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Safety And Security Of Workers Abroad

Safety And Security Of Workers Abroad

The recent tragic events in Algeria have served as a sharp reminder of the risks employees can face in some parts of the world far from an organisation’s home base in the UK.  Where cultural, religious or safety standards are very different from home new and unexpected hazards may exist. The risks posed by terrorism, crime, political instability, natural disasters and disease should be considered and assessed in addition to those arising from planned workplace activities.

A UK based employer has a legal duty to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health safety and welfare at work of all employees. Employers in the UK cannot avoid this general duty simply because their employees are overseas. Neither can they delegate responsibility to clients, subcontractors or agents. Now, more than ever, businesses are expanding globally into international markets, often in challenging environments and for many of us travel and work abroad are just part of the job. With an increasingly mobile workforce and a rapidly changing political landscape it can be difficult to keep track of where employees are and what is happening in remote locations. But employees must not be ‘out of sight out of mind’.

So, how do you discharge your duties when an employee is miles from home? As with all workplace hazards, it starts with risk assessment.

As an employer, you must take steps to safeguard employees from reasonably foreseeable dangers. You need to:

  • identify the sources of potential danger
  • assess the risks of these occurring
  • consider what you can do to prevent or mitigate the harm
  • and then do it.  

The hazards and the level of risk will change over time and vary from one location to another so risk assessment needs to be a fluid process and the measures you put in place need to be regularly reviewed. The risk assessment should be discussed with employees so that they understand the risks and how these are being controlled. You may decide to provide personal security advice and crisis management training.

We have grown used to the hypothetical threat of terrorism. We stand in line at airport security trying not to get frustrated at the queue (this is impossible at Terminal 5) and it is just part of getting a flight. What happened at the In Amenas gas plant on 16th January was a game changer. It is no longer hypothetical and it is no longer unforeseeable.

Data gathering is important. Fortunately there are many sources of information available ranging from free advice on government websites through to detailed private advice from security specialists. Where potential threats exist the situation may need to be carefully monitored. Arrangements for emergency response may require co-operation between several employers and plans for evacuation and rescue co-ordinated. Don’t get caught unprepared. A well thought out emergency response plan supported by appropriate training of personnel and testing of systems could make all the difference if the worst happens.

And of course we are always here to help! We are happy to discuss your particular concerns and advise on the steps you need to take. Whether you want us to review risk assessments and emergency plans or comment on how your responsibilities are affected by contractual arrangements with clients or contractors the HSE team at Burness Paull & Williamsons will keep you on the right track, no matter how far you intend to travel.

Rona Jamieson
Partner

LChalmers