Risk Assessing Work Related Travel

Work related travel is increasing in the UK and internationally, but many employers do not understand their health and safety obligations for employees who travel.

Work related travel increasing

One of the side effects of working in the United Kingdom is that as we become an increasingly globally trading nation the requirement for UK workers to travel to meet customers and suppliers in their home country also increases.

Pros and Cons

There are downsides to work related travel, if the amount of travel reaches a level at which the employee loses social and family connections at both their home and their work location.

If managed well working internationally can be a great career development opportunity for the employee, providing opportunities to experience different ways of working and different social cultures.

But just heading off to a different location regardless of how short the trip is, can, if the company and the employee are not properly prepared result in problems including the risk of accidents or contracting an illness.

Health and Safety Obligations 

Travelling for work is not like going on holiday. Holiday makers often plan their vacation months in advance, are staying in a hotel that is familiar with the needs of tourists and there is often an expert tour rep from the holiday company who is on hand if something goes wrong,

Work related travel is different. Travel arrangements are often made at short notice and the traveller will be staying in a business hotel that will not offer the same support services as a tourist hotel. 

Exposure to even the simplest infection can cause major problems for an employee who finds themselves needing medical attention in a country that does not have the same health care system as the UK.

It will not be a surprise that an employers legal obligations for the health and safety of their employees does not stop when that employee travels overseas.

Employers also have a moral obligation (their “duty of care”) to ensure that their employees are properly prepared for travel. This can mean providing different training for different destinations in an appropriate time frame.

It is also important that employers have appropriate insurance in place that includes access to help if they have a medical emergency.

Sadly not all health and safety and human resource professionals, are managing international travel by providing appropriate policies and procedures or  securing the correct types of insurance and services.

Conduct a pre-travel health risk assessment

It may sound like common sense but as we know common sense isn’t that common!

In an ideal world every employer would have a comprehensive check-list that can be used to assess the risk of sending an employee on a work trip to any country.

The list should cover all forms of medical risk that might affect any employee and also how employees with different medical conditions or disabilities might be impacted by a medical emergency.

The list should include

  • An evaluation of the availability and reliability of healthcare in the region,
  • Food and water safety,
  • Air quality,
  • Potential for injury
  • The risk of exposure to infectious diseases

This information must then be considered in the context of any pre-existing medical conditions the employee has and may as a result need additional or different provisions to be in place.

The risk of an employee travelling to one country may be different to another country but without a wide range of information it is not possible to properly conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of a destination country or city.

Employers need to have the confidence to tell an employee that the risks for them of travelling to a specific destination make the proposed visit impractical.

Medications

Employers need to know if an employee is on regular medication before they travel internationally.

They should travel with

  • a list of the medicines together with their generic names or the brand names used in their destination or destinations.
  • Information from their doctor that explains why they are using that medication.

Having these documents available in the language of their destination would help to eliminate any problems in translation.

It is also important to ensure that the medication they have been prescribed by their doctor is legal in their destination.

Be prepared to act

If the worse happens and an employee has a medical emergency while they are overseas it is important to acknowledge the importance of acting quickly, regardless of what day of the week or time of the day the call is received.

Someone in the HR or Health and Safety departments should be designated as the emergency contact for employees who are travelling internationally.

Employees should not have to wait for permission from their employer before they access local medical care.

Employee Engagement

There are lots of reasons why an employer should take care of their employees when they are travelling internationally.

  • They have a legal obligation to do so
  • It is the right thing to do, the moral duty of care
  • It makes business sense

Helping an employee when they are in a stressful situation away from home helps to build the relationship between the employer and their employees.

Employees who believe that their employer is supporting them and is happy with how the company responded to an emergency will potentially display higher levels of engagement and promote a positive message of their employer.

Engaged employees tend to foster increased levels of engagement amongst their colleagues.

The logic is straight-forward good risk assessment and a planned response to emergencies not only protects the health, safety and well-being of employees, but also protects the employer fron short term financial loss and long-term reputation damage.

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