Ernest Davies winners 2019

2019 winners cropped

Congratulations to the 2019 Ernest Davies winners for advancing parking knowledge, Daniel Casey and Dean Fennell-Connell. The entries this year were of a high standard and the judges scores were close. Read the winning joint entry which this year is on the important topic of workplace violience in the parking sector...

Recognising the scale of workplace violence in parking management
The extent of violence and abuse suffered by frontline parking management staff is shameful. Abuse is an everyday reality and a basic search on the internet returns distressing incidents where Civil Enforcement Enforcers are routinely threatened with physical violence, attacked with weapons, and even purposely struck by moving vehicles.

The statistics and reports available begin to illustrate the scale of the issue. Unison published a report which highlighted shocking statistics into the experience of staff on the frontline: 90% had suffered some form of violent incident at work in the past 12 months; almost 20% were attacked or threatened on at least a weekly basis; over 30% had been the victim of an attack involving a moving vehicle and; over 10% had been attacked or threatened with an offensive weapon.

A parking manager aimed to establish the volume of incidents experienced by their operation in a city with a population of 200,000. To achieve this, they asked their 25-strong team to report every incident of abuse they experienced over an 18-month period. 210 incidents, including 23 physical assaults, were recorded; demonstrating that one member of the team was physically assaulted every three weeks.

Jade Neville, Head of Parking Services at OCS Group, started her career as a CEO and can provide perspective on the issue from the frontline as well as a leader.

“When I started, I was told in training that I would be called all the names under the sun and that I had better get used to it. You learn to understand that you will be sworn at and how to handle it – but there is a line.“The line has to be when abuse is directed at a protected characteristic such as race. When that line is crossed it needs to be recognised it is not part of your job to deal with that.”

Jade says verbal abuse is constant and it takes a certain type of individual who can manage the frequent and unrelenting abuse by recognising it is typically being directed at the uniform and not at the person.

When asked if the accumulative effect of so many instances of verbal abuse had more of an impact than physical incidents, Jade said:

“It depends on the individual. I was spat at in the face and I could smell it… I will never forget that. It was horrendous. It made me look over my shoulder for a long time.”
Beyond the shocking physical threats which Jade has experienced, including being the subject of a threat with a knife, she has also witnessed the persistent nature of verbal abuse, a lot of which is racist abuse directed at colleagues: One colleague of mine was racially abused on a daily basis by the same individual, but it was never reported as it was accepted as ‘part of the job’, it was particularly distressing because it was persistent and targeted harassment.”

Asked why abuse in forms such as this were tolerated for such a long time, Jade said:

“I think the reason we kept it to ourselves was the feeling that nothing would be done, especially by the police.”

In operations Jade has worked in, the workplace violence and abuse is being tackled through the use of technology such as bodycams and tighter integration with the police.

“Things changed when we started to work closely with the local police. They came to visit us and started to define to us what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Nowadays we use bodycams and GPS tracking and the technology is helping; verbal and physical abuse still happens but technology has acted as a deterrent. It’s important to link with the police and follow-up with taking action against people who do assault our CEOs. The police started to integrate with us and supported us to build our cases, actually briefing us on how to behave and what was relevant to ensure when people went to court for assaulting officers that they were actually starting to be convicted.”

Today, Jade oversees parking operations and her experiences on the frontline help her to deal with situations where it is clear members of her team have been subjected to abuse.

“I remember incidents I experienced years ago like they were yesterday, because they were that bad. Because of that understanding I can see people who are coming back to base who are not themselves, who are nervous, who have been clearly affected by an incident. From a management perspective, you also see abuse directly reflected in attrition rates, an increasing difficulty to recruit, and decreasing general morale of the team who remain.”

There are examples of best practice which are working to reduce instances. In several parking operations uniform choice has been demonstrated to act as a deterrent, where a professional appearance can reduce rates of violence.

It has also been demonstrated that maintaining close partnerships with local polices forces is supporting parking operations to make better choices about how to behave in this environment and when to draw the line on abuse and take action.

In isolation these approaches have helped parking management operations make the day-to-day operation safer for staff. The wider sharing of these best practices between local authorities and parking operations could lead to increasing standards across the country.

Alison Tooze is leading efforts at the British Parking Association to bring attention to workplace violence and issue a call to action. When asking Alison how this alarming widespread abuse can be stopped, she said:

“There are two branches to this; one is how do we start to try and turn public opinion around – there is a small minority who will not react to any form of campaign; and a shame is that these are the people who will spit at CEOs and attack them.CEOs are a vulnerable group; on their own on the streets doing unpopular work. We need to reframe the role of the CEO in society. There is almost legitimacy being afforded to attacking a CEO due to disagreeing with parking policy. Not paying for parking is seen as less of an infringement, and people feel that a ticket is a disproportionate punishment for a small transgression, which is manifesting into abuse and violence. If we can change the face of parking with the majority, we will begin to see instances of workplace violence decrease over time."

The second branch of the efforts to curtail workplace violence lies within lobbying for legislative change and better protections for those on the streets.

"The BPA is beginning to engage with politicians to achieve better protection in law for CEOs. There are investigations into whether existing laws to protect other services could be extended to CEOs. The political will is there now, as the Home Office is also beginning to draft proposals for legislation to protect shopworkers against violence in the workplace. The focus here is that when someone attacks a CEO, we need hard justice and not soft justice. The people who attack CEOs while they are on duty need to be punished more severely and tougher sentences need to be handed down to demonstrate that, as a society, we will not tolerate this."

The question remains: is enough being done to give hope that we will see a significant reduction in workplace violence for frontline parking management staff. Jade looks ahead with optimism: “Yes, I believe in the next five years we can change the landscape and working with the BPA will be fundamental to achieving that goal.”