A correspondent has written about the provision of first aid by security guards.  They write:

During my professional travels, I often work closely with licensed security officers (also called known as licensed security guards or mine site access control officers), their managers and the licensed security companies whom are responsible for the contractual delivery of multidisciplinary security services including the provision of emergency first aid on client mine and resources sites.

From my investigation, a licensed security officer in all states and territories of Australia is required to hold an in date Apply First Aid Certificate (old Senior First Aid or Level 2 First Aid) and currency in CPR as part of their licensing requirements.  Although this is a formal legislative requirement, I often find during my professional travels that both the security officers, their managers and the companies they work for have quite a naïve, overly simplistic or limited understanding of their true responsibilities when delivering first aid services during the course of their security duties.  Similarly they often have no visible clinical governance systems or support in place to safeguard their practice (i.e. patient safety governance), their clients or to ensure they are operating in line with the legislators’ requirements for utilisation of drugs and poisons.

Some of the many legal questions that I have and would like to share clarifications with via your blog or other are;

  1. Is it possible to come to the conclusion that these licensed security officers are also seen by law as ‘professional first aiders’ and what does this mean?

  2. What is the security officer/s and their security company’s true responsibility in contractually providing first aid services in the workplace and how is a duty of care in such circumstances validated as opposed to someone providing voluntary first aid to a patient in a public setting?

  3. If available, does a registered Medical Doctor on the end of a telephone for on-call consultation decrease the licensed security officers and their security company’s liability in the case of adverse event?

  4. It appears that many security companies only carry professional liability instead of a combination professional and medical liability? Understandably this is a complex area, but would it not be a reasonable expectation for a client or a client patient to expect a minimum level of insurance is formally in place in a professional setting to protect them?

As I’m sure most subscriber’s to this blog know, there is no such thing as the First Aid Act or the like.  Acts creating the various ambulance services do not govern ambulance and first aid services generally, only the state ambulance service except to the extent that they say it’s an offence to provide an ambulance service or use the term ‘ambulance’ or ‘paramedic’ without appropriate permission.  What follows from that is one can’t look up ‘the’ law to find answers to questions like these, one has to infer the answers form other law and general principles.

There is however a law relating to licensed security guards.  In New South Wales that law is the Security Industry Act 1997 (NSW) and its associated regulation.  Briefly that Act does say that to be a security guard one does have to have completed various prescribed training and part of that training includes obtaining and holding a current first aid certificate (see NSW Police ‘Competency Requirements for Class 1 Licences’  (April 2014)).  I will assume that these provisions are nationally consistent or at least near enough to consistent to make no difference.

Question 1:

A security guard needs to hold a first aid certificate but so do lots of people.  Does that make them a ‘professional first aider’ and what does this mean?  The answer is that ‘professional first aider’ has no specific meaning, it means whatever the person using the phrase means by it.  It could mean someone who gets paid to do first aid so in that sense every office first aid officer who gets paid an allowance to hold a first aid certificate and who is expected to provide first aid when called upon to do so, but who may never actually be called upon, is a professional first aider.  Or it could mean someone who’s primary duty, their principle employment is to provide first aid, or it could mean something else.

Are security guards first aiders?  Well that would depend on their terms of employment and their duty statement.   When I was an undergraduate law student I earned my pocket money as a security guard (patron control officer) at the Sydney Entertainment Centre.  We were never instructed that our job was to provide first aid nor would we have done so as whenever we were at work, St John Ambulance volunteers were on duty so we would, if needed, call them.

Today I work at the Australian National University, a large, complex campus.  Each building or work area has at least one, usually more than one, first aid officer but we know that ANU Security carry oxygen, a defibrillator and who knows what else.  Where a person needs ambulance assistance we call security, partly because they need to direct the ambulance around the rabbit warren that is a university campus, but also because they provide a rapid response first aid service.   I think there is little doubt you could call them professional first aiders.   Between those two extremes there could be a myriad of alternatives.

Conclusion on question 1: It is possible to conclude that some security guards are professional first aiders but what that means depends on what the person asking the question means.  It is not possible to conclude that all security guards, just because they are required to hold a first aid certificate, are professional first aiders.

Question 2:

The security officer/s and their security company’s true responsibility in contractually providing first aid services in the workplace would depend entirely on the terms of the contract.  There may be no responsibility at all (eg a security company that drives around at night to ensure buildings are secure) to a responsibility to meet the companies responsibilities under Work Health and Safety Legislation (see for example the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (NSW) reg 42, ‘Duty to provide first aid’).   The company providing security services may also offer further advanced first aid or paramedic services.  It is all a matter of agreement between the parties and the business model of the security company.

The duty of care in any case is determined by asking how would a reasonable person/security company react to a given situation?  That would require expert evidence but as the High Court said, (when talking about an ophthalmic surgeon but the principal is universal) ‘The standard of reasonable care and skill required is that of the ordinary skilled person exercising and professing to have that special skill’ (Rogers v Whitaker (1992) 175 CLR 479, [6]).  So the standard of care of the security guards depends upon what skill they claim to have.  If the company providing security services agrees to provide licensed security guards then it must follow that they have a first aid certificate but their only obligation would be to act reasonably in the circumstances and that would be no different than anyone else. I don’t think one can necessarily expect a lot from someone who completed a first aid course somewhere in the last three years. If on the other hand they are held out as having some extra skill then the ‘standard of reasonable care and skill required is that of the ordinary skilled person exercising and professing to have that special skill’

Conclusion on question 2: It depends entirely upon the terms of the agreement and any special skill that the security firm says that it, or the guards, have. Merely holding a first aid certificate would not, in my view, constitute a special skill.

Question 3:

Does a registered Medical Doctor on the end of a telephone for on-call consultation decrease the licensed security officers and their security company’s liability in the case of adverse event?

Well it could do if that was a reasonable response to some perceived risk that the security firm had a duty to deal with.  It would also depend on what caused the adverse event.  If the doctor is employed for that purpose, and there was some training on how the guards and doctor were to work together, and the guards did what the doctor said to do but the doctor’s advice was negligent then that would make no difference.  The security company would be liable for the negligence of its employees whether they are the doctor or the guards.  If the doctor’s not negligent but the guards were, then the company is still liable.  If no-one’s negligent, no-one’s liable even if there is an adverse event.

Conclusion on question 3: It could; it all depends on the facts.

Question 4

Professional liability insurance is not a defined legal term.  Anyone who has insurance to shift the risk of legal liability that may arise in the course of the practice of his or her profession has professional liability insurance.  If a security company has insurance to shift the risks that arise in the course of their business that is professional liability insurance and if, in the course of their business, they provide first aid services, then their insurance will cover any liability that arises from that service.  If they’re not running a medical practice they don’t need ‘medical liability’ insurance.  They need insurance to cover their liability for their negligence and the negligence of their staff in the performance of their duties and if that includes first aid then that is what is covered.    If a negligent security guard injures you, either because he or she ejects you from premises or negligently administers first aid (remembering that in reality the chances of proving that are infinitesimally small) then their employer will be liable.  Whether they have insurance or not is a matter for them (subject to any obligation that may be imposed by their license, or some other law).

Conclusion as to question 4:  Subject to any requirement under other laws, the question of insurance is a matter for the security company. They can be liable whether they have insurance or not.  The risk of being liable in the provision of first aid is very, very low.  The insurance the company has to protect itself from legal liability arising from the negligence of its employees would be sufficient.