Safety First: Seven Steps to Creating a Safer Environment

In my 11 years running Nightclub Security Consultants, I have seen nearly every kind of accident, fight, injury and theft-related issue involving guests and employees. These incidents didn’t just involve a drunk in a bar or club; instead, they occurred in restaurants, hotels and just about anywhere alcohol was sold.

The most bothersome issue for me is that nearly 100 percent of dangerous and costly incidents are totally preventable. And, if not completely prevented, the damage caused could be extremely limited. Now, I understand operators have many other issues to think about on a daily and nightly basis: music, carpet, air conditioning, lighting, staffing and so many other things. But operators must add the area of preventable liability to their daily “to-think-about” and, more importantly, “to do” lists.

What follows is a simple list of ideas and actions for any liquor-licensed establishment to consider when starting to be proactive about preventing accidents and incidents in their establishments.

Video Surveillance. When it comes to closed circuit TV, my motto is simple: If you think you have enough cameras, you don’t. Video alone can save operators tens of thousands of dollars.

When installing a video surveillance system, be sure that an expert assists. Don’t just take the word of the camera company who sold you the system regarding where to place the cameras; these people don’t work in the industry and may have no clue what you need to capture. A video system must cover all doors, with extra coverage of the front door. Cover the areas where incidents are likely to occur or where they have occurred.

And don’t just record events; save those records. Several clients use video surveillance to document nearly every event that occurs in their establishment, especially the positive. Then every Monday, management sits for an hour or two and reviews video, saving the weekend’s important events to a dated folder. This management team  will save the two minutes of tape showing a bartender cutting a patron off as well as everything positive the bartender did after cutting the guest off, such as providing water or food and calling the cab for the person. They might save footage of the guard at the door who refuses to allow an over-intoxicated patron in the venue. They save the video of any employee intervening between two guests who are preparing to fight. The number of potential events that can show due diligence and prove the staff can and does do the right thing is endless, and invaluable for the operator.

Employee Background Checks. Discovering a bartender or security guard has a drug history or a violent past, in my opinion, is extremely valuable to limit potential liabilities. In 2005, California mandated criminal background checks on all in-house security workers in an attempt to create a safer environment for guests and operators. If an employee is representing the company, interacting with guests or handling large sums of money, this employee must have a clean background. Management must be reasonably sure that when issues arise and temptation rises up, their team will do the right thing. And imagine discovering that an employee has a violent past after he or she loses control and hurts a guest while escorting them out of the venue. Oops!

Daily Safety Inspections. Holding safety inspections before the workday begins to proactively find and eliminate problems is a practice conducted in many other industries, including airlines, the military, industrial manufacturing, police and the medical field.

The hospitality clients I work with who have started conducting nightly safety inspections report estimated potential savings of thousands of dollars. Finding and clearing a blocked fire exit, discovering an expired fire extinguisher, repairing a torn carpet edge and so many other things can be found and corrected — thus preventing an injury or other problem — but only if you look for them.

Policy and Procedure Manual. As with safety inspections, every other major industry develops policy and procedure manuals to guide management and employees in preventing and, when necessary, addressing incidents. A huge plus of having and actually using this type of manual is that it shows you have standards of operation, should you have to represent a case in a civil lawsuit.

Appropriate Number of Guards. This is one of the worst-managed areas within the entire hospitality industry. Hotels, nightclubs and bars all look at the position of a security guard as a necessary evil and, as such, the first area to cut during hard or down times. This must change. When thinking of the proper number of guards, operators must take into account capacity, multiple levels, restrooms, entrances and exits, dance or entertainment areas, VIP service areas and more. Having enough security guards is one area that must not be skimped upon and reduced, and simply using the minimum industry standard is just not enough. This cannot be emphasized enough.

Proper Report Writing. Documenting any incident that could lead to litigation is crucial. Most civil lawsuits don’t arise for nearly two years, and by then, employees who were involved may have moved on to other jobs or simply forgotten what they saw or did. Emergency responders only will document what they need for a criminal investigation, if any. Besides, they might not ask the questions that can defend an operator during civil litigation, and frankly, they don’t care about any later civil investigation. Be sure to have a procedure and the proper tools to properly and immediately document any incidents that occur on your property.

Training, Training and More Training. For every employee on your staff, training must be delivered and documented. In a hotel, the banquet server must know how to handle over-consumption of alcohol. In a sports bar, the bartender must know how to defuse conflict. In a nightclub, the security host must know how to safely and legally detain and escort a guest from the venue. Training will provide employees the tools  management wants them to use. If you don’t train your staff, you can’t blame them when they make critical mistakes.

This is a great start for any operator or management team looking to be proactive in preventing and limiting liability damage. If you can enact these items, you can confidently say that your operation is indeed, “Above the Industry Standard of Care.” And, if this is true, the money spent on implementing these steps will fall well below the money spent fighting civil liability claims, attorney fees, court fees and all associated liability judgments. Good luck. NCB

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