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Panic buttons becoming a safety trend in hospitality

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The use of panic buttons as a workplace safety tool is starting to spread across the U.S. hospitality industry.

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would require hotels to provide housekeepers with panic buttons, just as the union representing 14,000 housekeepers in Las Vegas hotels is adding a similar requirement to its ongoing contract negotiations this month.

Chicago and Seattle have passed similar measures — in 2017 and 2016, respectively — and union housekeepers in New York carry panic buttons to alert security in case they find themselves in a threatening situation – a practice put into place after union negotiations in 2012.

“(The hospitality industry is) starting to have some conversations about this,” said John Welty, Westchester, Pennsylvania-based practice leader for Suitelife, an insurance program for hotels and resorts administered by Venture Insurance Programs, under Venture Programs Inc. “We are looking at effectiveness (and) cost. The industry will start to look at these alternative methods for alerting security or hotel management when there is an issue or a perceived issue going.”

The efforts by cities and unions nationwide are meant to protect hospitality workers from sexual assault and similar crimes, according to a spokeswoman for Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas.

A survey of 487 housekeepers in Chicago found that 96% would feel safer if they were equipped with a wearable panic button, according to a report issued in 2016 by the Chicago chapter for Unite Here, a union that represents hospitality workers nationwide.

The survey also found that more than 45% of workers have had a guest answer the door naked; nearly 15% have been cornered by a guest; nearly 10% have been touched; and 15% to 25% have either felt pressured for dates or sexual favors or received unwanted sexual attention or gestures.

In Las Vegas, where the union expects to wrap up its contract negotiations before May 31, the threat has been well-publicized, according to the union spokeswoman.

“There’s been a lot happening in the news, concerns for safety and workers who need help, who are in situations where they feel uncomfortable,” the spokeswoman said.

In California, A.B. 1761, introduced by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, and Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, on Jan. 4, would impose a three-year ban for any guest accused of violence or sexual harassment against an employee and will require hotels to keep a list of the accused for five years.

“For the (hotel) industry, it’s wait and see; if there are (regulations) that would require it, people will comply where they have to,” said David L. Barry, Overland Park, Kansas-based national director of casualty risk control and senior vice president of the risk control and claims advocacy practice for Willis Towers Watson P.L.C.

Mr. Barry said he has noticed an uptick in vendors at safety and risk management tradeshows he attends selling devices that can alert security. “It’s always a struggle for the employer to protect that lone worker; having that extra layer of protection would provide a lot of peace of mind.”

Other people who work alone include those in telecommunications, such as a cable or telephone installer, he said, adding that employers always grapple with how to keep these workers safe.

One option has been to send two employees, according to Mr. Barry. In the instance of a hotel room, sending two housekeepers to clean a room increases labor costs significantly, which is why technology has been deemed a better choice.

Panic buttons can cost $75 to $150, with monitoring services costing upwards of $15 per employee, Mr. Barry said. “When you look at the cost of labor versus technology usually technology is a lot less,” he said.