The role of physical security for the hospitality industry

Physical security guards have long been a useful asset for the hospitality industry. They give owners, staff and patrons a sense of security. This sense of security is well-justified. Physical security guards take responsibility for surveying a designated area and hence preventing both crime and accidents.

With COVID-19, their role has expanded to include helping the hospitality industry fulfil its duty of care to staff and customers. Here are the main ways they do so.

Managing social distancing

People on a night out vary widely in their willingness to comply with social-distancing rules. Even those who are, in principle, willing to comply may not understand exactly what they mean. This is understandable given that the COVID-19 regulations seem to change regularly.

This is also the case as new government guidelines expect hospitality venues to close by 10pm by law as well as previous published guidelines such as the Rule of six, which could see individuals or groups being fined for ‘mingling’.

What’s more, they can now vary according to location. Although localised rules may be welcome from the perspective of avoiding another nationwide lockdown, they can also be a source of confusion.

It is therefore hardly surprising that security guards in the hospitality industry are increasingly taking responsibility for making sure that social distancing happens in practice rather than just in theory.

Keeping order in queues

Similar comments apply here. Social distancing is a starting point for queue management but it is certainly not an end point. Customers need to be kept safe while they are queuing, as do any staff who are helping them while they wait. During COVID-19 most, if not all queuing, is being done outdoors and this can create numerous issues which security guards need to manage.

For example, during the hot weather, security guards would have been on the alert for any customer showing signs of being adversely impacted by the heat. Now that the cold weather is clearly on its way, they will have to be on the alert for associated hazards. For the immediate future, these could include falling leaves and puddles, either of which can be slipping hazards. Later on, this could include ice.

Security guards also need to ensure that people in the queue are protected from criminals. This is complicated by the fact that some criminals may choose to pose as legitimate customers. They will operate by stealth rather than by surprise and speed. Security guards, therefore, have to be particularly watchful.

Drawing attention to safety information/facilities

Security guards have long played an unofficial role in customer service. This is particularly likely outside the premises where there may be no or fewer staff. Even when there are staff, the security guard may simply be more visible.

This role has expanded due to COVID-19. It now includes guiding customers towards information on COVID-19 related safety measures and the relevant facilities, e.g. hand-sanitising stations. In some cases, it may involve enforcing the rules firmly but fairly and, where necessary, apply their common sense and judgement to create a reasonable outcome.

For example, professional security guards will remember that younger children are not necessarily able to wear face masks at all and some adults do have legitimate medical exemptions. Failing to accommodate this could constitute a breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Marie Tracey