Terror attacks underline employer safety obligations

23 Jan 2015 by GrahamSmith

Andrew Newton is Head of Corporate Travel at Colpitts World Travel

The shocking and senseless extremist murders in Paris, preceded by other recent acts of terror perpetrated in Australia and Canada towards the end of last year, once again remind us of the volatility and danger that exists across the world.

While the UK has experienced and remains exposed to such perils, these latest atrocities occurring in foreign nations serve as a reminder to the responsibilities on employers who send their people to work abroad.

For many companies, foreign travel is an essential element of their business development and, while globalisation offers a great opportunity for companies to expand their markets, it also presents a potential threat.

Businessman at airport

Firstly, there is the threat to those employees who travel to foreign shores, especially to countries where there is a high degree of political instability and lawlessness. Indeed, it is often in conflict or post conflict areas where developing economies offer opportunities to companies here.

Secondly, there is the threat to the employer. Since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was introduced, companies now have a legal responsibility to ensure their employees' safety when travelling on business. Failure to do so can result in a gross breach in duty of care in the event of a tragic incident with serious personal legal consequences, including imprisonment, for a firm’s directors.

However, it is worth pointing out that the Act also states the onus is on any organisation involved in the duty of care to the employee whether this is the hotel they are staying in or the airline they are travelling on, for example.

While the everyday threat of violence remains relatively rare in western nations like France, Australia and Canada, there are important emerging economies including Algeria and Nigeria where the potential for terrorism and kidnap is a very real danger for business travellers.

Because of the commercial opportunities that exist in these and other hot spot destinations, it is unlikely such potential threats will stop companies from sending their people to undertake key projects. It is therefore vital that both travellers and their employers take precautions to manage the risks.

This starts with awareness — is the region in which they are conducting business susceptible to political unrest and terrorist threats? It is then crucial to establish the employee's own attitude to risk to ensure that they are aware of any potential dangers within the particular destination they are going to.

The Foreign Office website is a great source to advise you on how safe a nation is at any given time. I would urge employers to always check as there are some surprisingly volatile destinations including Guatemala and certain regions within India.

Circumstances can very quickly make other normally safe nations, including Thailand, Russia and even parts of the US, a threat to travellers.

Once travel is arranged, employers can take extra precautions and put tracking arrangements in place to ensure they know the whereabouts of their people at all times.

There are a number of different apps and GPS systems that can be deployed to track people when they are travelling through any hotspot areas. Using SMS messaging is another simple means of keeping your staff close to you and providing them with a potentially valuable lifeline.

Having tracking in place can be hugely important in a traumatic event like a terror attack or hostage taking incident, enabling firms to quickly establish if any of their people are in any danger. It also ensures that, knowing where your staff are, you are better placed to contact them and establish the severity of a situation on the ground.

While the initial advice might be to leave the country, for example, you might find through contact with your people that you are in a better position to advise them to stay within their hotel or works compound.

Of course, much of this pre-emptive planning comes down to the individual situation, the local knowledge of the people and the facilities they have there.

Recent terrorist events in some of the world's strongest and normally safest democracies underline the universal threat which we are facing.

While it's impossible to predict and pre-plan for every potential incident, it is possible to access the relevant information to determine whether there is a potential threat to your people before they are sent abroad.

There are also communication channels which can be created should you need to make urgent contact with them in the event of a crisis.

Along with the moral responsibility for employers to do this, there are also severe consequences with potential criminal charges to consider for those firms which do not put their people's safety to the fore.

Read out contributor biography of Andrew Newton, Head of Corporate Travel at Colpitts World Travel

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