While western nations including France, Australia and Canada have all been subject to recent terror attacks, these are rare compared to places such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria where the threat of kidnap and other terrorist related violence is an on-going concern. It is therefore vital that companies operating in these or other potentially dangerous jurisdictions take appropriate precautions to protect their employees from harm.
Since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was introduced in Scotland in April 2008, companies also have a legal responsibility to ensure their employee’s safety when they are 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.
Taking the right precautions to protect staff and safe-guard a company’s reputation 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 USA 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.
Andrew Newton is head of Corporate Travel at Colpitts World Travel.