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The Difference Between Building Safety and Building Security

Building managers have always had a ton of things to worry about. With the pandemic, these worries grew exponentially. This will be seen as the year that we started prioritized safety and security of our buildings. These are two of the most critical things that our built world provides. But both are distinct aspects of building management, each vital to preserving a building’s integrity. Whether the facility in question is a school, an office complex, healthcare facility, or manufacturing plant, when all inefficiencies have been checked, a building’s users need to have the assurance that they can go about their business in a safe and secure environment.

That being said, let’s look at what building safety and building security are, how both terms differ, and a few actions that building managers can take to foster both safety and security from the moment someone arrives at the premises until they leave.

Building safety vs. building security

What do the concepts of safety and security mean? 

Safety is the state of being protected from harm. Such harm usually of an unintentional nature. Safety is also the position of having control over recognized hazards and other undesirable conditions to achieve an acceptable level of risk.

Security is protection from threats, danger, and other forms of intentional harm caused by human actions or human behavior. 

When applied to the built environment, building safety refers to the procedures and actions that are in place to ensure that a building’s users are protected from exposure to the hazards released from unintentional harm or danger.

Building security, on the other hand, refers to the procedures and actions put in place to protect a building and its users against deliberate threats against the building’s occupants or property.

Although both concepts are clearly different, the key underlying when developing an approach for handling building safety and building security is risk management. This mean that building managers will need to identify, evaluate, and prioritize their risks both known and unknow. 

Improving building safety

Safety issues are largely caused by some kind of error. Some common causes include human error, non-compliance, fatigue, stress, and machine failure. With so many issues around personnel the first steps should when designing safety programs should focus on revamping the overall safety awareness, culture, and practices of the people involved. By improving their perception and handling of day-to-day safety matters, accidents and incidents can be kept at low and manageable levels. 

A new and improved dedication to safety is the best springboard for introducing and maintaining sustainable safety practices in your building. Find out where there are gaps and inefficiencies in your safety policies and activities. Implement proactive procedures to help close those gaps. Then educate and empower all building users and stakeholders to be accountable for their actions. 

Consistency and leadership are key requirements for achieving improvements in safety culture. Your commitment to enforcing agreed safety practices throughout the chain of command will go a long way to eliminate harmful shared beliefs, attitudes, and traditions that compromise safety.

To make enforcement and compliance easier look into adopting a digitized platform such as a dedicated safety management software (EHS management software). They come with a wide range of features and they are available in browser and/or mobile app versions. You’ll get several benefits like real-time reports, auto updates and backups, faster documentation, and 24/7 accessibility.

While the people are the most important part of a building’s safety, you can’t overlook the unique mechanical aspects of each building. Some categories of equipment have a direct impact on safety including firefighting systems and electrical equipment. When these assets are not in good condition, or are not functioning as expected due to age, the consequences can be grievous. Although it’s expected that you already have a building maintenance strategy in place for monitoring and maintaining all the equipment on your premises, it’s still good practice to conduct an audit of your building at intervals to get an update about the condition of all your assets.  

Although age clearly contributes to equipment failure, it may not be financially possible or convenient to replace old models with newer ones right away. This makes top-notch maintenance so crucial. If you’re not yet using one, you should seriously consider deploying a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) in your building to help you analyze maintenance data and to help keep aging equipment as healthy as possible through coordinated proactive maintenance actions.

Besides equipment, aging infrastructure also contributes to safety issues. For instance, cracked flooring, broken steps, corroded and loose handrails, etc. These are a few examples of commonly overlooked issues in older buildings that can cause major safety problems. Endeavor to assess these hazards and correct them before an emergency arises. 

Improving building security 

For security matters, the threat is intentional. These treats include inflicting harm on the building’s users, damaging or stealing equipment and assets, and sabotaging the operations of businesses in the building. Security plans should be highly focused on immediately identifying vulnerabilities and increasing your building’s capacity to handle all identified threats. 

Outdated access control technologies leave your building with flaws that can expose it to several risks ranging from violent attacks to property theft and data breaches. For example, many building still uses older, legacy solutions that work based on card credential technology. These systems can be easily stolen and used to enable unauthorized access to your facilities. In addition, they are usually unencrypted and vulnerable to interception. Such older systems are costly to maintain, limited in functionality, and do not support remote updates. Other forms of outdated building security systems include a heavy reliance on security patrols, analog CCTV surveillance systems, and wired rather than wireless installations. 

Prioritize the assessment of your building’s current security systems. If you find that your setup is outdated and vulnerable, take immediate steps to research and install security upgrades. There are several options available on the market that are cost-effective and minimally disruptive.

Despite the best security installations, certain commonly overlooked practices will circumvent your efforts and cause problems if left unchecked. These are careless acts that are all tied to human behavior and error. For example, the state of complacency that can often exist among long-term users of a building. When people have been using your building for years, they may become friendly with your security personnel, and this leaves room for compromise. Or building users may try to use shortcuts. To combat these loopholes, you can try changing your security personnel at intervals.

Security drills are also helpful for spotting weaknesses in your security processes and for understanding your building’s preparedness for a potential security breach. 
Instead of trying to manage and track your security manually, technology can help you make things easier. You could opt for a smart access control system that is tailored for your building. Among other features that these systems offer, you’ll get real-time security updates and notifications. The best ones are also easy to integrate with a building automation system and your existing smart building technology. Although building safety and security will always involve some level of risks, there are many software solutions available to help you streamline both processes and minimize both your safety and security gaps.

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