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How Cost-Effective are Physical Security Solutions in the Workplace?

A business can spend a lot of money protecting its property and personnel from criminal activities; and, depending on the nature of the business, some investments are more effective than others. We discuss the effectiveness of some common physical security solutions in the workplace, and suggest options to enhance their cost-effectiveness.

If your business is in the agriculture industry, it makes good sense to erect a perimeter fence to prevent criminals driving onto your land with the intention of stealing crops and livestock, and to stop animals wandering off-site. However, for most other types of business, spending money on a perimeter fence may turn out to be an ineffective use of a security budget.

In order to be effective against vehicle penetration and cutting, you could easily spend upwards of $24 per linear foot to erect a perimeter fence - which would not only require a high level of maintenance, but will also have a finite life depending on the environment. Furthermore, a fence eight feet in height can be scaled in seconds by a fit criminal, even if the fence is topped with barbed wire.

Therefore, for most businesses, perimeter fencing is no more than a boundary marker and should not be considered a security measure unless a risk assessment identifies the need for one. More practical solutions identified by a risk assessment would include alarm systems, CCTV systems, security guards, and panic buttons; but these may not be cost-effective in all scenarios.

Alarm Systems have Advantages and Disadvantages

Most businesses are subject to OSHA's fire safety rules and have a fire alarm system installed. It also makes good sense to have a silent intruder alarm connected to the local police department. Naturally silent alarms for emergency incidents that occur during working hours are of no benefit to a business because employees won't hear them and they won't evacuate or start lockdown procedures.

alarmIn some environments, audible alarms don't get heard either. This is due to a phenomena known as “alarm fatigue” in which employees are so accustomed to hearing alarms that they subconsciously block them out and ignore them. This tends to happen a lot in the healthcare industry, but is also an important safety consideration in the construction, mining, and casino industries.

Basic commercial alarm systems for small businesses start at $200 plus installation. There is also usually a monthly fee starting at around $30. You can customize basic alarm systems to act as emergency notification systems, but - depending on the complexity of the system and the size of the business - the cost can run into many thousands of dollars. Consequently you need to consider whether it is cost-effective to extend a federally-mandated fire alarm system to meet your business's security needs.

CCTV can Reduce Some Criminal Activities, but Not All

CCTV systems are proven to be a deterrent to criminal activities such as theft, but - according to the UK's College of Policing - they have no effect on reducing violent crimes. This is because most workplace violence incidents happen “in the heat of the moment” and CCTV systems cannot stop crimes when they happen - unlike security guards (covered in the next section).

The exception to “heat of the moment” workplace violence is active assailants who deliberately set out to kill or injure their targets. According to the FBI, there has been a significant increase in active assailant events in workplaces in recent years. Not only are these increasing in number in environments generally open to the public (stores, malls, gas stations, etc.), but also in environments generally closed to pedestrian traffic (offices, factories, etc.).


Nº of Open Business Shootings

Nº of Closed Business Shootings

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Therefore, if you are considering a CCTV system to protect employees from workplace violence, you are likely to spend between $100 and $600 per camera (depending on resolution, indoor/outdoor, etc.) with the only benefits being the deterrent factor, a possible reduction in worker-on-worker violence, and increased situational awareness during an event involving an active assailant or other intruder.

The Jury is Out on the Cost-Effectiveness of Security Guards

With the average hourly rate of an unarmed security guard being around $16.00, it would cost in excess of $140,000 per annum to have 24/7 security coverage of a premises - per guard. If a risk assessment suggests you need armed guards to protect your business´s property and personnel, the cost per annum increases to an average of $188,340 - again per guard.

It has been said that the presence of a security guard - armed or unarmed - can have a positive impact on the customer experience in retail environments, and that a 5 percent increase in customer retention can increase profits by up to 95 percent, so there's definitely a commercial reason for protecting your business's property and personnel with an armed guard - but is it cost-effective in terms of security?

The likely answer is yes if the presence of a security guard prevents an employee suffering a fatal injury; as, in 2017, the National Safety Council calculated the cost of a workplace fatality at $1,150,000. However, the presence of armed security guards did not prevent the high-profile school shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and Santa Fe High School; so you have to consider whether the commercial benefits of this security measure justify the expense.

Related Blog: Keeping Employees Safe During National Preparedness Month and  Beyond

The Cost-Effectiveness of Panic Buttons Depends on their Type

Whereas a large team of security guards will better protect your business's property and personnel from active assailants, and reduce the likelihood of Type III worker-on-worker violence (attributable for 15 percent of workplace fatalities in 2014), employing a large team of security guards will likely cost millions of dollars and it will be difficult to calculate their cost-effectiveness because you can't measure the impact of something that doesn't happen.

A compromise solution is to use panic buttons that alert the business's security team to an incident that requires their presence - or, in the event of an active assailant, fire, or medical incident, that connects the business to emergency services. However, wall-mounted or desk-mounted panic buttons can be difficult to access quickly during an emergency, so the current trend in workplace safety is to opt for Bluetooth-connected wearables or panic button mobile phone apps.

Of the two technologies, panic button mobile phone apps are the most reliable because their effectiveness does not rely on the employee being within range of a Bluetooth receiver. Furthermore, when an emergency requires the assistance of emergency services, 9-1-1 call dispatchers are able to determine the location of the caller from their mobile phone signal, rather than the location of the Bluetooth transmitter - which could be on the other side of a building.

How to Enhance the Cost Effectiveness of Physical Security Solutions in the Workplace

Technology has made a big difference to the cost-effectiveness of physical security solutions in the workplace. It is now possible to implement remotely-operated emergency notification systems that not only alert employees to an emergency via their mobile phones, but that also integrate with existing alarm systems to maximize the reach of emergency notifications, and integrate with CCTV systems to enhance situational awareness from a remote incident command center.

Whereas most workplace emergency notification systems are populated by integrating them with employee databases, some solutions also provide an option for visitors, agency workers, and contractors to opt into the emergency notification system via SMS. Our Rave Alert system  has geo-poll capabilities that make it possible to contact specific groups of employees to check on their wellbeing or to solicit their availability to cover vacant shifts in order to facilitate business continuity.

To further accelerate emergency responses, Rave Alert can be integrated with the Rave Panic Button mobile phone app and Rave Facility - a module of the Rave Suite of workplace security solutions that provides 9-1-1 call dispatchers with information about the business premises to better prepare emergency responders. To find out more about these solutions, or to schedule a free demonstration of the Rave Suite in action, do not hesitate to get in touch with our team of workplace safety experts.

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Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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