Business travel workers need greater protection

While HR can't predict every risk, extensive research and communication with expats will help mitigate most problems

Business travel is an integral part of many people’s job. Despite huge advances in technology business conducted face to face is 34 times more powerful than digital exchanges because it helps develop trust and efficiencies. But what toll does it take on health and safety, and how can the risks be best managed?

Fifty-one per cent of business decision-makers believe that health and security risks increased in the past year (2019) and 47% anticipate risks will rise in the coming year, according to our 2020 Travel Risk Outlook.

Lots of companies send employees away on business trips without being adequately prepared. The top reasons business travellers expect to change itineraries are security threats (68%), civil unrest (52%), geopolitical unrest (52%), and natural disasters (51%).

Along with these top disruptors, companies are predicting increases in the likelihood of having to modify traveller itineraries because of epidemics (31%), infectious diseases (35%) and detention and kidnapping (29%).

This creates challenges for HR and health and safety professionals who often need to manage these issues remotely. What’s more, by failing to properly plan for risks and offer critical resources to business travellers, companies risk disruption to their staff’s work day abroad and in the worst cases compromise their safety.

But they are also putting themselves in danger of legal liability. They must put together a contingency plan for safeguarding the welfare of their travelling staff. Far from a nice to have, the requirement for clear travel policies and procedures is a legal and moral one under the duty of care. There is no set recipe for what a policy should look like and different companies will certainly need different plans and policies, but there are elements that are generally agreed to be crucial.

Methodical research of the location before employees get there is critical. Assignees should be made aware of the situation at their destination before they leave. Once they are there up-to-date information on the medical and security environment will help them make well-informed decisions.

Choosing an appropriate hotel is an essential part of travel risk control, and should be taken into account when creating any risk mitigation programme. A number of things should be considered when evaluating a hotel’s suitability, including whether the hotel has a surveillance system, security guards and multi-lingual staff.

Business travellers need to know who to call for help. Step outside the home country and most people don’t know what number to dial. This information is central to any response plan and the number, alongside the relevant contact number at their own organisation, should be on every itinerary.

There is also GPS technology that enables companies to precisely track their employees’ location. This can help organisations act immediately during a critical event by identifying the people at risk and facilitating communication with them.

The level of precaution necessary obviously depends on the local environment. An employee travelling from an air-conditioned office to an air-conditioned hotel via an air-conditioned taxi in Canada is at less risk than a journalist on assignment in a war zone. That said, contingency plans need to be in place for all kinds of events and every trip.

Business travellers will always be in a vulnerable position because they are exposed to a host of risks they rarely, if ever, face in their home country. HR can’t be by their side all the time, but duty of care doesn’t stop at the check-in gate. With a reliable travel risk management programme, comprehensive research and preparation planning, and a duty of care policy in place companies can stay one step ahead should an issue arise while their staff are away on business.

Sally Llewellyn is regional security director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at International SOS