Analysis: Buyers and duty of care

Teamwork, clear communication and a holistic approach are essential for the provision of good duty of care. Catherine Chetwynd reports

THE REQUIREMENTS of duty of care have been clear since the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Companies have a duty of care to employees and that includes ensuring they are safe and looked after while travelling on business. For companies looking to implement an effective duty of care policy, there are several challenges, however.

First, a company’s duty of care may apply during events as wide-ranging as severe weather phenomena (ash clouds, tsunamis, hurricanes and more) to smaller scale emergencies, such as a measles outbreak on an offshore rig that threatens to spread among those on board.

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Second, the duty of care obligation is normally not restricted to one person or even a single department. In fact, it is considered to be everyone’s responsibility – HR, security, risk management, occupational health and safety managers, senior management and the travel department. It cannot be relegated to just one functional group, and so a significant cost lies in planning and implementing best practices rather than the costs associated with taking care of employees.

Third, the duty of care applies not only to travellers but locals, expats, international assignees and dependents.

These observations come from a global benchmarking study on duty of care undertaken by healthcare and security services company International SOS.

The findings highlight the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ country. “Incidents can happen in any location, but there are ways to mitigate risk,” says International SOS group manager of marketing and communications, Rebecca Hackworth. “These can vary greatly within a country. For example, in Brazil, some areas of Rio have a greater likelihood of kidnapping, assault and robbery than others; and while in major Brazilian cities, malaria and other infectious diseases are controlled, in the rural north and west, they may be endemic.”

Other factors presenting a risk in otherwise safe countries, include vulnerability due to being unfamiliar with a new destination; fatigue when driving; flaring of chronic health conditions; lost medication; illness; opportunistic crime; and imprisonment. In addition: “Alcohol guidelines are coming up more frequently now, with customers’ preventing travellers from charging alcoholic drinks back to the business,” says Lucie Harrison, senior business development manager at Click Travel.

COMMUNICATION
Experts agree one of the most effective ways to protect travellers from potential danger – and the companies they work for from liability – is good communication. This includes ongoing confirmation of travel policy and briefing of travellers before they depart, with mandatory briefings for high-risk destinations; making sure they have access to information while on the move; using traveller tracking systems; ensuring appropriate immunisation; and providing some way for employer and employee to communicate in the event of an emergency.

But of course there are always those who will act independently. “It is all very well having a policy that says not to drive after an eight-hour flight, but if it is not mandated someone could drive and have an accident,” says Keith Burgess, general counsel and central services director for HRG. “Companies need to protect employees from perceived danger and protect themselves from liability.”

He says the best way to ensure compliance is to “get buy-in from the top. People need to understand why rules are there and that they are not just petty and bureaucratic.”

REACTION TIMES

TMCs are in the thick of protecting employees and employers – and this includes providing a 24-hour service, real-time security information and having the ability to react immediately and appropriately to any emergency.

In this, they are not always helped by their clients. After the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan in March 2011, HRG was tasked with evacuating large numbers of people from Tokyo. “It became apparent with more than one of our large multinational clients that although they knew when their people travelled there and what jobs they were doing, they had no record of whether there’d been any increase in expats’ families while they were there,” says HRG’s international development director Susan Lancaster. “In some instances, HR did not know how many there were in the family. There was a startling lack of centralised information. It was a matter of ringing people and asking them, because we had charter flights lined up and we needed to keep a list of those going on the flight. Since then, we have seen some procedures implemented to address that.”

However, sharing of personal information can be a tricky issue. “Data protection regulation has been known to cause problems,” says Julian Munsey, head of strategic business development at Hillgate Travel. “But if it’s dealt with as part of the TMC travel profile build, and the stakeholders within the company understand why the information needs to be shared, it makes life much easier for the service providers.”

TOP PRIORITY

This year has seen evidence that duty of care is becoming a focus, partly because we are increasingly aware of the world’s dangers, but also because “as businesses seek new markets in the wake of the global economic crisis, they are sending employees not just to the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, India and China] but also to emerging markets such as the CIVETS [Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa],” says Hackworth at International SOS. “And many of these markets present greater risks to travellers.”

And where companies go, consultants follow. PWC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) categorises destinations as low, through medium and high, to critical risk.“Low is every market that is safe to travel to and in, without a prior check here,” says business travel manager Will Hasler. “If travellers are going anywhere else, they can expect a phone call from our security teams and an email from HRG, asking them whether they are leaving the city.”

MENTAL HEALTH

Stress is another factor that companies must consider, although there is a limit to how much any company can baby-sit employees. “If someone chooses to work 18 hours a day, their manager or director would happily let them do that. We have a lot of very hard-working people who are on-call 24 hours a day, and it is compulsory to watch your Blackberry,” says Hasler. “It is difficult to be prescriptive about how much people can work but if they are sick or tired and do shoddy work, the reputation of the organisation suffers. We expect people to have a certain amount of self-discipline.” The firm takes a holistic view of duty of care, so during the ash cloud crisis of 2010, for example, it looked after those travelling on business and leisure. “They are still our employees and we wanted them back – duty of care does extend to that,” says Hasler.

LIABILITY AND LEGALITY

Fulfilling the obligation of duty of care requires different responsibilities from different people in a company. “Higher up the organisation, the concern is liability and the legal side; the travel manager’s task is to interpret, execute and communicate policy to make sure their TMC and suppliers understand what needs to be implemented,” says HRG’s Lancaster. “Our obligation is to support companies’ policies in every way or, if the only seat available to get someone home safely is in first class, then we overrule policy to do that.”

Technology is central to good duty of care, whether that is traveller tracking, posting information on websites or timely communication. One option for the latter is supplied by Contgo, newly acquired by Concur.

“It is a very powerful communication engine, with the ability to send a text or email to any employee at a given time,” says Concur’s vice-president of business development, Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz. “It allows users to programme the system so that a traveller receives a message after a six-hour flight to remind them not to drive but take a cab, or to send a text reminder to use a certain taxi company in India, or to cover a procurement issue on arrival in Mexico – for example, the company’s preferred hotel is such-and-such, and the rate includes wifi and breakfast.”

Adecco is ranked as one of the world’s largest recruitment companies. Of its 3,200 staff in the UK, 2,000 have the potential to travel. “Duty of care comes before cost savings and is one of the primary reasons we stay with our TMC, Click Travel,” says the group’s UK and Ireland procurement manager, Brian Jeal. “Everything I need to know is online – we can see where all our travelling staff are, when they went out, when they get back. I can see exactly who is travelling today, tomorrow, next week… Click has traveller tracking technology, keeps a record of all our transactions and bookings, and provides a 24/7 support function for travellers – which means I don’t get any issues when someone misses a train or turns up at a hotel and there’s no booking.”

Adecco has a car policy that encourages travellers to break for 30 minutes after two hours’ driving, and to take overnight accommodation after a four-hour drive, or to use public transport. In addition, “Click has a warning system that allows them to distribute messages to travellers, for example, during the ash crisis”, says Jeal.

“Our traveller tracking system provides easy access to a real-time dashboard where you can pinpoint travellers on a map and as a list, and download that information to Excel,” says Click’s Lucie Harrison. “From here, customers can quickly broadcast messages to all affected travellers.”

Regular and clear communication, teamwork – both internally and with suppliers – and a holistic view are crucial to allow companies to achieve good duty of care. Apart from being good company culture to look after employees to the highest practical level, it is also a matter of self-preservation for the employer, whose liability could prove only too costly – financially and in reputation.

KEYS TO EFFECTIVE DUTY OF CARE

Planning, implementation and compliance are the bedrock of good duty of care, according to International SOS.

PLANNING INCLUDES:
•             Risk assessment
•             Strategic planning
•             Developing governance (policies and procedures)

IMPLEMENTATION INVOLVES:
•             Managing global mobility
•             Communication
•             Education
•             Training
•             Tracking
•             Informing employees about changes in risk
•             Advising, assisting and evacuating in the event of an incident

COMPLIANCE MEANS:
•             Control and analysis to ensure a programme is being implemented correctly
•             Good reporting that leads to continuous improvement

 

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