Stephanie Slater died last week, aged 50. Whilst she died from cancer (tragically, only 11 days after diagnosis), it’s the events of 25 years ago that will forever stay in the minds of estate agents.
A negotiator, just six weeks into her job with Shipways, now part of Sequence, she was kidnapped and held captive for eight days.
Fast forward to today, and another incident was reported, though in a different context, of an estate agency having to close for the day because of an intruder repeatedly making ‘not very nice suggestions’ to staff.
How can we, as estate agents, branch managers and business owners look after our staff?
What are our legal obligations and how can we use technology to prevent incidents like these from happening again?
How can we avoid being part of the statistic that states over two thirds of all businesses in the UK fail to meet basic health and safety needs for their staff?
Ultimately, we have to wake up to the fact that we are putting our staff into difficult and potentially life-threatening situations on a daily basis. It is remarkable that it doesn’t happen more often.
Part of this health and safety argument centres around our physical viewings being managed by, what is deemed in health and safety speak, ‘lone workers’. I am not going to jump into all the legal jargon around this term and the responsibilities we have around this.
If you want to read about this, though, then I recommend this post in which it is broken down well.
Suffice to say, there are many responsibilities we have to adhere to, and must be seen to be acting responsibly. Most of these align with the actual Government legislation of The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999).
There are two solutions you can already start to implement:
Firstly, we have a duty of care to our negotiators, valuers, and managers to verify the details of the people we are potentially meeting. While this is by no means failsafe, it’s a first barrier - akin to stopping petty thieves from raiding our homes by simply locking doors.
Two-step verification systems when logging and booking in potential clients are instrumental. We are already seeing technological providers offering this service.
One provider is LeadPro, part of Property Technology Ltd. This firm qualifies email enquiries and mobile phone numbers to ensure enquiries, or bookings, are from a real person, not a spam or potentially dangerous enquiry. It’s also building a consumer blacklist that agents can opt in to access.
As Sam Zawadzki, founder of LeadPro states: "A 30 minute upgrade to an agent's process can provide a life-changing layer of security for their employees."
Taking this a step further, once a viewing or valuation is in the diary, we then have a duty of care whilst our staff are truly lone working.
I remember so clearly when I was with Foxtons being slightly on edge when viewing or valuing properties in certain areas, especially when the nights were drawing in. It was even worse when I was sending staff to certain estates or areas and did, on several occasions, just refuse to allow staff to visit.
A suggestion for those of you concerned with this, the initial protection of two-step verification puts the onus on the staff member to report how they are getting on.
I first heard about an app called Staysafe a couple of years ago. It didn’t take me long to realise its potential in our sector; it was originally looking at surveyors as a primary market target.
The key element is that it understands when a worker is at an appointment and, should they not ‘check in’ when the appointment has finished, or acknowledge that it is running over, a notification will be sent to whomever is assigned by the app to pick up the issue.
Equally, more immediate action can be taken via a panic alert that will send an immediate notification to the assigned party or parties.
Fortunately, Stephanie lived to see another day, but not everyone will be that lucky. I recommend reviewing solutions like those mentioned here because, as suggested earlier, taking 30 minutes to update your processes is worth it to protect your staff, and yourself, from harm.