No matter the country in which we work one of the most frequently overlooked periods of our day from a safety and security perspective is the time spent travelling from home to work. Yet, during this time we can be at heightened risk, so it is worth devoting some time to considering how we can keep ourselves, and our colleagues, safer.
Complacency is likely the biggest issue in our regular commute to the office. A survey conducted in 2009 suggested that that one in three traffic accidents happen within ten miles of a person’s home and this is due to people ‘zoning out’ or having reduced levels of awareness in travel they do routinely.
In environments where threats can be infrequent, but high impact, like vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), kidnap, or carjacking it’s difficult to continually operate with adequate, a heightened sense of awareness and prevention can slip. In these environments complacency can be deadly. But, it’s difficult and exhausting to maintain a heightened alert all the time.
The best way to combat complacency is through regular communication. There’s no need to become the prophet of doomsday but whenever possible, remind everyone in the organisation of regular threats which are present but can be forgotten if they don’t impact people regularly. Update staff regularly on the security situation – whether it’s improving or deteriorating – and mention threats present and remind them how they can prevent them. This includes robberies at cash points, or awareness in places they regularly visit on their ways to and from work – such as grocery stores, malls, restaurants, petrol stations.
Trips between home and work are normally not considered part of the working day and ‘private travel’ by organisations for staff that are hired in that country. This can mean that attention is only paid to the routes between accommodation and the office, or work site, for international staff. While this might fulfil a legal duty of care it misses an opportunity to look more holistically at the safety and welfare of the entire team. Some things to consider which can improve the overall team’s well-being are:
How do most staff get to the office/work site? Public transportation? Private vehicles? Taxis? Walking? How far do they need to go to access a bus or train stop or parking lot? Are the areas well lit and is it safe for them to do so at commuting hours?
What are the organisation’s parameters around working late or being in the office alone?
Are there safe areas in which people can await rides or taxis or do they have to stand outside in the dark and during inclement weather?
The location of the office is also quite important but often something over which security managers have little control. Despite this, they – and line managers – should try to understand where employees are commuting from and if this would ever put them in danger. Do people need to cross through dangerous areas or neighbourhoods to get to the office each day? If demonstrations normally occur in one place in the city or area would they be cut off from their homes if they were at the office?
Staff are also often told to ‘vary their timings’ and ‘not to establish routines’ in places where hostile surveillance before a criminal activity is likely. But, then in the next breath are told that they are expected at the office at 9am and may not leave until 5pm. If the organisation truly expects varied routines to prevent criminal threats, then there will need to be some understanding in office timings. Also, if staff are expected to vary their routes but the office is located at the end of a dead-end street they can vary their routes all they like but be particularly susceptible at the single turn they need to take every day to get down the road to the office. This should be considered when choosing office locations.
Special attention should be paid to the safety and security of women who might need to spend more money or time to travel safely. In some countries, not all the transportation available is equally accessible. In Pakistan and India, for example, women prefer to travel in women’s only carriages of trains or take a known, hired taxi each day to decrease the likelihood of sexual harassment or violence.
While our daily commutes to, and from, work might not be where we focus most of our safety and security attention they are places where we spend a significant period of our working weeks. A little thought can go a long way to improving people’s everyday safety, security and sense of well-being.