Dr Maze

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regular comment for managers on workplace health issues

Health Risks and Corporate Travel

Increasing numbers of British and Irish employers now send their employees abroad to work, either for brief periods or for several years as expatriate workers. The individual traveller clearly bears responsibility for his/her own health and safety while away from home. What many employing organizations fail to understand is that they too have significant responsibilities in this regard. Domestic safety legislation may apply to the company”s business activities abroad, requiring it to protect its staff on company business abroad.

In the UK, the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 has now come into effect, codifying a responsibility on individual senior managers to protect the life of all those who may be affected by the organization”s business activities. This would include customers and passers by as well as employees. The implication is that where an employee dies as a result of business activities, individual managers and directors may face court proceedings and large fines or imprisonment if convicted.

Tying these two together, if an employee suffers a fatality that is attributable to working abroad, there is a potential liability on the employer, particularly if that risk is foreseeable and avoidable. For example, an individual goes on secondment to a location where malaria is endemic (lets say, an engineer involved in a building project). At some point, either during his stay or following his return home, he develops a fever that is either not diagnosed or is not appropriately treated. He subsequently dies from cerebral malaria. Or, he gets bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, but doesn”t get medical treatment until after he starts to develop symptoms of rabies. By this time, it is too late to vaccinate, there is no treatment and he dies (rabies is considered 100% fatal once symptoms appear). Or, perhaps he just falls asleep at the wheel and dies in a road traffic accident the day after he arrives, because he has been working long hours before travel with little sleep to meet a tight deadline and now also has to contend with jetlag.

In all these cases, the employer may well be at risk of litigation. We are not talking here about the corporate body, but about specific named individuals legally considered as bearing the responsibility for the corporate activities that led to the death. Employers need to urgently reassess their travel policies and ensure that they have a travel health policy in place. They need to exercise due diligence on all their foreign corporate activities, particularly in countries where the local legislation or attitudes to worker health and safety are less stringent than they are at home. This may not require very much change if you do business in France or Germany. But if you don”t have company policies on foreign travel and working, you may need to develop them and ensure that they are publicized and actioned within the business.

For more travel advice, please go to http://jabs2go.com

If you need to consult on occupational health risks, including travel, please contact me through http://environmed.co.uk

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