It is clearly established as a matter of law that employers are responsible for the safety of staff when they are travelling in connection with their work both in the UK and abroad.
What this means in practice is that employers must do all that is reasonably practicable to assess the risks associated with particular journeys and ensure that their staff travel by safe means into safe environments and are prepared by suitable training for any unexpected situations they might meet as far as it is possible to do so.
Many employers are very anxious in the current climate about the risks to staff travelling abroad posed by local conflicts, terrorism and epidemics. The commonest causes of travel accidents and claims are car accidents at home and access to appropriate medical care and the effects of local petty crime abroad.
There is no domestic rule of law which requires UK employers to have a “driving at work" policy which applies to their staff in the UK but it is prudent to have such a policy as evidence that the employer has considered staff safety and is in a position to control and enforce the behaviour of its staff when it comes to driving. The exact contents of the policy will vary with the type of business and the nature of the travel concerned but there are some common features which need to be included in every policy.
If staff are travelling abroad, particularly in the undeveloped world or areas with difficult or rugged terrain or weather conditions, it is not enough to rely on standard driving policies. Journeys should be individually risk assessed in each case, not only in relation to the journey but also to the person making it. Such an assessment might include consideration of the location; the types of transport available; the state of the roads; local driving practices such as driving at night without lights; likely weather conditions; and the previous experience of the traveller both in general and specifically.
For example, a properly conducted risk assessment might conclude that an employee who is an inexperienced driver and does not speak or read the local language should not travel unaccompanied into a region where roads are poor. However, a different employee who has made the trip many times before and has long experience of driving off roads might be in a different position even though he does not speak or read the local language either. In both cases, local support should be considered if there are any language difficulties.
It is important to avoid complacency when assessing a risk in relation to a seasoned traveller as conditions can change. When assessing local conditions, it may not be enough to rely on either the traveller or the employer’s existing knowledge. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) publishes extensive up to date information and it would be hard to demonstrate that a risk assessment was adequate if no attempt was made to check this for undeveloped countries or places where there are destabilising factors. There are also specialist professional advisers who advise on secure travel for staff going to unfamiliar regions or even familiar regions which have particular dangers. Regular verified training and monitoring is a necessary part of adequate risk assessment and compliance culture.
Where staff have to hire local vehicles, it is important to establish the identity of a reliable hirer before they travel and not leave them simply to find a hirer on arrival. The same criteria apply to charter flights. Check whether local carriers have been blacklisted by international organisations on safety grounds. The FCO can provide information on this.
Similar considerations apply to medical issues where both the person and place should be risk assessed. It is important not only to know what medical facilities might be available but also whether employees may require any specialist facilities. Make sure your employee knows how to access them and what to do in an emergency. Your travel insurers should be able to help with this. It is, for example, particularly important to ensure that, if the employee is told to call a particular number in order to access advice or authorise payment for treatment, the number is manned 24/7 in order to avoid any potentially dangerous delays.
It is necessary to take sterile medical supplies to some regions and specific advice should be taken about this. Even in western Europe, people with chronic, if not particularly serious, medical conditions must take adequate supplies of medication with them and must also know how to obtain prescription drugs should that be necessary. It is sensible to ensure that a traveller is provided with the address and telephone number of the nearest British Consular Office.
A good travel policy for staff will include general advice about keeping safe when travelling and how to avoid becoming a victim of local crime. A system of regular “checking in" is often sensible although the frequency is likely to vary with local conditions. Where you have this arrangement in place, you must also have a follow up plan about how to handle a situation when an employee does not check in. Once again, you should discuss this with your insurers.
Finally, what is your exit strategy? It is important to understand what conditions would prompt you to instruct your staff member to leave the country, even if their work is not finished. Make sure that these conditions are communicated to the staff member.
Even with a comprehensive policy you will never be able to anticipate every type of situation but the higher the general level of awareness, training and compliance, the greater the chance of keeping staff safe - and also the greater chance of avoiding not just claims but the reputational damage that goes with them.