There’s more than buying insurance to ensuring the safety of staff travelling abroad.
It’s time for British bosses to get off the golf course and turn their eyes abroad. That was the message from Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.
British firms must ramp up international sales to be ready for new trade deals following Brexit, Fox said in September. “People have got to stop thinking about exporting as an opportunity, and start thinking about it as a duty.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) took issue the minister’s characterisation of businesses. But it, too, has high hopes for exports. The number of small firms exporting could double with the right support, found an FSB report in July.
But entering new markets comes with risks as well as opportunities. And for staff travelling abroad, and the businesses that send them, these are multifaceted. And in some respects, they’re growing – most notably when it comes to terrorism. The first seven months of 2016 saw more people die due to terrorism in Western Europe than in any year since 2004.
Business travellers face a wide variety of risks. A report by the Federation of European Risk Management Associations (FERMA) last year identified a range of dangers, including terrorism, riots, extreme weather events, traffic accidents, petty crime, illness and disease.
Almost nine in ten (88%) businesses were concerned that travel risks might affect them in 2016, according a survey by medical and travel security services firm International SOS.
“The real risk when travelling may actually be disease,” says Laurent Taymans, Regional Director at International SOS. “Malaria kills just as many people as in the past. And tuberculosis is as widespread as ever. These threats remain – they just don’t have the same media impact.”
The biggest contributor to rising risks is the long-term trend of globalisation, says Andy Taylor-Preston, Senior Consultant in the Credit, Political & Security Risk team at JLT Specialty.
“The world is a smaller place now, and travel is easier,” he says.
This has led to more business travel, and more foreign-based employees. A 2014 PwC study estimated that the international assignee workforce had grown by a quarter in the previous decade, and will increase by half again by 2020.
Businesses are looking further afield to emerging markets, where differences in culture, security and infrastructure make even everyday risks more challenging.
“A traffic accident in Tehran might be no more likely than in another part of the world, but how you respond to it may have to be very different,” says Taylor-Preston.
Failure to address the perils exposes businesses to a range of risks, from reputational damage to business interruption and legal liabilities. Firms face civil and contractual obligations, and occupational health and safety laws, which vary by country.
“Often, a serious incident results in legal claims irrespective of the steps an employer has taken,” warns Richard Neylon, Partner at law firm Holman Fenwick Willan, which specialises in shipping and crisis response.
“When things go awry, people look to blame someone.”
A carefully considered strategy will minimise the chances of an incident to begin with, reassure staff of the employer’s concern, and provide a defence should the worst happen.
The precise strategy will vary with the risks and with the nature, destination and duration of travel. But Taylor-Preston says that businesses must address four key areas to meet their responsibilities:
- Pre-travel risk assessment
- Mitigation of identified risks
- Monitoring of people while away
- Incident response,
For the last two of these, insurance – in the form or traditional and specialist policies
– not only covers costs. It also offers access to consultancy and response services. This can range from advice, relocation in the case of civil commotion, to air ambulance and evacuation services for illness or injury.
Such emergency medical care is vital, says Jane Michael, Accident and Specialty Account Handler at JLT Specialty.
“You can’t mitigate against someone being sick. If your employees are taken ill abroad, you’ll want them to be receiving attention as soon as possible.”
Technology has enhanced the services available. GPS solutions, using workers’ mobile phones, are increasingly popular. Combined with simple protocols, such as safety checks (for example, travelling staff calling in at pre-arranged times), these can offer powerful protection. That’s the view of Lizzie Johns, Director of Insurance at emergency response company Northcott Global Solutions.
Johns recalls the case of a worker visiting Delhi who failed to ring in, and whose tracker showed him in the hotel room when he was meant to be in a meeting. Consultants alerted the concierge, who found the man in a diabetic coma on his hotel room floor.
“It was not a high-risk location, but he would have died if the correct safety procedures hadn’t been in place,” says Johns.
Planning for safety
Johns’ anecdote is a reminder that it’s not just where people are travelling that’s important; it’s also who’s travelling. This is commonly missed, says Simon Hatson, Chair of the Offshore Group at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.
“Businesses spend their time looking at where they’re going, not who is going. The person assigned may be the most qualified, but their health may mean you should send someone else."
It is these questions at the initial risk assessment and mitigation stages that have arguably the greatest impact on ensuring safe travel, says Johns.
“Probably 90% of the task of ensuring staff travel safety comes down to preparation. We specialise in response – but it’s a lot easier if the correct planning has been done beforehand,” she explains.
This planning includes researching the locations being visited, and educating travellers about the risks and how to minimise them. Travel assistance companies and security consultants offer services such as online training and country risk profiles.
There’s also a range of publicly available sources, starting with the Foreign Office. “There’s a lot of information you can obtain before you go,” says Michael. Employer must give employees the information they need to prepare for the trip.”
Armed with that information, employers and staff can work together to develop a plan that mitigates not just the more extreme risks, but the everyday dangers too.
“Terrorism gets the headlines,” says Hatson. “But if you’re sending someone to Benin, for example, security experts will tell you that you’re much more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.
“You can’t change the way a country drives, but you can look at who is driving your people,” he points out. “You need to find local people you can trust. It takes a bit of time and effort, but it’s well worth it.”
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