, though, with many falling victim to verbal abuse regularly, while some face life-threatening situations due to attacks of violent crime.
Just last year, 40% of security workers were suffering from PTSD or other mental health illnesses. In the same study, 65% admitted to suffering verbal abuse at least once a month and 43% reported threats of violence.
One problem is the stigma surrounding security workers, particularly bouncers in the UK, with a wide belief that many display signs of violence, but that is not the case – their job is to protect you against violence. The stigma has been highly damaging to reputations for years.
We have seen recent examples of public acts of violence, not from but against security workers, one being the recent viral video showing a young woman using racial slurs and force after a bouncer refused her entry to his employing establishment .
Another example came from a bouncer in Northumberland who was assaulted by a reveler after attempting to remove him from a pub. The gentleman claimed in court that he acted in self-defense, however, was later found guilty and the bouncer was forced to speak out defending the industry and the stigma surrounding his profession.
Yet, for an industry that places such a huge responsibility on its staff, who are victims in incidences such as these, staff are villainized and there is little compensation. The pay is often poor, as are some working conditions, and many companies only offer zero hour contracts.
But above all, there is a lack of mental health and wellbeing services provided by security companies, who refuse to put staff wellbeing first. Without these services, employees are only fulfilling half of their job roles, as, without a strong state of mind, they're likely to be less alert and prepared to act quickly.
Added pressure as a result of COVID-19
For over a year now, the UK has faced devastation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with 112K deaths and 3.9 million cases reported nationwide.
For those in the healthcare industry, it has been a truly devastating time, with doctors and nurses going above and beyond to save the lives of those most vulnerable.
But while millions gathered on their doorstep for the 'clap for careers' initiative, there has been very little recognition for staff in the security sector during this time.
According to recent figures, the security industry had the highest number of deaths in the UK per 100,000 in 2020 from COVID-19.
This number is indicative of the huge risks staff in the sector have put themselves in to tackle the crisis, and that's bound to hit home for anyone who has a friend or colleague that has fallen victim.
Add in the impact of COVID-19 alongside the lack of job security and employee protection the last year has certainly exacerbated an already prevalent issue in the security industry.
And security workers are beginning to fight back. Security of The Royal Berkshire Hospital conducted strikes, claiming their employer was using the pandemic 'as an excuse to drive down pay and employment conditions’. As security staff on the frontline, in one of the most dangerous public places during a national crisis, the staff felt their appeals to increase their pay, among other things, were being ignored.
The truth is, the roles of security workers have become more crucial to public safety than ever, and their voices need to be heard. We must take this time as an opportunity to drive change and improve the livelihood of our forgotten frontline workers.
Time for change
While now is the time for change across the entire security industry, we must consider all aspects contributing to mental health issues within it.
From age-old stigmas and general risks of day-to-day roles to zero-hour contracts, low wages and poor working conditions, there is a lot of ground to be covered.
Firstly, security companies must review the wages of their employees who work tirelessly to protect others. The average SIA Security Officer makes £9.50 ($13.10) per hour, with the average annual pay for most experienced workers at £25,058 ($34,557.86)- significantly lower than the national average of £31,461 ($43,393.37).
In addition, zero-hour contracts not only result in a lack of job security, but workers have no access to things such as pensions, sick pay or wellbeing services, either. By introducing contracts, along with company benefits, companies will likely begin to see an improvement in employee mental health.
Finally, for existing or potential future mental health issues, implementing mental health support and wellbeing services within security companies is crucial. It could cost employers up to £1,300 ($1,793.06) per employee suffering from poor mental health due to sick days and poor performance, while employers can gain up to £9 ($12.41) for every £1 ($1.38) they invest in wellbeing services. That's before you even look at the significant increase in productivity.
While there is still a long way to go for the security industry, the time to act is now and we need to start taking action in protecting the very people whose job it is to protect us.
This support needs to come from the people at the top of security firms and trickle down the hierarchy to ensure workers needs and concerns are met.