Facility Access is a Critical Component of Safety

doorknobMention “facility access,” and many people envision a bored security guard sitting behind a desk in an office building or in a rundown shack in front of an industrial site. For decades, that’s been a sadly accurately image of what companies do to protect their facilities and employees. It wasn’t a big problem, though, because there didn’t seem to be many real threats.

News from around the country and the world has changed our perception of facility safety. It isn’t just the acts of terrorists. We’ve all seen stories of disgruntled employees and estranged spouses committing brutal acts of violence in workplaces. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 403 of America’s 4,679 workplace fatalities in 2014 were homicides.

It’s not just violence, either. Facilities may be at risk for thefts and industrial espionage, or for damage from fires and disasters. Visitors to your facilities may be friendly, trustworthy folks — or they may be predatory sex offenders in search of opportunities. You may have the best burglar alarm system money can buy, yet you may be allowing the most dangerous people with bad intentions to walk right through your door.

Companies have a responsibility to protect their employees and assets from harm and losses, and that protection begins at the front gate or front door. More than ever, controlling access to facilities and jobsites is a critical component of workplace safety.


What is facility access?

A company should maintain control over access and egress from its facilities and jobsites so that it can verify that the only people and vehicles that enter, spend time, and leave those facilities are supposed to be there. Whether those people are employees, vendors, or visitors, you need to have a way to ensure that their access to your site is appropriate, and that they are only given access to places they need to be.

That may seem obvious when it comes to visitors and vendors, but it’s also important to consider employee access. Every worker doesn’t need access to every corner of your facility. A laborer from your production floor may have a valid reason to visit your Human Resources department, but not your Accounting department. Similarly, there’s no reason for your Accounts Receivable supervisor to wander among production machinery. Access control limits each person’s access to the areas that are appropriate.

Speaking of visitors and vendors, do you know what happens after they enter your facility? At far too many sites, visitors and vendors have free rein once they pass the front gate or desk. The guy who refills the drink machines may be a nice guy, but he also may be rifling through purses and desk drawers or pocketing unattended tools. That charming saleswoman may secretly be taking photos of your engineering drawings and sharing them with your competitor. (Walk through your facility and pay attention to how much proprietary information is tacked to bulletin boards or sitting on desks.)

You should have an easily accessible record of every person who is entering your facility, where they are, what they’re doing there, and when they leave. One reason is in case of an emergency. If there’s a fire or natural disaster, you’ll want to be able to tell first responders who is in which area.

There are technology-based systems that can automate visitor and vendor management functions. One system available today will scan government-issued IDs such as driver’s licenses, perform an immediate check of sex offender and other criminal history registries, and print a temporary ID badge complete with photograph. When the visitor leaves, a second scan records the time of departure. In an emergency, the company can immediately access a list of all visitors in the facility.


Three functions of access control

Effective access control involves three functions. The first is authenticating, with involves identifying the employee or visitor and verifying that he or she doesn’t present a threat to your facility. The second is authorizing, which involves verifying that the individual has permission to enter the facility.

The final function is control, which involves determining which areas within the facility the individual is allowed to access, and what conditions may be placed upon that access. For example, does the individual need to be escorted while in the facility and who is responsible for providing that escort?

Another aspect of control is rules regarding who can bring items into the facility and who is allowed to remove them. If a vendor is leaving the facility with a computer, how can you verify that he has the authority to do so? You may want to have some kind of recordkeeping system that tracks materials leaving your facilities in case questions arise.


Access isn’t limited to people

We tend to think of facility access in terms of people on foot, but people also arrive and leave in vehicles. Whether that’s an employee’s personal car or a semi-truck making a delivery, control of vehicles is an important component of facility access. There’s the safety aspect, which involves minimizing the possibility of accidents and preventing traffic jams in and out of the facility. There’s the security aspect, which concentrates on making sure that nobody can break into vehicles on your property (or steal from the vehicles themselves), as well as dealing with vehicles that shouldn’t be on the property.

Vehicles can be used to bring materials in and out of your facility. Depending upon your needs for security, you may need to enact procedures to verify that those movements are allowed. This could involve anything from simply checking the driver’s identification and paperwork to inspecting the contents of the vehicle.

If your facilities have proprietary information, you may also want to consider whether employees and/or visitors will be allowed to bring mobile devices such as smartphones inside. Don’t forget that smartphones double as cameras and audio and video recording devices, giving someone an easy way to capture confidential or sensitive information.


Strategies for access control

Access control begins with a policy that defines your company’s objectives and spells out its procedures. To put that policy into action, you may use a variety of strategies and devices, including these:

Doors and locks. The most basic protection is doors that lock. Only people who are authorized to unlock the doors are issued keys, or more commonly today, electronic keycards that provide a record of who unlocked which door at what time. An advantage of keycard systems is that access can be tailored to the specific needs of each employee.

Badge systems. Identification badges are an excellent solution, particularly for larger worksites where workers may not all know each other. Some keycard access systems double as identification badges. Biometric systems that use fingerprint or retinal data are becoming more widely available.

Fences and gates. The time-honored practice of enclosing facilities in fences and controlling access through manned or electronic gates can dissuade potential trespassers or thieves. However, it’s still possible to climb over many types of fences, so this strategy is best used in conjunction with security cameras or regular patrols.

Security guards. In addition to performing access control duties and being able to patrol facilities, security guards can provide both a deterrent to people considering criminal actions and a sense of safety for workers within the facility.


Access control is an attitude

Like most other aspects of safety, facility access control begins with a philosophy that says you want your workers and facilities to be safe, and that you expect everyone to play a role in ensuring that safety.

Some people dismiss access control as a form of paranoia. It’s anything but paranoid. An effective facility access plan simply acknowledges the importance you place on protecting the people who work for you and places where they work.


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