Maintaining the safety and security of your exteriors
PLAYING IT SAFE
Since the events of September 11, 2001 and some of the more recent natural disasters, safety and security have become major considerations for facility managers. By maintaining the safety and security of your properties’ exteriors, you can not only avoid potential litigation from injuries on-site, but also build customer trust and loyalty and drive away possible criminal activity. Unfortunately, if a customer does not perceive that your location is safe, they are likely to shift to another retail location, regardless of the security measures you may have in place. According to studies from the American Research Group, many shoppers, regardless of gender, avoid shopping at night due to a fear of crime. Therefore, the less safe your store appears, the more likely you are to lose profits after dark and the more overwhelmed your daytime resources will be.
By failing to adopt certain safety and security measures on-site, many retailers are leaving themselves open to customer and employee injuries that can lead to expensive lawsuits and litigation. In today’s litigious society, facility managers must be overly aware of site security and customer safety. From violent crimes and robberies to slip-and-fall injuries, the number of lawsuits and their related liability costs have seen a dramatic escalation. In fact, each year accidental falls send more than 1 million Americans to the emergency room for treatment and millions of dollars are awarded to victims of crimes taking place on properties with insufficient security. With these numbers in mind, the main question emerges — what steps should the facility manager be taking to protect customer and employee safety, not to mention the company’s bottom line? While there are a number of measures that should clearly be taken on your properties’ interiors, the exteriors of your sites are a necessary, yet often overlooked, concern. From the landscaping that directly surrounds your retail location to the lighting and design of your parking lots, every element of your exterior should be inspected for potential safety or security hazards.
Landscaping serves a number of functions across locations, regardless of whether it is a commercial, industrial, educational or residential property. Exterior design creates an eye flow and aesthetic appeal, as well as determines traffic flow and defines space. Furthermore, the specific vegetation used in landscaping can hide unattractive assets, provide privacy, accent a view or property features, supply shade, retain or block heat and wind, limit erosion and provide a sound barrier. Despite the functional uses, however, landscaping can also create a number of safety-related issues if improperly designed, installed or maintained. Overgrown ornamentals and shrubbery can create hiding spaces, damage the building, harbor pest infestations and block visibility. As a specific example, one particular facility manager admitted that his retail property had been burglarized, more than once, due to site vegetation that was obscuring the building from street view, providing a convenient wall of privacy for covert activity. With proper design and maintenance, however, this landscaping can function to create some privacy and block street-level noise, while still allowing for better visibility. Tips to help reduce landscaping-related safety and security risks include:
- Avoid large hedges and overgrown plants that could allow someone to hide behind them.
- Keep trees and bushes near the building well-trimmed and the ground underneath clean to prevent building damage, infestations and hiding places.
- Professionally maintain large trees to reduce the potential for damage in high winds, or falling limbs and debris that can harm customers or their property.
- Opt for low-growing, compact shrubs which improve visibility, cost less and require less maintenance.
- Defining your space with boundary limitations, such as fences, help keep out unwanted visitors and provide customers with a perceived safety.
- Consider thorn-bearing plants to prevent access to sensitive areas.
- Use hardscaping and walkways to clearly define traffic flow, and ponds, fountains and similar assets as blockades to deter unwanted entry.
- Be sure debris is cleared from footpaths to avoid any slips or falls.
- Follow a routine maintenance schedule.
Your landscaping maintenance schedule should also focus on any irrigation systems in place. Broken irrigation heads have been known to create hazards for unsuspecting pedestrians, and a broken system can cause flooding and damage to surrounding assets. It is also important to ensure that your irrigation systems are properly winterized to prevent damage during freezes, and then inspected the following spring to check for any incidental damages.
PARKING LOT & PATHWAY PROTECTION
As the first and last aspect of your store that a customer sees, your parking lots are an often underestimated element of curb appeal and safety, and tend to be the location of most injuries. Similar to landscaping, it is both the design and the maintenance of your lots (and other pathways) that affect your customer’s sense of security on your premises. Safe ingress and egress are of utmost importance, and the following tips can help ensure it:
- Implement a sweeping schedule to keeping lots free from debris and clutter.
- Be sure debris and leaves are removed from pathways and sidewalks.
- Immediately fix potholes, cracks or uneven areas in lots and pathways, and maintain a schedule to inspect for new damage, especially after the winter months.
- Ensure all oil spills are promptly cleaned.
- Inspect all bumper blocks for cracks or unsecured tie-down rods.
- Make proper use of signage for traffic and flow control.
- Keep lot striping fresh and identifiable.
- Implement a comprehensive snow and ice plan during the winter to schedule routine and prompt snow and ice removal.
- Have salt or sand available for icy patches.
- Allow plenty of space on the sides of walkways and sidewalks for “push zones” during the snow season.
LIGHTING THE PATH TO SAFETY
Proper lighting around your stores’ exteriors can not only enhance the perceived safety of your site, but also accentuate certain property features. As always, lighting should be professionally installed and maintained to ensure safety and security. Some lighting tips include:
- Lighting should be uniform; excessively light or dark spaces create hiding spaces.
- Lights that are too bright or too high can blind customers or annoy neighbors.
- All steps and walkways should be well lighted.
- To prevent shadows, light from more than one direction.
- Switches, connections and fixtures should be checked regularly for any damage.
- Place lighting underneath railings, benches and stairs to help reduce accidents.
- Avoid lighting between trees in parking lots and beneath shrubbery as the effectiveness of the light will decrease as the plants grow.
THE NEXT STEPS
So where do your properties stand in terms of safety and security? The best way to determine the answer to this question is to conduct an audit of each of your sites’ exteriors. You may choose to do this in-house, or to bring in a team of professionals, such as an exterior services management (ESM) company, to help identify any potential hazards. Make notes about each aspect of your properties, including building orientation, ingress and egress, traffic patterns, landscaping, parking lots, irrigation, snow and ice removal, lighting, fencing, signage and all pedestrian walkways. You may also want to walk your property at night to identify further safety risks, such as lighting concerns, hiding places, areas to highlight and visibility from the street.
Once you have identified potential problem areas, you and any professionals you choose to involve can establish a list of procedures and maintenance schedules to minimize risk. If your budget is an issue, you may want to prioritize your list by the projects that are most important to resolve first, and then move along to other solutions that are less expensive but enhance the perception of safety. Keep in mind that while some maintenance or installations may seem costly, the value is evident when compared to the million-dollar lawsuits that are being awarded!