Safe and sound

first_img Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Employers endanger lives, their companies’ reputations and risk court actionevery time they send employees on trips overseas and fail to take the correctmeasures to safeguard their welfare. Dave Abbott assesses the risksGlobalisation means health and safety overseas has become a serious issue,with HR management held accountable for designing and implementing effectivestrategies to mitigate risks. The Health and Safety Executive stipulates that companies are legallyrequired to demonstrate a “general duty of care” to staff on foreignassignments. This does not just apply to companies with overseas offices orproduction facilities, but any organisation whose staff participates ininternational sales trips, vendor assessments or other assignments that couldpotentially place them in harm’s way. Recent incidents highlight the risks of non-compliance, and in anincreasingly litigious society, the legal jeopardy companies risk by not takingthe correct measures to safeguard employees. The kidnap, torture and murder of three expatriate engineers of the Britishcompany, Granger Telecom in Chechnya in 1998 was headline news and led to legalproceedings against the company, claiming it was negligent in “the propercare of its employees”. In “traditional” global businesses, such as oil, gas and minerals,engineering and so on, ensuring the safety of employees in distant lands isconsidered a core HR management competence. However, even these experiencedcompanies have been exposed to damage when their employees become targets. Forexample when four executives of Union Texas Petroleum were murdered in Pakistanin 1997, the company was sued by the victims’ families for negligence. But threats do not just encompass “dread” risks like abduction,assault and robbery or terrorism. The greatest actual risks overseas, which notonly apply to countries that are perceived as dangerous, may be from”mundane” dangers like road accidents, fires in buildings, or simplyfalling ill without proper medical resources. One of the areas all too oftenoverlooked are the inoculations and the precautions required against the everincreasing threat of malaria. Reducing the risks So what should HR teams be doing to safeguard employees, whether expatriateor locally hired? As with all health and safety issues, the first principle is to conduct athorough risk assessment. Audit the deployment of staff overseas – who isactually where? For each assignment or post the potential risks should beidentified, then evaluated. Evaluation means that a risk is appraised firstlyin terms of the likelihood of an incident, and secondly on its potentialconsequence. For example, a 30-year-old, physically fit expatriate employeemight reasonably be considered unlikely to suffer a serious acute medicalcondition. However, if something does happen then the outcome may depend ontheir access to local medical resources. Some organisations, such as international aid agencies, are taking the riskmanagement process one stage further and applying exacting minimum standardswhen recruiting for posts likely to involve overseas assignments. Although anorganisation must be very careful not to act in a discriminatory manner, it canensure that the individuals it sends to difficult or dangerous environments arephysically and psychologically suited to the sort of risks they may encounter,both in the normal line of work and if things go wrong. Variations of risks within a country, a region or a city must always beconsidered, for example, some cities such as Johannesburg have very highviolent crime statistics but can be safe places to be if you choose home andworkplace locations carefully. On the other hand, some crimes aregeographically diverse, for example, cross-border kidnapping is becomingprevalent in some parts of Latin America. Remain aware of the day to daychanges going on every region you have a company presence, how they may affectyour personnel and that your security measures are consistent with any changes.Try and stay one step ahead. Government bodies offer sources of information on security risks overseas.Large multinationals with in-house security departments will probably subscribeto one or more of the proprietary country risk information services, butinformation is also available from reports by the US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) and the BritishForeign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/travel).It’s worth remembering however, that both have been criticised for phrasingrisk assessments carefully to preserve diplomatic sensitivities. Pre-deployment briefings These services, however, fail to address the more common, everyday dangersinvolving road travel and safety of buildings. Pre-deployment briefings should be given both verbally and in written formand must include a security assessment of the intended location and advice onpersonal security measures. Some measures can be mandatory, othersprecautionary. Wherever possible employees’ dependants should be included inthese briefings. If your chief executive enjoys the assignment of a closeprotection operative for an overseas trip, the operative’s first insistenceshould be to “buckle up” in the car. For executives travellingwithout this level of specialist support, training is essential on how tominimise travel risks. Many precautions are simple, like taking a hotel roombetween the second and tenth floors (accessible to fire ladders). In order toremain inconspicuous, executives could check into a hotel using their own, notthe company name. And because an executive of a Fortune 500 company is anattractive target for crime, “dressing down” may be a good idea, butavoid corporate clothing which may be akin to a badge saying “mugme”. Staff who did their share of student backpacking, and the air milesaccumulators who regard themselves as “able to look afterthemselves”, may not see a need for such briefings and training – but thecorporation has a duty to ensure that they get it anyway. If accommodation is being arranged for a longer stay, the employee and theirfamily must be given security advice both in the selection of a suitableproperty and in safe behaviour while living there. A good knowledge andacceptance of local customs and habits may help to avoid offending the localpopulation and may alleviate any potential security situations. Use a reputablesecurity firm with a local presence that can advise and provide a 24-houron-call service. Typically, an apartment in a serviced block will be moresecure than a detached house, but the “micro-environment” must beassessed properly. Notwithstanding incidents such as the assassination of theBritish diplomat Stephen Saunders in Greece in June last year, travel by privatecar is generally the safest mode of transport. In many countries it isadvisable to use local and trusted drivers who have a better knowledge of thearea and the risks. Other precautions A pre-travel necessity that is all too often overlooked is ensuring thatemployees receive any required inoculations or anti-malarial precautions intime. To be effective these must be planned in advance to give the jabs ortablets time to become active. Risk management strategies should always encompass contingency plans thatare clear, comprehensive and properly communicated. This should include anevacuation plan covering both medical and security emergencies (confirmedin-country with the relevant embassy or consulate). Cynics may say that acontingency plan cannot cover all eventualities, but ArmorGroup’s experienceshows that, in an emergency, a “plan from which to deviate” isinfinitely preferable to having none at all. Finally, the HR group must ensure a proper link up with the appropriateinsurance providers. Special risks cover may be required and this increasinglyincludes a kidnap and ransom (K&R) policy. It is a fact of life that aransom often changes hands in resolving kidnappings in many countries. Morecrucially, K&R insurers can also arrange specialist crisis managementsupport, which has been shown statistically to improve survivor ratesconsiderably. The vast majority of overseas assignments are safe and enriching foremployees and their organisations. But the consequences of not applying bestpractice to health and safety in international environments can lead topersonal tragedies, organisational jeopardy and legal proceedings. Dave Abbot is director of ArmorGroup Safe and soundOn 1 Apr 2001 in Personnel Todaylast_img read more