For those of us who believe we live in a nanny (or big brother) state, welcome news of a lucky break will come next week. The new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide bill is likely to be passed in the Lords and will clarify lines of responsibility for companies which require their employees to travel. But before it applies, two important conditions have to be met: firstly, someone has to die; secondly, they have to have died in this country. Deaths abroad do not count.
Whether the risks involved in travelling have increased or not in recent years is debatable, but perceived danger is clearly at an all time high, and therefore the bill is sure to make headlines. If it is to be useful to business travellers, it is less in the direct effect of the legislation, and more in the clarifying effect it should have on our travelling arrangements.
At a seminar organised by the Institute of Travel Management (ITM) along with International SOS (ISOS), it was made clear that many companies are not taking sufficient care of their employees when they travel on business. All trips need to be covered by a general risk assessment, including safety advice, general prohibitions on certain types of behaviour, and details of emergency procedures if something should go wrong, along with details of relevant insurers.
For more exotic destinations, individuals risk assessments should be undertaken, and, it was made clear that for a risk assessment to be worth anything, it should be undertaken by a professional (such as ISOS). The reasons? Existing health and safety legislation imposes a duty of care on companies, and whether the accident occurs in the office, or on a trip either in the UK or abroad, a company would have to show it did all it reasonably could to keep the employee safe. For those companies sending employees abroad on a secondment, the rigour of the Health and Safety Act might apply to that office abroad, even if it is in the developing world.
If the risk assessment throws up potential areas of concern, then the employee must be notified of these, and where appropriate, given training to help the situation. As for the new law, in the event of a death its effect is to shift the responsibility from the director of the firm facing criminal charges for negligence to a senior manager (ie: a travel manager) being responsible. The message in many ways is a reassuring one. Companies have a responsibility for their employees wherever they are in the world, and whether the motive is genuine concern for travellers, or simply covering oneself in the event of injury or death, all travel managers need to make sure the correct systems are in place before requiring anyone to travel on business.
Report by Tom Otley