Protecting employees working abroad

Increased globalisation of business has resulted in many more people working overseas. Organisations can find it challenging to manage the travel safety, health and security for those employees working abroad. Mark Littlejohns considers how to best assess and manage such risks.

In 1931, Winston Churchill was knocked down by a car while on a trip to New York. Running late for a meeting, he got out of his taxi, and looked left instead of right while crossing the road and was struck by a car. As illustrated by this misadventure, instinctive behaviour in an unfamiliar environment can lead to unfortunate accidents and injuries.

Local conditions, such as diseases, climate and security, may also bring serious risk. In a recent case, a worker contracted a fatal malarial infection when travelling to West Africa to work on an oil rig. Prior to travelling, the employee was informed by his employer that he did not need to be concerned about the risk of malaria in West Africa, as he would be working on an oil rig, offshore, where there was no risk of being bitten by a mosquito. As a result, he took no anti-malarial medication before or during his trip.

When he was bitten by a mosquito during an overnight stay on an island en route to the oil rig, he contracted malaria, which proved to be fatal. The High Court found that there was a clear failure on the part of the employer to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of the employee in the course of his employment, which included travel to and from the oil rig.

If your organisation sends employees abroad, you should therefore remember that different standards of health and safety that may apply and that local conditions may vary. This will help you assess the risks and manage them effectively.

Assessing risks

To complete tailored risk assessments, you should consider any relevant health, safety and security risks that your employees may face abroad, in the specific environment they’re working in. These may include:

  • individual risks (current and past health issues, vulnerability due to gender, religion or sexual orientation)
  • local security, legal, cultural and religious differences
  • local standards of health and safety
  • location (climate and environmental conditions)
  • health considerations – access to medical assistance, vaccination requirements, local diseases
  • other emergencies, including accidents, extortion, kidnap and ransom

You need to make sure you consider the latest advice on travelling abroad from the UK Government.

Managing risks

Once you have assessed the risk, taking preventive measures will help you to mitigate the risks where possible. These may include:

  • putting in place and enforcing policies to cover travel safety, health and security
  • providing appropriate travel healthcare support
  • preparing for and educating your staff about the location they will be working in and, if necessary, providing extra training
  • arranging for staff to keep in touch regularly with their contact in the country or in the UK and providing access to a 24-hour helpline
  • putting in place a system to stay up to date with changing risks and making sure this information can be shared quickly
  • putting a system in place to track your workers’ location to monitor their safety
  • devising a plan for responding to emergencies including preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery
  • referring employees to medical and security travel assistance providers and institutions, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so that they remain up to date on the latest travel alerts

If you need further advice on protecting the health and safety of your employees working abroad, don’t hesitate to get in touch.