Define A Duty of Care – A Lifetime Responsibility

My journey started the day I was born. At 6′ pounds I was an average sized baby. My mother tells me that before I was handed over to her, the doctor announced, “I think you have a monster on your hands” As the doctor brought me to her and laid me on her bosom she said I looked like a Sharpe puppy dog. The doctor said to her that, all the rolls of skin were indicative that I needed to grow into it fast. Boy, was that an understatement.

My whole life I was the “big boy”. I was always treated like the freak and that meant I was a quiet boy too. Fast forward into my late teens, I was a lot more confident and extroverted but I was a good responsible lad. We went out a lot back in those days and I had a bunch of neighbors kids we hung out with frequently who loved having me out with them. Obviously I was the private bodyguard but I had eased into this role naturally.

This was the start of it for me. All my life I understood there was a stereotype, a stigma attached to being “big”. My size got me into security and I fully understood a responsibility for the safety and well-being of who ever I was with. And that often meant sacrificing. Not being able to drink, having to drive all night or giving up my own night so everyone else could have fun. But it was always appreciated and I took my responsibility very seriously.

Those early days as a bouncer and every other security role after that I just got better at reading and assessing situations, anticipating potential threats and creating measures to ensure a good time could be had by everyone without having to impose rules and be the party pooper. If I was’t stopping idiots starting fights with the crew I was with, I was having to stop my crew from doing something stupid. I got really good at it… all without really having to lift a finger.

Before I even heard of the term, I was already doing it. So defining a duty of care is easy for me because it is always the objective in everything I do. This concept was further enhanced using common sense, being considerate, knowing my limitations, thinking fast on my feet and realizing anything I did or failed to do, did not cause harm to anybody or anything. Lets not forget the most important of all, a duty of care to yourself.

Duty of care – A Moral and Legal Obligation

Here is a legal definition of Duty of Care:

“The responsibility of a person or organization to take all reasonable measures necessary to prevent activities that could result in harm to other individuals and/or their property.

In whatever security capacity you are in there will always be an expectation on you by clients and the public relying on you to do your job. If that expectation is, in the circumstances, reasonable, then it can be said that you owe them a duty of care. You really need to think about the exact nature of service or support you are providing. Failure to exercise care in any given situation may lead to foreseeable injury (that is, you could have avoided the injury by exercising due care).

Again in the context of the work and services I provided as security personnel this wasn’t always straight forward. The overt behaviors, attitudes and or aggressive and hostile situations I have been confronted with did not allow me the luxury of time to think about the best way to handle a situation. More times than not I have mill seconds to make a decision to act or not depending on any given situation. My actions then, are based on

  • my health and safety, first and foremost
  • the safety and well-being of the people around me
  • the safety and well-being of the person or situation I am having to deal with
  • damage to property and assets

Hence why there is an expectation of specific training, regulation and certification of all security personnel. This could be looked at as a standard of care. An organization may also be legally liable if it is proven that its employee failed in his duty of care because his/her employer has failed to provide them with sufficient tools and training to reasonable carry out his/her duties proficiently which directly resulted in harm, loss or damage.

Standard to care – Different uniform, Same team

Standard of care refers to what is expected of any other reasonable person/worker who performs the same duties. This is not about having to be the perfect worker but about being good enough and doing your job as well as any other worker. This is where training and certification are key to the industry and its standards.

Judges when making their decisions regarding whether a worker has failed to provide a reasonable standard of care looks at many factors including:

  • training that the worker has received
  • laws and regulations
  • practicalities relating to the situation
  • needs of others in the situation
  • current trends and standards of the industry
  • community values and attitudes.

Breach of duty of care – It’s not my job

A breach of duty of care exists when it can be proven that someone is negligent because they have not provided a standard duty of care. So if you or your employer has done something that they should not have done or not done what they should have done, then they have failed to provide an appropriate standard of care.

Put your thinking caps on and think if the following can be deemed as a breach of duty of care:

  1. Leaving a bottle of beer in the middle of a busy entrance way
  2. Leaving a group of very drunk people out on the pavement on a busy highway
  3. Taking 10 people on a hunting trip who have never shot a firearm
  4. Taking a group abseiling without any training
  5. An underaged patron having her stomach pumped for alcohol

All I can say is common sense prevails and unfortunately in my experience theres not a lot of it around. The biggest question you need to ask yourself when you are unsure about what you are looking at is ask is “What if?” Now apply it to the above scenarios. I think you get the picture. If you don’t, you best look at another profession.

Harm or Loss – Its not my fault

When we fail in our duty as security personnel and harm, damage or loss occurs, then someone is going to sue you for negligence. You will be legally liable if a person is injured whilst in your care and it can be proven that you were negligent. This negligence will be determined on a number of factors, including:

  • as security personnel you owed that person a duty of care
  • the injury suffered by the person was reasonably foreseeable
  • you failed to take reasonable care to prevent the injury from occurring
  • the harm was a direct result of you not performing your duty.

For most of you already in the industry a basic understanding of Duty of Care is what will keep you and your company out of court, if you can help it. You will also find laws of Duty of Care, although vary from country to country are based on the same principles. You will also appreciate how and where you can apply these principles and how tricky things can get when exercising your duty of care as a retail security officer as opposed to an armed protection officer. What ever you are doing just remember the worst thing you can do is absolutely nothing. No one expects you to give up your life for anything and if you’ve written something down, and at least logged something then you’ve done something. Its pretty hard to argue you did not perform a duty of care.

Go well.

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