Safeguards for workers abroad

Bruce Craig, partner and H&S specialist in law at Pinsent Masons, explains employers’ responsibilities to staff working abroad.

Despite the dip in the oil price, Aberdeen’s next-largest export – its engineering skills – continues unabated, with its multi-skilled workforce in demand in some of the world’s most inhospitable and often volatile hotspots.

However, following the terrorist atrocity in Paris and heightened security across Europe and at other potential flashpoints, HR departments need to pay even more attention to ensuring risk assessments are carried out prior to staff travelling abroad.

Bruce Craig

There is a basic obligation of all employers to take reasonable care for the safety of its workers and this obligation increases when the planning of a trip which sends staff abroad takes place in the UK.

The employer needs to put in place a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. This should factor in any foreign travel advice shown on the website of the UK Government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (F&CO), it has to be in writing, it needs to be retained until the employee returns safely, and it needs to be updated if there is any material change in circumstances.

For developed countries, the employer can make the travel arrangements, provide a travel itinerary and leave the worker to make the journey with, generally, no need to do more, unless the employer has reason to believe that the employee is vulnerable in some way.

But when sending the worker to a developing country, the position becomes so much more complicated and a detailed risk assessment must include a number of factors including:

Any F&CO advice in relation to firstly security and secondly health – especially concerning infectious diseases.

Collection of the worker at the arrival airport and vetting of the person/organisation meeting him.

Accommodation – local or international hotel, secure compound or other facility, and checks to ensure appropriate levels of security are in place.

Safe transfer arrangements if working offshore.

Special security provisions at the place of work onshore and offshore and plans for getting the worker home safely.

The risk assessment should also set out who the worker can contact locally and in the UK should any problem arise in relation to health, security or any other matter, and set out emergency procedures the employer and worker can call upon should a crisis arise in the country while the worker is there.

If an employer fails to comply with its obligations,  it can leave itself open to civil liability by way of a claim for damages by the worker, criminal liability and reputational damage.

As the world becomes an increasingly small but dangerous place, it has never been more important for employers to have full regard to their legal obligations to ensure the safety of its workers when travelling abroad, by carrying out and recording suitable and sufficient assessments of the foreseeable risks.

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