Employers have a duty of care to their employees – a legal and moral obligation to do everything in their power to reduce the risks of injury or illness befalling their staff. At no time is this more important than when employees are away on business trips.
Although it can be beneficial for workers and businesses alike, corporate travel can never be completely risk-free. Travelling to a different part of the world and getting around in unfamiliar surroundings will always mean encountering various potential hazards. With some forward planning and effective employer due diligence, however, the risks can be minimised.
A Safe Trip
When planning a business trip, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that employee safety has to be your number one priority. With price concerns high on the agenda and time constraints adding more pressure, sometimes it can feel tempting to skimp on things like accommodation.
For all businesses, their employees are their number one asset and people's safety transcends any business goals. Protecting a company's staff is therefore paramount, whether the business travel they're conducting is a simple drive up the road to another company site or a weeks-long sales trip to a different continent.
The duty of care means that employers need to ensure staff are transported safely to where they need to go and have a safe, comfortable place to stay for the duration of their business trip.
In 2016 the Association of Corporate Travel Executives released a survey of business travellers that revealed 67% of them said there was a psychological effect on them or their families when they travelled to a region where they didn't feel safe. This may be linked to terrorist attacks in recent years, which have often taken place in countries that would be classed as low risk in other ways. Knowing that their employers take their duty of care seriously and have carried out a thorough risk assessment, including consideration of a country's political, economic and social situation, may go some way to easing this worry in the minds of employees – and their families.
The UK government website publishes up to date travel advice on all countries, including any specific risks associated with them, their terrorist threat level, and any visa and entry requirements travellers need to be aware of. It's a good resource for pre-work trip research for employers and employees alike.
Whether the travel is abroad or within the UK, it's important for people on a business trip to stay in regular contact with at least one other person from the company – preferably their line manager, who should have a detailed itinerary for their trip on-hand. Scheduling regular check-ins throughout the day can be beneficial and allows the employee to state when and for how long they will be out of contact (during supplier meetings, for example). This is a great way of making sure the alarm is raised early if something goes wrong with the trip or if the employee drops out of contact unexpectedly.
A Healthy Trip
Stomach upsets are one of the most common reasons for business trips to be disrupted. Although these (and other common travel health issues such as viruses) can't always be avoided, there are ways the risk can be minimised. Travellers should be aware of any advice regarding water safety, since in some countries and regions it's safer to use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth, and to always order food and drink from outlets where they're confident they've been prepared with hygiene in mind. Employers should ensure employees are all made aware of this advice and not assume all of them are experienced travellers in their personal lives. Training them in travel safety prior to their trip can be very valuable.
One of the most important aspects of an employer's duty of care is its obligation to ensure they're appropriately insured for their trip and can access all the medical care they need when out and about. Making sure they have a list of emergency contacts is a must, along with instructions for what to do if they're ill, a victim of crime or if they lose their travel documents.
Regular business travel can have a cumulative effect on employees that leaves them at greater risk of certain health issues. Those that travel the most are more likely to have high BMIs, sleep issues, low exercise levels and a reliance on alcohol or smoking. While most of the advice on travel safety has focused on immediate and physical threats to business travellers' health, they can also be at a greater risk of anxiety and depression, with the greater amount of time spent away from family and friends being a possible contributing factor. Employers should be aware of this and keep an eye on workers who are away from home more than average, with the possibility of decreasing the amount of travel their role requires (if this is something the employee wants).