As interest in developing countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America increases, Australian businesses are joining the rest of the world in turning their attention abroad.
Industries such as mining, oil and gas are drawing businesses into increasingly remote countries, or more far-flung locations in established countries.
In line with this trend, corporate travellers are heading to a wider variety of unfamiliar and challenging environments. This is prompting many organisations to take a closer look at the measures they have in place to protect their people and their business.
So what exactly is an employer’s duty of care towards employees while they are travelling internationally?
Trent Forno, a partner at Minter Ellison Lawyers who specialises in employment law, says it’s prudent for businesses that send employees on overseas assignments to assume that Australian work health and safety laws will apply to the whole of the assignment.
“While most Occupational Health and Safety laws won’t specifically say they apply to overseas trips, it comes down to whether there is a sufficient connection between the business being conducted in Australia and the employee’s activities overseas,” he says.
Forno also suggests businesses look to their state’s workers’ compensation laws as a guide.
He warns that while the legalities may be complex in international environments, if there was an incident involving a corporate traveller the question may well be asked as to what their employer did, or could reasonably have done, to prevent it.
Be fully informed
Use information that goes beyond the basics. In a corporate setting, relying on government travel advisories won’t be enough, source information that focuses on what needs to be implemented in order to travel safely to a particular destination.
Real risk needs to be identified and addressed. When people travel internationally, particularly to unfamiliar or higher-risk environments, they automatically think of worst-case scenarios.
Lay a good foundation
Organisations should consider travel risk in terms of how it can affect the entire business, from the board of directors through to the people who travel on behalf of the organisation.
A corporate travel policy is essential to this as it establishes a shared understanding of what is expected from both the organisation and travelling employees.
Insurance is an equally important factor. It’s not uncommon for organisations to purchase their travel insurance without investigating the policy exclusions.
Many of us support our corporate travellers by providing travel-alert services via email or SMS. The information people receive must be three things: current, accurate and relevant.
In many cases travel alerts meet the criteria of current and accurate, but they lack relevance.
Relevance means that the information is specific and applicable to a traveller’s situation, and lets them know what action – if any – needs to be taken as a result of the information being provided.
Otherwise most people will stop reading alerts and briefs after a few days, particularly if they are fatigued, working to a tight deadline, or are getting no tangible benefit from the information.
Tracking people using a mobile phone or similar device may work when everything is going well, but how will this work during an emergency situation? Often during abduction or robbery, mobile phones and anything that looks like a tracking, alert or communication device will be the first things taken off someone.
Instead, explore more discreet options such as the Find-Me Safety Alert Watch that looks like a wristwatch.