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Reviewing 2020 and looking ahead to what 2021 might mean for the security industry, with Alex Carmichael, Chief Executive of the SSAIB

7th Jan 2021

Norbain recently chatted with Alex Carmichael – Chief Executive at the SSAIB (Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board), the leading UK certification body for security, fire systems and manned guarding services.

The SSAIB is an Independent UKAS Accredited 3rd party Certification Body. Their registered organisations provide security and safety related services, e.g., supplying and maintaining intruder alarm and fire alarm systems and/or manned security services.

They ensure that the systems and services provided by their registered organisations comply with British, European and International standards. They perform both initial and ongoing annual audits to certify ongoing compliance with relevant standards.

The SSAIB is heavily involved in the development of standards and participates in many BSI committees. Alex himself has a lot of experience across the security industry and its related associations and has spent the last 5 years as the SSAIB’s Chief Executive.

We asked Alex a few questions about the impact of 2020 on security installers as well as looking ahead to what changes 2021 might bring:

Q1. During the course of 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic and two lockdowns, what impact has this had on the registered installer customers of the SSAIB, what challenges did they encounter and how have they addressed them?

When the coronavirus pandemic kicked off earlier this year and we quickly went into the first lockdown on 24th March, the number one concern for those installer businesses registered with the SSAIB was ‘Are we classified as key workers?’ The SSAIB received lots of phone calls and emails from worried business owners.

A few firms furloughed staff immediately, but most did not and for a brief period, confusion reigned as no one knew quite what was going to happen. There was a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty, resulting in industry activity slowing down.

The SSAIB quickly recognised that they would need to put together guidance for their registered installers and act collectively on their behalf lobbying government for clarification around the Key Worker status of the security industry’s workforce.

The industry justifiably saw itself as key because of the vital work carried out – protecting the vulnerable, protecting rapidly emptying office space, installing & maintaining vital security systems, and protecting the property of other key workers.

The SSAIB collaborated with the Police & Fire Service and other industry bodies such as the, BSIA & SIA. The group also wrote to the Security Minister, James Brockenshire, requesting clarification and expressing their strong concerns.

Once it was agreed that installers could classify themselves as key workers, the industry had to change quickly to become ‘COVID-19’ compliant.

The SSAIB acted as an information source to support installers in doing this – to become compliant in their practices by use of PPE, Social Distancing and making customers feel safe.

Q2. Were there any recurring themes of the challenges faced and how registered installers overcame these adversities?

As already discussed, the first huge concern back in February/March 2020 was that they should be classified as Key Workers, so as to keep protecting the security of UK businesses and residents.

The second significant question was “What do we need to do to continue carrying out installations and maintenance of Fire & Security Systems?”:

  • What do we need to put in place to minimise infection risk whilst on a customer’s business premises or place of residence?
  • What procedures, information and equipment are required to ensure a customer feels as safe as possible whilst the installer is on-site?
  • How best can we keep customers safe and make them feel comfortable enough to allow security specialists to carry out work?
  • How can we manage those situations where a customer refuses to allow access?

The SSAIB assisted their registered firms by pointing them to the correct government information and other information sites that firms could go to get up-to-date information.

It helped, of course, that the SSAIB were interpreting these guidelines for their own auditing and certification activity, as well as within their own offices.

The level of installations and maintenance dropped significantly during the 1st lockdown period, then slowly crept back up to where we believe it is approaching 70%- 80% of pre-covid activity.

Some businesses were able to organise themselves into teams so that where there was a confirmed case of coronavirus, only some of the staff had to isolate and work could be carried on by others.

During the 2nd lockdown, over the 4 weeks of November, it was quite a different story, with no impact on activity and installation levels (so maintaining at about 80%). Security companies knew what to expect, what they needed to ensure was in place, what to say to customers and how to manage infection risks.

Q3. What about the SSAIB itself, how did you go about facing the challenges that COVID-19 and lockdown created?

The SSAIB decided very quickly that it would not close – they considered it was imperative auditing and certification of relevant Security & Fire systems and services continue to ensure they remained compliant with relevant standards and consistent with the requirements of Emergency Services.

For their part, once a possible lockdown was rumoured, the SSAIB hastened to get Remote Auditing up and running in so far as it was possible. They followed the guidance offered by UKASto help them ensure the correct procedures were established.

The SSAIB set up their Auditing processes to allow as much as possible to be carried out via online questionnaires followed by video interviews. That reduced the need for Auditors to go on-site to with only the product/equipment inspection element of the audit being needed to be carried out on-site.

Also, within their own premises/offices, they quickly ensured those who could work from home had the IT equipment and communication systems required to do so and those who still had to go to the office or to customer sites had the correct processes and support in place. By 24th March, everyone at the SSAIB was remotely connected wherever possible.

Q4. What impact has the pandemic had on how the industry and SSAIB operates, do you foresee some of the short-term modifications becoming longer term changes?

It has become clear that some aspects of the installers work and those of the auditors can be done remotely and the requirements of the last year have fast forwarded moving to online and remote working. Video technology offers the opportunity to conduct part of the audit process online and the SSAIB are looking to continue taking advantage of this.

However, it is difficult to determine remotely if an installation conforms to the standards required without going on-site to fully inspect the work carried out. Certainly, remote maintenance of systems can be continued, but there is still a requirement for periodic on-site work such as the Annual Inspections.

For their part however, the feedback SSAIB has received indicates security companies have found their customers appreciate the less commercial in their approach taken by smaller, regional companies particularly when the service provided recognises the need for a more sympathetic and considerate approach, particularly in the residential arena.

In terms of product – the demand for Intruder alarms has continued unabated and there has actually been an increase in demand for CCTV systems. Cameras with added intelligence have been of particular interest to the registered installers and their customers.

With no events being organised to show installers what new products are available, event organisers have been focusing on getting through the crisis whilst waiting to see what next year brings.

Q5. Regarding Brexit, what do you foresee the impact as being on the immediate future for the security industry? How can installers best prepare for the changes coming?

First of all, what will the restrictions be on those working with international suppliers, distributors and partners?

Will UK manufacturers continue to be major exporters of security equipment and conversely will the UK continue to be a major importer of European manufactured equipment?

This requires acknowledging that CE marking will no longer be acceptable in the UK with the introduction of the new UKCE mark.

The reverse will apply to UK exports which will be required to comply with CE marking. The result will be that manufacturers wishing to trade in the UK and the EU, will have to meet the requirements of both the CE mark and the UKCE. Whilst the requirements of these marks should be -at least initially – very similar, the UK has made it clear it wishes to diverge from European Standards.

Also, very importantly, will the standards of the UK Security Industry change? It is believed that there will be no change to standards at this time, and this is an area the SSAIB is heavily involved in with its counterparts, to ensure that there are no grey areas for the industry.

The SSAIB want to give their registered installation firms assurance and certainty at this time of upheaval, so that they can focus on getting on with their core business.

There are lots of questions for the security industry – offering both challenges and opportunities. Brexit is an exciting time for the security and safety industries as most new technologies are international and the industry is in a position to capitalise on these new innovations. It will also be important to ensure that the correct ethical and legal frameworks are placed around many of the new innovations (surveillance systems in particular) to ensure that public privacy is protected.

International Standards are changing and as we move from analogue to digital communication networks in the UK. These changes will open up new opportunities in products and services, allowing safety and security businesses to offer customers innovative products and solutions whilst improving the reliability and capability of their systems.

Professionally designed and installed, maintained, and monitored security and safety systems – backed by a 24/7 service – offer level of security and confidence not possible with DIY systems that rely on signalling to mobile devices.  Brexit will not change this, and our registered firms will be supplying high quality security and safety system and services for years to come.

The SSAB is committed to maintaining high standards and will continue to support the security industry as it meets the challenges of COVID 19 and Brexit.

Our thanks to Alex for his time talking to us. At Norbain, we’re looking forward to a less disrupted 2021, but the last year has certainly demonstrated the importance of fostering relationships and cultivating partnerships across the industry and taking advantage of the technologies that allow us to do so.

More about the SSAIB:

The SSAIB is an Independent UKAS Accredited 3rd party Certification Body. Their registered organisations provide security and safety related services, e.g., supplying and maintaining intruder alarm and fire alarm systems and/or manned security services. They ensure systems and services comply with British, European, and International standards by carrying out both initial and ongoing annual audits to certify ongoing compliance with relevant standards.

The SSAIB also requires that registered firms meet criteria applicable to the services provided and is itself required to comply with international standards set for conformity assessment bodies. Organisations wishing to purchase a such a safety or security service can have full confidence in the services provided by an SSAIB registered company.

Their registered firms are mainly regional firms who are skilled in tailoring their services to meet local conditions. Customers tend to appreciate the opportunity to deal with local services providers as it is possible to contact the owner or senior staff, something which is not always possible with larger, national companies.

SSAIB is heavily involved in the development of standards and participates in many BSI committees. It also has representatives on various industry bodies and maintains a good relationship with the police and insurers.