Every year, the Day of Mourning is observed on April 28 to pay tribute to those who have died or been injured at work. Many of us have been touched in some way by a workplace fatality, in almost every occupation.
The issue surrounding personal safety of security personnel has received a lot of attention throughout our industry. Security personnel have been threatened, assaulted and subjected to a deteriorating level of respect.
On March 12, 1985, three gunmen attacked the Turkish Embassy and Pinkerton of Canada security guard Claude Brunelle, a 31-year-old student at University of Ottawa, was shot and killed in the attack. The resulting investigation revealed that Claude Brunelle was a hero — his efforts allowed the Turkish Ambassador to escape from the embassy during the time that Brunelle exchanged gunfire and delayed the attackers.
There have been changes to how we protect embassies after that incident — it raised the profile of uniformed armed guards, yet, in my view, there was no real risk analysis undertaken. Here we are, more than 35 years later, and I highly doubt that very many people reading this will know who Claude Brunelle was. I can say from personal experience that his family was proud of his heroics as were the embassy officials. But while his death should have sparked serious dialogue over occupational health and safety as it affects security personnel, it didn’t.
A central issue is that we don’t always know we are ill equipped until after an incident has happened. Prior to March 12, 1985, Claude Brunelle was an armed guard and was equipped as well as most armed guards and many police officers in Canada. He had a loaded .38 cal sidearm with extra ammunition. He, and many others, performed their duties well enough to protect the dignitaries. Claude did his job well that day. Although there would have been risk assessments to determine the level of safety and security that was required to protect the embassy officials, less analysis would have been done to address the safety and security of the guards providing the service. I was assigned as an armed guard at a foreign government facility, so I am qualified to speak to the risk assessments undertaken (or not) during this period.
Much more recently, in January of this year, in Winnipeg, a security guard was stabbed at the EIA office when a man leaped over a counter and pulled the knife on the guard. The guard survived that attack. The attack was one of several in that district in recent memory. Officials in that area are calling for more training as well as extended authority for guards in known high risk areas.
As professionals it is incumbent on us to continually assess OHS matters in conjunction with employees. I don’t believe we can ever have a workplace without some level of risk, but we need to know what the risks are and how best to mitigate them.
There are a number of steps that can be taken, and are being taken daily, to improve the culture of safety in the workplace. Some of these include:
- Conducting an assessment of any security assignment to understand the reasonable risks and mitigate them
- Reinforce OHS regulations that provide the employee the right to refuse work if it is reasonably deemed unsafe
- Safety Certification for employers and employees
- Safety audits
- Training to recognize risks
- Overall risk mitigation plans
On April 28, Claude Brunelle is a reminder to those of us in the security industry that we need to continually improve workplace safety.
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