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Standards assured: the value of certification in the security sector

UKAS-accredited NSI is the UK’s independent third party certification body within the security systems, guarding services and fire safety sectors, helping to protect homeowners, businesses, public organisations and the general public through rigorous audit of more than 1800 fire safety and security providers nationwide, writes Richard Jenkins, Chief Executive of the National Security Inspectorate (NSI).

Delivering an effective security solution is increasingly reliant on an evolving and diverse set of technical and business skills. Clients are more aware than ever before of the need to protect people, properties and assets and are keen to understand how this can best be achieved. Buyers should be confident that companies delivering security services are working to the highest standards.

Government guidance

A number of useful guidance documents are available from government. These help explain the framework for how we all as a society (including the public, the security services and the private security sector) can work together to combat common threats. A good example is the NaCTSO (National Counter Terrorism Security Office) publication of 2016 outlining options for the private sector to enhance security at times of raised threat levels.

Another initiative is the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) scheme to help organisations operating CCTV systems in public places. The Scheme provides a framework for operators and users of surveillance camera systems facilitating a proportionality and transparency in surveillance. The SCC’s easy-to-follow guide for non-experts thinking about buying a surveillance camera system references the value of services provided by approved companies.

Yet guidance typified by these publications, important as it is in raising awareness and galvanising a broader audience, is not itself sufficient as a ‘standard’ for providers to work to.

Security services standards

Maintaining and demonstrating professionalism across the sector requires a set of recognised standards as a benchmark for working practice. In the security sector Codes of Practice, International and British standards govern the installation of intruder and hold up alarms, fire safety systems, CCTV systems, access control as well as operations such as alarm receiving centres, key holding, and guarding services. The full gamut of security services has specific standards against which operational practice can be audited. Defining and agreeing such standards in expert committee takes input from certification bodies such as the National Security Inspectorate (NSI), who play an important role in determining how best to audit operations for compliance against any developments in standards.

Why choose an approved contractor?

Independently assessed organisations hold Certificates of Approval, providing buyers with a ready means of checking capability against the standards applicable to the services being sought. The main reason for selecting an organisation holding relevant Approvals is the confidence of knowing it is routinely audited by an independent third party – a certification body – and maintains compliance on an ongoing basis.

What to consider?
There are several aspects buyers may consider as part of the supplier selection process:

1) Relevant Approval. It is vital to ensure the selected organisation holds a Certificate of Approval relevant to the services it offers. Competencies are very specific. It sounds obvious but, Door Supervision is not Event Stewarding, Intruder Alarms are not CCTV systems. Any doubt as to the appropriateness of the Certificate of Approval can be readily checked with the issuing Certification Body.

2) Independent Approval. This is a far stronger endorsement than self-certification. To maintain the former, an organisation is subject to an ongoing independent programme of audit at least annually the extent of which is determined by the Certification Body, not the subject organisation. Improvement notices issued in audit e.g. where processes, training or customer service procedures are considered questionable or non-compliant, must be subjected to root cause analysis and effective corrective action declared. Under this external scrutiny of independent audit, the cycle of continuous improvement is reinforced and fastidiously maintained.

3) UKAS Accredited Certification. UKAS – the UK Accreditation Service – gives additional oversight underlining the competence, impartiality and performance capability of both the Certification Body and the service provider whose Certificate of Approval will carry UKAS’ logo. It emphasises a service provider’s investment in honest independent and impartial audit, of UKAS themselves ‘checking the checkers’ with rigorous audit. (You can learn more about UKAS’ activities here).

4) Individual Licensing. ‘People’ related services provision such as key holding or close protection, require providers to adhere to Security Industry Authority (SIA) Licensing. This is mandatory for every individual, requiring checks for criminal records and evidence of training and competence to be provided. Independent Approvals bodies will scrutinise Approved businesses for their adherence to mandatory Licensing, and their use of sub-contractors.

NSI approval: the criteria

NSI Gold and Silver Approved Companies undergo an annual independent, expert compliance audit against the relevant British Standards for services they deliver, and in the case of Gold approval, the International ISO 9001 Standard for Quality Management Systems and NSI’s own Quality Schedule. Services covered include access control, CCTV, security intruder and hold up alarm installation and maintenance, key-holding, canine services, door supervision, close protection, alarm receiving centres and CCTV operations.

Tailored audits include in-depth assessment of front-line services, technical competence, management systems, support infrastructure, staff welfare and benefits, and people development. NSI’s industry specialist auditors spend time at approved companies’ head office, other offices, and critically on customer sites inspecting security installations and/or interviewing technicians and security officers before completing their audit findings. In a minority of cases these may require mandatory corrective action, or even result in the withdrawal of approval.

Food for thought

Standards for security services are key, yet as important is the role of management systems and the culture in the provider’s business. This includes quality management, environmental management and health and safety systems and standards; ISO 9001 for quality management being probably the most commonly recognised.
NSI has long realised the value of joined-up assessment of management systems alongside technical standards. This has significant advantages: for buyers the reassurance that audit programmes are not merely tick box exercises; for approved companies an integrated audit programme delivered by a multi-skilled auditor expert in identifying improvement needs and opportunities. When effectively implemented, formally recognised standards raise and maintain levels of professionalism. Ongoing verification of compliance through impartial, competent audit and assessment programming means service providers readily assure their clients and their wider community of their openness to independent scrutiny, their professionalism and their trustworthiness.


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