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Receptionists are the first line person in Office Safety and Security!

Receptionists (guy or gal) and employees that are in a greeter type of position in a company carry with them a responsibility that has a definite effect upon the success of an organization: making a good first impression.

It has been said many times: you do not get a second chance to make that first impression, but there is much more to this type of job than most people imagine. Most companies and organizations have a receptionist at their front desk or main building lobby. Duties of the receptionist typically include greeting visitors, answering the telephones, and the handling of incoming mail. At some companies, the receptionist may perform other duties such as filing, the scheduling of conference rooms, managing employee schedules and other clerical functions. Keeping the office safe for staff and volunteers is an important part of office administration. One of the most common aspects of office life is the coming and going of visitors to the office. Handling of money and other valuables may be another day-to-day aspect of office activities. Security of parking lots, walkways and the perimeter around the office is yet another area of concern. Reception areas have a number of unique health and safety hazards in addition to many general office hazards. The reception area is unique because it is a place where members of the public and clients are able to readily enter an employer’s workplace which creates additional OHS risks and challenges for the employer. As the first contact person anyone meets within your organization, you play many roles. You are the primary customer service representative, but perhaps more important is your role as the gatekeeper. You decide who may enter — and who may not. You’re the one whose job it is to prevent packages from disappearing, stop sensitive information from “walking out the front door” and keep out unwanted individuals.

Their vigilance, timely reporting and intervention could easily mean the difference between a minor disruption and a significant incident. By empowering such employees with the knowledge to protect themselves and others, you will be recruiting active team members into your security program and improving your overall safety/security culture.  Emergency situations happen all the time

Many of us think we know what to do in a crisis, but when put to the test, our techniques might not be as foolproof as we think they are. It’s essential that you are able to recognize red-flag situations and handle them with confidence and authority. It may seem like an overwhelming responsibility, but this information-packed 1-hour Webinar will help you gain the perspective you need to implement a front desk management system that really works.

Are you confident that your front desk is as safe and secure as possible?

  • Have you eliminated all potential security gaps in your front desk area?
  • Is there a reliable screening process for visitors? Are you certain they are not walking around unaccompanied in off-limits areas of the building?
  • Would you be ready with emergency response strategies to get help quickly if you needed it?
  • Does your company have an emergency action plan that everyone follows without question?
  • Do you know exactly what to look for to identify potentially hazardous situations?

They not only get you a water or coffee when you come in or direct you to the right person they also get you to sign the visitor log, point out the fire maps and plans plus you may get a cool ID badge that states visitor!  Plus Office workers everywhere experience acts of workplace violence—sometimes never giving them a second thought. Hostilities such as physical and verbal assaults, threats, coercion and intimidation, all constitute acts of workplace violence. In the Event of an Act of Violence: • Your goal is to help defuse the person’s anger so that he/she can cool down and talk calmly and rationally. • Maintain your composure. • Try to signal for help from a coworker who can contact management, security, the police or paramedics. • Listen attentively. Hostile individuals who feel that they have your attention are sometimes less likely to act out physically. • Maintain eye contact. This also helps to calm the person down because the individual feels that he/she has your attention. • Be courteous and patient until help arrives. • If the person is threatening you with a weapon, follow his/her instructions and stall for time. • Never try to intercept the weapon or act aggressively against the individual. You do not want to risk harm to yourself or others. Here Are Some Warning Signs of Violence: • Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees. • Statements indicating desperation over family, finances or other problems. • Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior. • Direct or veiled threats of harm. • Reference to weapons.


To help ensure that your receptionist (and ultimately your company) remains protected and safe, we have put together a list of questions to ask yourself about the current environment and the safety measures that you have in place to keep not only your receptionist safe, but your company as a whole.

  1. Do you have access control measures in place that limit or prevent visitors and employees from entering certain areas of your company?
  2. Is your reception/waiting area designed to promote and increase safety levels for employees, visitors, and clients?
  3. Do you know who is in your facility/building and where they are at all times?
  4. Do you have a plan and or policy in place that covers the various emergencies or problems that could occur each day?
  5. Do you have security measures in place that allow your receptionist to quickly get help if they needed it?

Always remember, it is better to be proactive instead of reactive and that having no plan, is not a plan!

The key to a safe workplace is having effective safety and security policies in place and to communicate these policies to all employees. For Example: • Require office visitors to be escorted or to wear identification. • Require delivery people to wait in the reception area and to make deliveries at that one location only. • Establish an emergency alert procedure for the receptionist to signal coworkers and security if an emergency arises. • Secure all keys, alarm codes, company information and equipment. • Always secure both personal as well as business checks. • Secure all cellular phones and laptop computers. • When entering your workplace prior to regular business hours, be certain that the door handle is locked from the outside and is latched securely behind you. • When using elevators, stand near the button panel. If someone in the elevator makes you feel uncomfortable, you can push the button for the next floor and get off to seek help. • Report any suspicious activity immediately

A positive attitude is necessary if you are going to be successful at your job. A Desk Receptionist who displays a patient and helpful attitude will project a positive image to others. Being alert and exhibiting good posture are important. Look directly at people and address them when they enter the building.

Office Creepers

These individuals are dressed like your coworkers or building service personnel and rely on the anonymity of busy office buildings to cover them during their crime

Recognizing an Office Creeper: • Try to become familiar with most of the coworkers in your immediate area. • If you see someone wandering the halls or casually roaming about, ask if you can help her/him. • If your building has an access control policy where visitors must wear a badge, you should notify security immediately if someone is walking around without proper identification. • If an individual appears suspicious, notify security. Protecting Against Office Creepers • Never share keys or access codes with ANYONE—or leave them unattended. • Keep personal keys and office keys on separate rings. • Don’t “hide” your wallets or purses in unlocked cabinet drawers or under your desk. • Position coat racks and hangers away from doorways so that a thief can’t easily snatch items from the outside. • When leaving your office, make sure to lock the door and mute the telephone ringer. (An unanswered phone is a clue to a thief that your office is empty.) • Talk to management about purchasing a security cable for your laptop. • You should keep an accurate inventory of all office equipment, furniture and devices in a locked, fireproof cabinet or in another location.

In addition to their other duties, receptionists also play a critical role in the building’s overall security program. Receptionists are often given the task of signing in visitors, issuing visitor badges, controlling access in and out of the building, and observing suspicious activity. This is particularly true at buildings where no security officers are provided and the receptionist serves as the first (and sometimes only) line of defense against unwanted guests and intruders.

Because of the crucial role that they play in security, it is important that tools be given to receptionists to allow them to effectively perform their security duties. Here are some suggestions:

  • The receptionist’s security responsibilities should be formally defined and included in the receptionist’s job description. When both a receptionist and a security officer are assigned to work in the lobby, the specific roles and responsibilities of each should be clearly defined.
  • People who are assigned to be a receptionist should have the personality and aptitude necessary to perform this job. Receptionists should have a cheerful and outgoing personality, enjoy working with people, and have the ability to deal with conflict when necessary. Many people who are excellent at doing other types of clerical work may be unqualified to work as a receptionist or be uncomfortable when performing this role.
  • Receptionists should receive formal security training that includes guidelines for spotting suspicious behavior and techniques to verbally de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.
  • The building lobby should be designed in such a way that the receptionist is not the only thing that stands in the way of an intruder entering the building. A well-designed lobby can greatly increase the effectiveness of the receptionist and greatly improve building security.
  • The receptionist’s primary job should be to greet visitors. If the volume of visitor traffic is relatively low, the receptionist can be assigned other duties, but these duties should be of a type that can be stopped immediately when a visitor arrives. Duties assigned to the receptionist should not require the receptionist to leave the lobby area.
  • It is common practice for the receptionist to also serve as a telephone operator and to answer the organization’s main telephone line. We discourage this practice because the telephone operator role can be a time consuming job during certain periods of the day, and because the receptionist cannot immediately stop talking on the phone when a visitor arrives. We also think that it is unwise to give everyone sitting in the lobby the opportunity to overhear incoming telephone calls.
  • Good visitor control procedures should be established and communicated to all employees. To automate the visitor sign-in process, consider the use of an electronic visitor management system.
  • I highly recommend that all incoming deliveries and packages be received at the mailroom or shipping/receiving department, not at the receptionist’s desk. If this is not possible, receptionists should receive training on the spotting and handling of suspicious packages, and a separate storage area for packages should be provided near the receptionist’s desk.
  • The receptionist’s desk should include a panic alarm system that allows help to be summoned quickly in the event of an emergency.
  • One method is to conduct a risk assessment of the area based upon some objective security related issues that might occur and then formulate the probability and severity of the issue and determine how much risk actually exists. This step is especially important at larger, more complex organizations with multiple entry and reception points and differing levels of potential threats. For example, in a hospital setting, you may have a reception desk near the emergency department that routinely deals with persons that are ill, injured, emotionally unstable or suffering from behavioral health issues. Such a reception desk and its staff would likely need more specific types of training on how to handle the numerous types of security related situations that may arise than say a volunteer desk near the gift shop of the facility. Specific security related issues that might be considered include the probability of suspicious behavior (basically could occur anywhere at any time), dealing with peddlers or salespersons, those individuals that might be probing the facility to commit crimes of opportunity (common in office environments where internal security safeguards such the routine securing of personal items by staff is not observed) all the way up to direct threats of violence or physical assaults.
  • After this risk analysis is complete for a reception area, security training for the staff at these locations should be separated into levels or tiers based upon the overall risk and probability of a security related event. There should be a basic training program for all receptionists and greeters which educates them on issues such as what constitutes suspicious activity, what is their role in reporting such activity and what countermeasures currently exist that might help them in this task. As you progress up along the continuum of potential threats and their probability, a higher tier of training might include de-escalation techniques and how to deal with angry or intimidating behaviors and the warning signs of aggressive and non-complaint subjects. A third tier might then include all of the previous information as well as how to deal with direct threats of violence or physical assaults up to and including active shooter scenarios. By using this methodology, the training programs can be broken down in sections and presented as a series of continuing education for staff, each successive program building upon the last. Once these issues have been evaluated for their probability of occurrence as well as their impact upon staff, property and business operations, the levels of preparedness should then be considered. In an area with a high probability for emotionally charged confrontations involving the receptionist (such as the emergency department desk referred to earlier) certain countermeasures should be in place such as security in or near the immediate area, panic/duress alarms, a “safe room” that could be used by staff to shelter in place should an event occur, etc. While such countermeasures are very useful, the training on how and when to use such countermeasures is one of the most overlooked aspects of such preparations (after all, a panic button serves no purpose if the people working there are not aware of its existence or do not know when or how to use it).

In the first tier of training, basic customer service, some scripts for how to deal with unhappy persons and what behaviors should immediately be viewed as unusual or suspicious should be discussed as well as some basics of the job that may relate to security such as way finding directions on a list of commonly sought destinations within the company (such how to get to the human resources office) and a review of visitation polices and procedures. Access control procedures, visitor and employee ID badging processes and the dangers of “tailgating” secure doors by unauthorized personnel are certainly issues that need to be addressed at this basic level. The potential threat of peddlers, unwanted solicitations and would-be thieves or “probers” and crimes of opportunity should also be discussed and how to successfully combat or report such attempts when they occur. Depending upon the duties and responsibilities of the receptionist or greeter, common social engineering scams or other such issues such as pretext telephone calls to solicit confidential information or the theft of mail or packages should also be reviewed.

Terry Penney

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