According to Bruce Robertson, newly appointed chairman of the South African Institute of Security (SAIS), the private security industry has been receiving a fair deal of negative press lately. The question is: Is it justified? If yes, what can be done to turn things around for the better?
“I have been involved in the private security sector for the past 17 years and in this time there has been a general view that service levels leave a lot to be desired, and are, in too many cases, declining. Having said that, there are some companies that go the extra mile and provide a decent level of service to the market. There are currently in the region of 9000 companies within the sector, many of which are small companies. Of these, it is an educated guess that an unacceptable proportion have not registered with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA).
“Because of this, many of them fly under the regulatory radar especially with regard to their key asset – their employees. Under Sectoral Determination 6 for the private security sector there are specific regulations in place in terms of working conditions and minimum wages. These smaller companies, in many cases, have little regard for this and are thus engendering a workforce that has little motivation to aspire towards excellence in service levels.
“This is exacerbated by the fact that neither PSIRA nor the Department of Labour adequately polices the private security sector. Another aggravating factor is the relatively low levels of competence in the electronic security field. Again, while some companies ground themselves in excellence of both hardware and installations, there are many who muddy the waters for the industry.”
Robertson believes that it is critical for consumers to become educated about what they are entitled to in terms of acceptable service levels. “However, since electronic security can be quite technical for the layperson, it is contingent upon organisations such as the Security Industry Alliance (SIA), and the South African Intruder Detection Services Association (SAIDSA), in particular, to provide understandable information on acceptable standards.
“In general, we find that many of the insurance companies support SAIDSA members in terms of requiring installations that comply with SAIDSA’s Bylaw 25 regarding the installation of alarms. However, in turn, I believe that there needs to be an independent, third-party audit and certification service in South Africa, similar to those employed in the UK, to promote compliance by security contractors with accepted security service standards.
“There is a definite need in South Africa for improving the levels of compliance with voluntary technical and service standards as well as legal compliance. SIA can play a leading role in promoting professionalism within the industry. The Standards Act encourages compliance with a national set of standards covering security products and services and it should be utilised to establish and publicise specific national benchmarks.
“In addition to the national standards, there should also be an active promotion of compliance with international standards. The ISO 9001 Quality Management System standard is widely accepted globally as the norm for the promotion of a decent level of service and by combining this quality benchmark with a localised national technical standard, we will be able to drastically improve service levels.
“Ultimately, it is the consumer’s choice as to who they select as their security service supplier and installer. However, this does not excuse the industry from providing consumers with the information necessary to make an informed choice. Standards could be adopted on a voluntary basis but it is critical that we have some form of standards in place. We therefore need to develop and promote minimum acceptable standards to the market and then ensure that these standards are being complied with. It is in this area that SAIS should be playing a key role,” Robertson concluded.
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