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Protecting security guards in hospitals during COVID-19

Security guards in the healthcare sector are taking extra precautions amid COVID-19


April 6, 2020
By Alanna Fairey
Alanna Fairey

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PHOTO: Getty Images

Protecting security guards working in hospitals during COVID-19, and enacting effective safety protocols, has been a top priority for security companies.

Safety practices have included stringent hygiene protocols and mandatory use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Due to the severity of COVID-19, a number of Canadian security guard companies are also taking precautions beyond masks and gloves.

Since COVID-19 has been fluid and pandemic developments are evolving, Covell Phillips, vice-president, client services – commercial for Paragon Security Inc., shared that the training for security guards working in the health-care sector has also evolved.

Paragon Security has a training academy that operates 50 weeks of the year under normal circumstances, and provide security guard license training and customer service support, according to Phillips.

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“Everybody – no matter who it is – is learning each day as the situation evolves,” Phillips said in an interview with Canadian Security.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve had to shift our focus and prioritize our training methods or training academy resources to education COVID-19 safety practices, in terms of keeping our employees and their respective families safe during this crisis.” 

Phillips also shared that Paragon’s instructors from the training academy are out in the field versus being in the classroom to educate staff and redirect them in terms of how to keep themselves safe.

Similar to Paragon’s emphasis on education, Darren Pedersen, senior vice-president, manned guarding Canada for G4S Secure Solutions (Canada) Ltd., sees value in taking the time to train security guards on how to protect themselves during a pandemic rather than rush to meet the demand.

“We at G4S do not agree as a company putting guards out untrained, even if there’s a temporary licensing in place, we feel that there should be some company training in place,” Pedersen said.

When COVID-19 was deemed a pandemic, G4S quickly moved to virtually train security staff, something that became integral to their pandemic plan.

Pedersen also said that G4S security guards have changed how close they work in proximity to others in the hospitals. “When a person comes into the hospital, and they want us to support them with COVID-19 testing areas, we’re making sure that guard has a six-foot base around them,” Pedersen said. “We make sure that they’re able to communicate with the people effectively and we’re making sure that all PPE is available for the employees to utilize.”

Regal Security Inc., for its part, put together a Learning Management System (LMS) training module for pandemic awareness and training, which details what COVID-19 is, and what security guards can do to protect themselves.

Paul Carson, Regal Security’s vice-president of commercial development, emphasized that the best way to manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is educating security guards.

“If you don’t educate them, then you’re only exacerbating the problems,” Carson said.

A call for leniency

Unsurprisingly, there has been an uptick in demand for security guards since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

“In good times, what do you need? Security. In Bad times, what do you need? More security,” said Carson. “And that’s what we’re seeing now. We’re seeing upticks in requests for service.”

To work as a security guard, an individual needs a licence. However, with the manpower demand now so massive, several security guard companies have been requesting a change in the system so that unlicensed security guards can be hired during the pandemic.

To date, the Government of Quebec and Government of Nova Scotia have announced that they would be lenient towards hiring guards without a security guard licence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissionaires Ottawa has a division in Montreal that has been providing guards with the training. Paul Guindon, Commissionaires Ottawa CEO, shared that Quebec instituted a temporary license program for at least four months, and an individual can get hired without any training.

“We still provide online training for guards working in Quebec, because we believe that’s the right thing to do,” said Guindon. “The licences are produced fast and the training requirement is even waived, even though we’re not exercising this necessarily.”

Guindon also shared that the Quebec government said that they are likely to provide some some security services to retirement homes, which is going to create a huge demand on the Quebec side.

“With the flexibility that the provincial government is offering, in the processing of new hires, it’s much better and easier,” Guindon said.

While Quebec has been flexible with their security guard requirements, the Province of Ontario has not yet granted the same leniency on the matter.

G4S has been actively lobbying the minister’s office in the premier’s office, identifying that there is a core requirement for them to take a very serious look at what other jurisdictions are doing regarding the temporary licensing legislation.

“To meet the overall demand of the market…we are strongly engaged with the minister’s office right now,” said Tim Saunders, chief business development officer and senior vice-president of secure integration at G4S. “We’re very much advocating that they look at a temporary licensing scenario.”

Carson shared that Regal Security has also reached out to the minister and to the premier in writing and asked for a cessation of the requirements for guards for the next 120 to 180 days.

Carson hopes the decision will be overturned in the future, as Regal has ideas of creating a cadet program where unlicensed guards can be paired with the licensed guards.

“If we had two people and one was a cadet and one was a security guard, we would identify that person as a cadet through that nomenclature,” Carson explained. “We’re hopeful that the ministry sees that there’s a requirement for it.”

Steve Pattison, Ontario’s Deputy Registrar with the Private Security and Investigative Services Branch, told Canadian Security that they are aware of the concerns expressed by guard companies operating in the province and their requests for temporary licensing. “At this moment, it’s not something we’re contemplating, but it’s not to say that we aren’t fluid and can’t change. With government approvals and such, changes in legislation take some time.”

Pattison said that the ministry is currently ahead of schedule in terms of licence approvals. “Usually we’re about 2,500 a month. Now we’re over 3,000.”

He also said that with casinos and sporting venues currently closed, there may be guards out of work and looking for employment. “We’re asking companies to prioritize and reach out to those guards.”

“We’re doing our very, very best to support the industry,” he said, adding the ministry has been in touch with security organizations like the Association of Professional Security Agencies (APSA).

While security guard companies are continuing to advocate for leniency, Phillips said that Paragon has not yet faced a shortage of security guards, as they were taking active steps and measures to always recruit, even before the pandemic began.

“The hiring is astonishing, because of the health-care vertical,” Phillips said. “We continue to add to the screen and there is an enormous demand for workers.”

Phillips also shared that Paragon Security has been providing 2.5 times the amount of extra coverage on top of their original base coverage at a plethora of the health-care facilities.

“I think as the world has slowed down, it’s kind of given everybody perspective and opportunity to think about things,” Phillips concluded. “We hope this pandemic slows down with the measures that are put in place and we’ll continue to do our part.”

— With files from Neil Sutton

This story was updated on April 7.