Whether you are sending employees for a brief business visit overseas or inviting them to work abroad on a more permanent basis, the law is clear. You have a duty of care, which means that you are expected to take ‘reasonable care’ of your employees for their safety at work.
In the case of people working overseas, that includes travel to and from the location, the environment they will be working in – whether that’s an oil rig in the Caspian Sea or an office in downtown Singapore – and any particular risks that might be associated with the country they will staying in or passing through. So what does this mean for you as an employer?
THREE THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE THEY GO
1. How fit are the people you are sending?
Travel can be stressful in its own right. The work may be high-pressure. Adapting to new people, different places and unusual ways of operating adds another layer.
One of the most important things you need to do is to check any health concerns before your staff leave, particularly if they are going to a less developed country where they might find themselves miles from a hospital, or reliant on substandard medical care.
Staff may be reluctant to submit to what they see as unnecessary medical intrusion, but it’s essential for you and them. Particularly if they are going to work in a country that may be very hot and humid. Or a remote area with poor medical facilities.
This pre-deployment process can be organised through outsourced teleconsultations. This allows it all to be arranged around your staff members’ busy lives and keeps your HR people out of time-consuming procedures.
Medical evacuations are often triggered by existing health problems
We work with one of the UK’s major medical evacuation companies, which manages emergency airlifts and remote medical support around the world. Its Medical Director told us that while many people might assume that accidents like road traffic collisions, trips and falls would be the number one cause of evacuation, it’s more commonly underlying health issues.
“You are far more likely to need treatment for illness, and that illness will often be something related to their own state of health,” the Medical Director said. “Perhaps they have a history of angina, or you had a stroke five years ago?” These are the things you need to be aware of before your employees leave.
Plan for stopovers too
Don’t forget your staff also have to get where they are going, and transit areas could bring risks as well. There is a case in law, Palfrey v Ark Offshore Limited, where damages were awarded to the widow of an employee who had died of malaria after travelling to West Africa to work on an oil rig.
The defendant employer had failed to discharge its duty to have an effective policy for the provision of advice as to health precautions to be taken by employees sent to work abroad
The company had advised that the employee didn’t need malaria protection because he was working on an oil rig, which was free from the disease. But in order to get there, he had to spend a night on an island, where he contracted the disease. According to lawyers, the claim succeeded because ‘the defendant employer had failed to discharge its duty to have an effective policy for the provision of advice as to health precautions to be taken by employees sent to work abroad and that it had thereby endangered the employee’s safety’.
2. Have you made your employees aware of the potential risks they may be facing?
It’s imperative that you brief your people or contractors on any potential risks posed by geographic, political or cultural norms, helping to protect them while ensuring you meet your duty-of-care requirements.
At Bellwood Prestbury, we support clients with insurance protection on every continent. Some simply work in big global cities like Dubai. Others are posted to remote places or are working on oil rigs.
We support clients with insurance protection on every continent
What they all have in common is that they have to deal with new challenges. That might be different cultures. There may be medical risks. They may be in a country with a fluid political situation. Or they may be involved in sensitive work or located in a place that could make them a target for kidnap, ransom or extortion.
It’s all about the detail of where you are sending them. Take Africa, for example. It’s a vast continent made up of 54 countries. Each of them has its own character, culture, and political make-up. No fewer than 20 states are currently categorised as fragile or conflict-affected. Terrorism and ethnic unrest are becoming a common factor across the continent, with recorded incidents affecting different areas each year.
Country regulation and legislation also differs vastly. The reliability of justice and local law enforcement can be a critical factor. The quality of immediate risk management and mission support will affect how you go about meeting your duty-of-care responsibilities for expats and locals alike.
We work with experts who brief staff before they depart. This ensures they won’t accidentally offend or inadvertently make themselves a target. They will also learn how to avoid dangerous situations and what to do should trouble arise.
The security situation can change in a heartbeat
One of our partners, Castor Vali, which provides security protection for companies operating in Africa, creates bespoke security and risk-management assessments for our clients. These explore the issues that are particular to their operation and bring their attention to areas our local experts know will be relevant for them.
They tell us: “The security situation can change in a heartbeat. That’s why we provide ongoing intelligence briefings. From terrorist activity involving groups like al Shabaab and the rise in robbery and theft in urban areas, to warnings about extreme weather events, these briefings give clients a heads-up of what is happening in the countries they operate in, and how that might affect them.
“We also provide security and protection services on the ground. This might include protecting corporate offices, personnel and equipment, or a specialist project security plan for offshore rigs or maritime operations. It might also include tracking and monitoring client personnel, close protection for a VIP visit, or ongoing security briefings for staff.”
3. Have you got the right insurance cover in place?
Make sure you have the right insurance for the country your people are travelling to. Is it just medical cover, or do they need travel, kidnap and ransom, personal accident, political or medical evacuation insurance?
Make sure you have the right insurance for the country your people are travelling to
It’s essential you offer the right cover for the territory and the personnel involved. For instance, if you have people on the ground during a coup or sudden change in a political situation – like Ukraine or Sudan, for example – evacuation can be seriously complex (and expensive) without the right insurance.
Similarly, should you face the nightmare of a kidnap situation, being able to access cover that pays for skilled negotiators and local support can be critical to the outcome. We arrange kidnap and ransom insurance for a wide range of clients around the globe. As part of the policy, they get a security briefing, which includes advice on how to avoid dangers. This will include simple things like not sticking to predictable routes or routines; not sharing meeting details or location clues on social media while they are still in-country; and, in known high-risk regions like Afghanistan or Somalia, using local security personnel for advice and close protection.
“We have your people! You must meet our demands!”
And what if the worst should happen? Can you imagine that chilling phone call in the middle of the night? “We have your people! You must meet our demands!” That’s when a kidnap and ransom policy can make all the difference, bringing in a specialist firm who can deploy negotiators and manage situations, anywhere in the world. They get people on the ground fast. They establish contact with the kidnappers in their own language. They check on proof of life and the welfare of the hostages. They expertly advise you on a course of action. And they manage communications on behalf of your firm, the family and with local authorities, who may favour an armed response over negotiation.
One of these specialist firms supported a US firm who had people taken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, successfully negotiating their release using a local priest as an intermediary. Its chief negotiator told us:
“It’s always a concern that local authorities may go in guns a-blazing; hostage rescue is seldom advisable in financially motivated incidents. The safest, securest way to resolve things for the victims in those incidents is negotiation, with the authorities then taking action to arrest the offenders once the hostage is safely home.
“In this case, after nearly three months of negotiation around money, concessions for the local community and other social issues, a payment was agreed and a complicated handover was planned. All the hostages were safely released in the jungle several days after the payment had been made. They were malnourished and dehydrated from living in the jungle, but basically they were in good condition.”
If your company has many people working abroad, it’s prudent not to over-specify cover that won’t be needed
Avoid over-specifying cover
If your company has many people working abroad, it’s prudent not to over-specify cover that won’t be needed. For example, some HR departments take an annual global policy for executives with worldwide cover. But if your people don’t spend much of the year in the States, there are significant savings to be made from excluding the USA. Similarly, taking a 52-week policy for project workers who are in and out of high-risk areas is a waste of valuable resources when it’s possible to organise a call-off schedule that you only activate when people are in-territory, saving significant premiums over the year.
SUPPORTING EMPLOYEES IN THEIR DAY-TO-DAY LIVES
What will your employees’ needs be, once they are in place? Is it just them or family members too? How will you support them so far from home?
Different individuals have a different focus on what’s important to them. If it’s just a brief visit, an agreed contact in the firm for emergencies or support is a good idea. If staff are being sent abroad for a longer posting, we recommend that they have access to a professional employee assistance programme which offers a wide range of support. From cross-cultural transition to work-life balance, or coping with being away from family, there’s 24/7 support available, online or in-person. This can be provided as part of any international medical insurance plan you have in place.
People with more permanent postings may require more in-depth support with accommodation, schools, cars etc
Of course, people with more permanent postings may require more in-depth support with accommodation, schools, cars etc. That might be most effectively achieved using local expat services on the ground where your people are being deployed.
WHAT TO DO IF THERE’S AN EMERGENCY
If something goes wrong, employees often assume they can just wave an insurance card and it all gets taken care of. That might work if they have the right insurance in a country where there is good medical infrastructure of a standard we all expect. In less mainstream locations, that’s rarely the case.
It’s all about employee education
There’s nothing worse than an employee suffering a road accident and then having to fight with hospital administrators about payment before treatment occurs.
This is all about employee education. You need to ensure that employees and their partners or dependants are aware of the procedures, wherever they may be. They need to know which are the best local hospitals if they have a choice. And they need to know who they can call, any time, day or night, to get assistance, should they need it.
For many of our clients, we direct all of this through convenient apps, ensuring that the basics are available on their phone, whenever they need it. And we create useful handbooks with an overview of cover and all of the contact information they need. Occasionally, we work as an intermediary between the individuals, the insurer and/or the hospital, ensuring that your employees get the best possible treatment without delay.