When most business people think about travel, they think about the challenge to get employees to travel on-budget and effectively, so no time or money is wasted.
However, every trip also represents a risk, and organisations must consider how they protect the health and safety of employees when they are away from the office and conducting official business.
The health and safety of business travel
Risks are easier to quantify and control when employees are based in a fixed workspace. We can identify the risks to health, report on them and take steps to mitigate them. But when our colleagues travel around the country, or further afield, we cannot possibly know all the risks that they might encounter, nor can we take action to control the environment around them.
What organisations can do is prepare their employees for business trips and ensure that our colleagues make the best choices when it comes to booking travel and conducting business away from the office.
Make sure your employees are staying in reputable hotels in safe areas of their destination city. You may want to issue a list of approved hotel chains so that employees are discouraged from booking unfamiliar or untrusted accommodation.
Are your employees confident driving a manual transmission if they're used to automatics? And how do they feel about driving on the other side of the road – in an unfamiliar town? Again, it may be simpler to rely on public transport, unless there is a particular need for a hire car. And if a hire car is essential, you might encourage colleagues to order a local satnav to help them travel safely and efficiently.
Is the local public transport network reliable – and safe? Is it suitable for your employees to use alone, at different times of day? If in doubt, encourage employees to travel by private cab that they book by phone (or app) rather than a car hailed on the street.
Encourage employees to leave valuables at home. They should only take the equipment and clothing they need to conduct business.
Remind employees to carry their identification on them at all times. This can be helpful if they need to prove their identity, or if they are incapacitated and need urgent medical help.
Keep in touch
Do you ask employees to keep in touch during trips abroad? From a safety and security perspective it may be useful to request an itinerary so that you always know where your colleagues are. Asking them to check in regularly, perhaps daily, also ensures you can raise the alarm should anything go wrong.
Give your employees details of their insurance cover and who to contact in the event they need support.
Make sure your colleagues have cover in their destination – and that they know how to seek help in the event of an emergency – or if they need routine medical help.
Check that your company mobile phones will work in the destination – and that your devices are all fully charged and that employees take chargers.
Networking and socialising
Employees should be advised to stay safe when conducting business with people they don't know – whether these are colleagues, customers or vendors. Networking, sales trips or supplier visits may involve socialising, and people should take the normal precautions they take when spending time with new people in unfamiliar places.
It's useful to have a plan for advising employees about the unique character and risks of particular destinations. For example, some locations may have more street crimes and pickpocketing, while other countries may be less tolerant of differences such as racial, ethnic or sexual orientation. Employees need to understand the place they are visiting, and any unique social traditions, customs or laws that must be respected.
In addition to social and legal considerations, consideration must be given to whether there are other risks, such as social unrest, political violence or natural phenomena such as tropical storms, earthquakes or volcanic activity.