There is a world of opportunity out there and businesses are taking advantage of it. The most up-to-date travel figures show there was a 6% rise in international business trips in 2015 and a 30% increase in business travel expenses, according to the Office for National Statistics. And even with Brexit on the horizon, many British firms are embracing a ‘business without borders’ approach and exploring new markets. But what does this mean for your staff travelling overseas and how do you ensure you keep them safe and stay on the right side of the law when it comes to your employer responsibilities?
Research the country
According to one personal injury solicitor we spoke to, carrying out risk assessments of the countries your staff are visiting is crucial. Research whether the country has any instability or unique issues. For example, Spain might seem a low risk destination, but pickpocketing is a common occurrence in Barcelona and Madrid. Before your staff travel, check the latest government travel advice and inform your staff.
Michelle Adam, personal injury solicitor and partner at Thorntons, explained: “Awareness is key. Employers should be alert to their duty of care and should ensure that employees are not exposed to unnecessary risk in the course of their employment. Breaching this duty of care risks claims of negligence, reputational damage and employees’ well-being.”
Assess the individual
If the country is safe to visit, it’s also important to assess whether the individual is safe to travel. According to director Saul Shanagher, of travel safety training firm beTravelwise, pre-existing medical conditions is the biggest issue for business travellers. “These can largely be avoided through pre-travel medical check-ups and appropriate medical support,” he said.
While they are out there
Travelling around a foreign country doesn’t just carry headline-grabbing risks such as political instability; employers need to consider the possibility of transport accidents too. Michelle Adam, of Thorntons, cites the case of Dusek v StormHarbour Securities LLP, where the family of Mr Dusek brought a fatal accident claim against his employer.
“Mr Dusek had been working to secure funding for hydroelectric projects based in the Andes Mountains in Peru. He was killed while travelling by helicopter to visit the project site,” she said.
“The court found that the dangers associated with flying at high altitude in a remote area of Peru were apparent. It was held that if the appropriate risk assessment had been carried out, the journey would have been deemed too dangerous. StormHarbour breached their duty of care to Mr Dusek and were found to be responsible for his death.”
She added: “The amount of inquiry and risk assessment that is necessary will differ depending on the circumstances of each trip. In some circumstances employers may choose to engage a travel agent who can assess and raise safety concerns on their behalf.”
You might not be helicoptering employees around in remote mountains, but it’s important to understand your duty of care regardless of their mode of transport.
Think about how you will communicate with your staff while they are away. Supply your employee with 24-hour emergency contact details, including local medical contacts so they know who to get in touch with if they need help as well as insurance details. Other risks include data breaches where criminals create malicious open networks and steal company data over open wi-fi.
David Brock, managing director of tech support service provider LetUsFixIt says: “Employers can combat this by ensuring their employees receive training about the risks of unsecured wi-fi networks. Staff should be made aware that connecting to anything without a WPA/WPA2 password is unsafe, so they should always seek an alternative if there is only open wi-fi available.”
A solution in a crisis
Making sure staff can get by financially when they are abroad is key. Providing them with prepaid corporate expense cards will mean they can draw funds as and when they need them, safely carrying money without the need for too much cash. Keith White of Dobell Menswear said prepaid cards could offer a solution in emergencies too. He explained: “The planning and deliberation taken when carrying out a risk assessment of any staff trip will cover many bases but should always detail how the staff member will get home, if the worst happened.
“One way to minimise any issues is to provide staff with a prepaid corporate card, and load more funds for emergencies if needed.”
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