Iceland’s volcanic eruption and ash plume have caused global disruption for the transportation of goods, services and passengers alike. Where an organisation’s employees are either: (1) “stranded” abroad (whether on business or on holiday - and required to return to meet business commitments); (2) in transit (potentially seeking alternative means of transport to return home); or (3) anticipating disruption to imminent travel plans, then the organisation (as “employer”) will need to be vigilant and comply with relevant statutory health and safety duties. Failure to comply may result in both criminal and civil liability.

It is fundamental for employers to bear in mind that they are legally required to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all their employees during the course of their employment. This duty will extend to employees (and possibly contractors) travelling on, or returning for, business purposes. In practical terms, this could necessitate employers ensuring that their “stranded” employees have accommodation and food and drink, that any health issues specific to those employees are taken into consideration, and that the employees are provided with a safe means of transport home. Furthermore, employers will need to maintain sufficient cover at home (whilst staff are unavoidably detained abroad) to ensure that essential safety obligations are met and appropriately resourced throughout the crisis.

Whilst the Health Protection Agency has advised that the plume of volcanic ash which is currently trapped in the atmosphere above the UK is not a significant risk to public health (or to the environment), such risks should also be considered (and carefully monitored) by an employer in complying with its duty of care.

Finally, with scientists predicting that climate change will bring a global increase in the occurrence of “acts of God” (such as flooding and tornados etc), employers may need to consider updating health and safety manuals, risks assessments and employment policies in order to ensure that they are able to respond to the management of naturally occurring crises and their inevitable business impacts. Employers may also wish to consider their insurance policies and the extent to which an appropriate level of commercial cover is provided in crisis situations.

It is fundamental for employers to bear in mind that they are legally required to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all their employees during the course of their employment. This duty will extend to employees (and possibly contractors) travelling on, or returning for, business purposes. In practical terms, this could necessitate employers ensuring that their “stranded” employees have accommodation and food and drink, that any health issues specific to those employees are taken into consideration, and that the employees are provided with a safe means of transport home. Furthermore, employers will need to maintain sufficient cover at home (whilst staff are unavoidably detained abroad) to ensure that essential safety obligations are met and appropriately resourced throughout the crisis.