Ask the panel

December 22, 2006

As a security guard in a new university in an inner city, I am frequently called on to deal with drunken students and break up parties or late-night brawls. I feel intimidated and fear for my safety. This is police work, but the university expects security guards to do it. When I complain, the university says I can't call the police out every weekend. What rights do I have and what I can expect of the university?

Our guest panellist from the Transport and General Workers' Union has clear advice, which is supported by our regular panellist from the University and College Union .

He says: "The employer has duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees while they are at work. This extends to violence at work. Exposure to violence may involve physical injury and/ or verbal abuse - and other health consequences such as stress."

He goes on: "Since you have raised the issue, your employer has a legal duty under Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to carry out risk assessment and reduce the risk.

"The employer should negotiate a clear policy with your union on how to deal with these incidents, including when the police should be involved.

The employer should put in place control measures. These could include back-up or not being expected to work alone. We would not expect our members to put themselves at risk of violence under any circumstances.

"Maybe your employer should set up a working group involving the union and other parties such as the local police to decide how to tackle the problem.

"A notice should also be displayed to advise that the university will not tolerate threats against its staff and will take steps to prosecute should staff be assaulted."

Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association contacted the Universities Safety and Health Association and the Association of University Chief Security Officers for advice.

They responded as follows: "Most universities have clear policies and associated sanctions relating to student behaviour on campus.

Your role should be clearly defined, and it should not be one of physical intervention.

"You and your colleagues should have had training in conflict resolution.

You should also have guidance on whom to call upon in various situations, including when to call upon the police. This is set out by the Security Industry Authority."

They go on: "If you continue to have concerns, then you should talk to your institution's health and safety adviser, who should be able to resolve matters with relevant managers.

"Any incidents involving violence or aggression against members of staff must be reported to both your line manager and to your institution's health and safety adviser. Verbal aggression towards university security staff does sometimes occur, but it must be noted that physical violence is rare.

"Institutions have policies and arrangements for supporting staff and addressing stressors and unacceptable behaviour such as verbal aggression."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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