Suzy Lamplugh was just 25 years old when she disappeared whilst working as an estate agent in London in 1986. She’d arranged to meet a viewer at an empty property in Fulham; it had only been on the market for a week. She’d taken her keys and a purse but had left her handbag behind.
Witnesses spotted Suzy outside the house and at 1pm she was seen with a man – presumably the 'Mr Kipper' she had written in her diary. Minutes later they were seen walking away from the property. It was the last anyone has ever seen of her.
Suzy went missing in the days before smartphones – the only clue her company had to her whereabouts was an entry in the diary. Personal safety just wasn’t an issue back then – which is why her parents, Diana and Paul, set up Suzy Lamplugh Trust – to raise awareness of the dangers of violence and aggression and the importance of personal safety whilst working – especially if you work on your own.
I’ve been working for Suzy Lamplugh Trust for three years, overseeing the delivery of bespoke personal safety training across many sectors. From the biggest retailers to small housing associations, every forward thinking organisation dealing with the public has to put personal safety at the top of the agenda.
You simply can’t afford not to, the Health and Safety Executive guidance says while it is usually safe to work alone, risk assessments have to be carried out and mitigations put in place.
Added to this is the cost of getting it wrong, the impact on staff if an incident is not handled correctly and the financial and reputational impact on an organisation.
The good news is getting it right need not be expensive or time consuming and gaining staff buy-in is actually very easy. Especially when you appeal to colleagues on a human level.
Personal safety, unlike ‘trips, slips and falls’ is personal and you choose to take certain precautions because getting home at night to those you love is a priority – we just have to remind people of that.
There aren’t many other industries where staff have to liaise as closely with the public as in the housing sector. From estate and letting agents to housing associations, the very nature of the business involves meeting people you don’t know in unfamiliar surroundings.
We know from the work we carry out with companies that things have progressed since 1986 but we carried out new research to mark the 30th anniversary of Suzy’s disappearance and the findings show safety in the housing sector is still a concern for those working in it and consumers too.
A quarter of consumers surveyed by Suzy Lamplugh Trust said they felt house viewing should be safer; almost three quarters feel it should be down to estate agents to make it safer.
Meanwhile 29% of female estate agents surveyed by the Trust said they have felt unsafe at a house viewing – that equates to one in three working in the role.
We’ve heard some shocking testimony from people working across the housing sector – one housing officer had a chair thrown at her; tenants who’ve threatened to set fire to people, landlords who’ve had bricks thrown at them; estate agents who’ve been sexually assaulted on house viewings.
These might be rare occurrences but they’re happening in the UK today and often go unreported. You can never make a viewing or home visit entirely risk-free but planning ahead and being prepared will help to minimise potential harm.
After analysing our research, we felt that just releasing it as ‘new stats’ wasn’t enough. We wanted to bring about some change. So we teamed up with leading estate agents Knight Frank and Savills, as well as the National Association of Estate Agents and SoloProtect (a leading lone worker device manufacturer) to produce “Suzy’s Code” - a personal safety guide for all UK estate/letting agents and housing associations.
It’s not arduous or expensive, it’s a simple code to follow which will can be incorporated into your work with minimum effort:
Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety: 7 golden rules
1. Implement a buddy system
(so colleagues always know each other’s whereabouts and contact details. This should include checking in and out when meeting arriving at and leaving the property, including out of normal office hours)
2. Have a system in place for colleagues to raise the alarm back at the office in case of an emergency while working alone
3. Have a clear procedure to follow if someone does not return or check in when they are expected
4. Where possible arrange for viewers to visit the office before meeting them at the property so that colleagues have also seen them
5. Offer all staff a personal safety alarm and have discreet lone worker devices available
6. Before conducting a viewing, find out who else will be present in the property (current tenant, contractors etc.) when you visit
7. Finally, make sure all staff are aware of and have access to the personal safety measures available
Our ambition is for Suzy’s Code to be widely adopted across the housing sector – we know that those working within it want to feel safe whilst doing their jobs and consumers want to feel safe too.
Paul Lamplugh, Suzy’s Dad, said: “I think it’s an excellent initiative that I thoroughly applaud. I very much hope that all estate agents will adopt it. I still miss Suzy enormously but at least her name is being used to benefit people and that’s wonderful.”
Estate agents wishing to sign up to Suzy’s Code can find downloadable resources and information at: www.suzylamplugh.org.
*Lara Wilks-Sloan is Commercial Manager at Suzy Lamplugh Trust