Guides

Managing Business Travel Risk and Duty of Care for SMEs

In This Article

If your employees travel on business, you have a legal and moral obligation to consider their health, safety, and well-being whether they’re in the UK or abroad. Unfortunate events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or health issues, combined with the increased threat of terrorism is making many businesses pay much more attention to how they look after their employees wherever they are in the world.

Even so, 60% of SME travel managers surveyed in 2016* reported that they had no such plans in place. If you’re wondering how to implement a duty of care strategy for your business travellers, this guide will walk you through the essential steps to protect your employees from risks, whether it’s a delayed flight or a largescale crisis.

*Business Travel News’ 2016 Small & Midsize Enterprises Survey

What is Duty of Care?

Companies have a duty of care to their employees and should take all possible steps to ensure their health, safety, and well-being. While showing care for the physical and mental health of your employees can help improve staff retention, employee engagement and boost productivity, legally, employers must adhere to health & safety and employment law, in addition to the common law duty of care. They also have a moral obligation not to cause or fail to prevent physical or psychological injury. An employer may breach their duty of care by not doing everything reasonably possible to keep the employee safe from harm.

Why is Duty of Care Important in the context of Business Travel?

Duty of care is of vital importance when it comes to business travel because employees may be exposed to risks that may not apply when they’re working in their usual place of work. In large companies, travel risk management is a regular part of their business travel programme, but for smaller businesses who don’t have a business travel strategy, the risks associated with business travel can go overlooked.

Risks to business travellers include:

  • Visiting and driving in unfamiliar places
  • Standing out from the local population
  • Fatigue and jetlag can impair their judgements.
  • Threats to health in particular areas of the world
  • Natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes 
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Working alone in remote places

 

As well as the impact on an individual employee, any such risks may also affect a company’s productivity, profits, and reputation. Mitigating any risks can help reduce the likelihood of them happening altogether or minimise the impact if an employee is affected.

Complying with the Law

In the context of business travel, there are certain steps to take under the Health and Safety at work etc Act 1974 and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The addition of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 brought even more focus on companies taking steps to minimise risks to their employees.

As a minimum, companies must:

  • Have a written policy outlining their approach to health and safety.
  • Carry out risk assessments.
  • Provide employees with relevant information and training.

 

As well as the above, under the law of negligence, employers have a general duty of care to make sure their employees don’t suffer any unreasonable harm when travelling abroad.

Checklist

  • Create or review existing H&S Policy.
  • Carry out travel risk assessments.
  • Educate employees on minimising risks (this may apply to each individual trip and employee)

Does your Business Need to Review its Approach to Duty of Care?

With recent terrorist attacks in the UK and across Europe, the safety of employees when travelling on business is fast becoming a top priority for many businesses. Even so, larger companies are twice as likely* to conduct risk assessments when employees travel to high-risk areas than SMEs. It is vitally important that all businesses, small and large, have solid procedures in place to protect their employees from potential risks both in the UK and abroad, but how do you know if you’re doing enough? If you answer no to any of these questions, your company’s approach to duty of care might not be at a suitable level.

*Collinson Group Research

Can you quickly locate all your current travellers?

If you need to locate your business travellers instantly, how do you do it? For example, if there is an incident, you’ll want to check if any of your travellers were in the area at the time. If this is not an easy thing for you to accomplish, you will need to introduce a process that allows you to do so. For many businesses this is where a good travel management company (TMC) will help.

By making all bookings through a single TMC, you’ll have access to reports telling you which travellers are where at any given time, and depending on the solutions offered by the TMC, you may also have the option to view this information in real time on a map. If you don’t currently use a TMC and don’t have an automated way of recording all trips, you can’t be sure you have a record of all traveller locations. Even if you do this manually, there is still the risk of human error that a trip won’t be recorded.

Does your company understand its duty of care obligations?

Does your company have a duty of care policy? Are duty of care obligations understood by senior management and line managers? If not, this needs to be addressed immediately. Despite much press attention, some travel managers still report that lack of senior level buy in is making it hard for them to implement a robust travel risk strategy. To win them over, consider what travel related risks your travellers and company faces and determine the implications if any of them were to occur.

Remember this is not just about how a risk impacts the traveller, but also how it will impact the business too. Some risks will have minor consequences whereas others could have a huge detrimental effect to people, productivity, profits and reputation. Present this information to senior management as a presentation or report so they can really understand why it’s so important.

Do you have procedures covering health, safety and security of employees while travelling?

If you’ve got a duty of care policy, that’s a great start, but have you determined the correct procedures to minimise risk both before and during a trip? How do you know if a traveller needs to visit a high-risk destination? How do you risk assess all business trips? How do educate employees of these risks and take action to mitigate them?

If something does go wrong while an employee is travelling on business, how will you handle the situation? If you use a TMC, they will be able to help you implement a travel risk policy and the processes required to ensure it is followed. If you’re not using a TMC, think about how you will respond if an employee needs your urgent support.

Are you able to contact all travelling employees in the event of an emergency?

If you need to contact a traveller urgently due to an emergency, would you be able to? Ideally, a traveller’s current contact information will be stored in a traveller profile along with details of their next of kin. Of course, a traveller profile is only useful if it’s up to date, so its important travellers maintain them and update them promptly if their details change.

Unfortunately, mobile phones aren’t available 100% of the time, due to reception or battery issues, so you should have contact information for the traveller’s hotel/business locations too, this way you can reach them if their mobile phone isn’t working.

 

Implementing a Travel Risk Strategy

Events over the years in London, Manchester, Paris, Brussels, Hamburg, Stockholm, and Barcelona amongst others, have unfortunately demonstrated that traditionally ‘safe’ destinations for business travel now carry much greater risks than before. When coupled with an increase in the number of people travelling on business it makes it all the more important that businesses have a tried and tested crisis management plan in place and a clear process on what you need to do when a situation occurs worldwide.

All TMCs should be offering a travel risk consultation as part of their standard customer offering, and as a PA or Executive Assistant, taking ownership of traveller safety and security is a great way to help enhance the value you already provide to your business.

Assign Ownership

Determine who within your organisation is responsible for travel risk management and traveller safety. A single point of contact is imperative to ensure a coordinated response to a crisis and also ensures someone is responsible for ensuring the 5 traveller risk strategy is adhered to.

The nominated Travel Risk Manager should always have access to:

  • Emergency contacts at travel management providers
  • Emergency contact details for senior management
  • Risk management strategy and crisis management process
  • Login details for risk management platforms (if applicable)
  • Up to date policy and contact information for insurers

 

Who are your Stakeholders?
Before you start creating a travel risk strategy, you need to know what it needs to cover, and the only way to understand this is to consult with all parties involved. From travellers, their line managers, the HR department and the leadership team, different people within your business will have a different perspective on how travel risk will impact the business and its people.
 
It’s not just internal stakeholders though, include any partners you work with who are involved in the process of managing corporate travel such as your travel management company. They’ll provide valuable advice and guidance as you put a crisis management plan together, and it’s crucial your plan is integrated into their crisis management plan too as they’ll have a prominent role in assisting any travellers affected by an incident or crisis while travelling. By considering all those involved in business travel and risk management, you provide the opportunity for stakeholders to voice any travel risk concerns they have, that you may have otherwise not thought about.
 
Remember, risk is everyone’s responsibility, so while a single person may be responsible for coordinating traveller safety, everyone needs to understand their role and responsibilities.
  • Travel Manager – the person responsible for business travel management within your business
  • Senior Management – the senior management team need to endorse the policy.
  • Person Responsible for Duty of Care – Usually the Owner, Managing Director or CEO
  • Travellers – People who travel on company business.
  • Bookers – People who book travel for others.
  • Managers – People who approve business trips.
  • Human Resources (HR) – Responsible for staff retention, training, engagement, and well-being.
  • Procurement – Responsible for purchasing and managing suppliers.
  • Finance – Interested in travel budgets and any risk management costs.
  • Risk & Security – Responsible for risk management, safety and security.

Managing Risk

Key to traveller safety is understanding risk. Some risks will apply for every business trip whether it’s international or domestic, while some risks may only apply to certain travellers or specific destinations. Before each business trip takes place, a risk assessment should be carried out that considers the risk at the destination(s) and the risk profile of the traveller. While it may not be possible to eradicate all risk completely, the law does expect organisations to put measures in place to protect their employees, so far as reasonably practicable.

Even if some risks cannot be predicted, providing guidance on how to behave should these risks arise gives employees valuable information they can use to protect themselves should the risk occur. Other more likely risks are easier to foresee and mitigate, these include road traffic incidents, health issues, stress and petty crime such as robbery, which are all common issues that should be addressed within a risk assessment.

What risks should I include in my risk assessment?

The risks you include in your travel risk assessment will depend to a large extent on the type of travel undertaken and the destinations concerned, however, it’s likely you’ll need to think about the following:

  • Conflict zones, such as wars, or locations where the risk of civil insurrection, strife or terrorism is evident.
  • Regions where there is risk of disasters, such as earthquakes or flooding.
  • Regions of high common criminality and violence, particularly towards foreigners.
  • Regions of health and medical risk or hazards of food and drink.
  • Losing travel/identity documents e.g. theft or credit card issues.
  • Lack of access to resources such as money, food, or accommodation.
  • Illness during travel
  • Unreliable communication infrastructure or communication failure.
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Inappropriate behaviour such as issues of cultural insensitivity.
  • Longer-term health issues through excessive travel such as traveller friction.

You’ll also need to consider any risks that are specific to an individual, for example, if an employee has a pre-existing medical condition, you’ll need to ensure the appropriate medical facilities are available at the destination.

Mitigating Risks

Once you’ve established what the travel risks are, it will be helpful to categorise these risks by their potential impact and probability. It’s good practice to use a traffic light system so it’s easy to see which potential risks are more severe. Low impact would be green, moderate impact would be yellow and high impact would be red, use the same colours for low, moderate and high probability.

Using this method will allow you to determine the procedures needed to reduce the possibility of a risk happening at all or minimising the impact of the risk impact it it does occur. Once you’ve defined the action needed to minimise or mitigate the risk, you should be able to reclassify the risk’s probability and impact as probability and impact after action.

Traveller Education and Training

Regardless of where travellers are going, some advice will be applicable to all destinations. Consider issuing a pre-travel checklist that includes the following:

  • Check the latest travel advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
  • Make a note of the nearest British embassy or consulate in case of an emergency.
  • Ensure your traveller profile is up to date.
  • Make sure your colleagues have your emergency contact details and full details of your itinerary.
  • Take more than one type of payment method such as credit cards, debit cards and cash.
  • Familiarise yourself with the local culture and etiquette via travel guides and online resources. A good website for straight talking travel advice is Rough Guides.
  • Make sure your mobile phone can be used abroad and has roaming enabled. Consider leaving your phone’s IMEI number with a friend or family member, to help block or locate the phone if there’s a problem.
  • If you plan to drive abroad, make sure you have your licence with you and that’s its current and valid. Remember – driving laws may be different than what you’re used to so check the rules before you go. The AA has a good country by country guide for drivers, check it out here.
  • Make a note of your passport number and take a photocopy with you or store it securely online.
  • Fill in the emergency contact details in your passport. This will help government officials to contact next of kin if you have an accident.
  • International terrorism is a serious threat that can occur anywhere in the world. Ensure your travellers are briefed on how to minimise the risk and know what to do if they find themselves involved in a terrorist attack. Here’s a leaflet you can save/print to give to your travellers: Counter Terrorism Helpful Advice Leaflet.

Specific Destination Advice

In addition to the generic travel advice all travellers should be aware of, it’s important all destinations are checked for any additional risks. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a good place to start and there are third parties who can help you too such as the Anvil Group or International SOS. The FCO Travel Advice service is a must read before any business trip and covers safety and security, terrorism, local laws and customs, entry requirements, health, natural disasters, money and where to get further help and support.

Remember: Even destinations considered to be similar to the UK may have health recommendations such as drinking bottled water or not having ice in drinks. It’s always best to check every trip rather than assume it’s business as usual.

Health Advice & Vaccinations

It’s important your employees are aware of any health advice for their trip especially if they need any vaccinations for the areas they’re visiting. Travel Health Pro is an excellent resource for checking the latest advice and covers general health advice, other risks, important news and details of any outbreaks.

MASTA (Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad) is another great service that provides travel vaccinations, anti-malarials and non-travel related vaccinations and treatments which offers phone and in person consultations all over the UK.

Duty of Loyalty

It’s good practice to ask your employees to sign to acknowledge they’ve received the relevant health, safety and security advice for the destination/s they’re travelling to and have taken precautions including receiving the required vaccinations.

High Risk Destinations

If your business requires employees to travel to destinations considered to be high risk, it’s important that you’ve specifically assessed these risks and taken precautions to protect your staff. Firstly you need to be aware of what your high risk destinations are, this can be established by researching the destinations you travel to and conducting risk assessments. Any destinations that are considered high risk need to be identified and communicated as such.

Remember these risk assessments need to be reviewed regularly, any changes may impact the risk to travellers. Secondly you need to know which travellers are travelling to these high risk destinations so you can ensure they are properly prepared. One way of achieving this visibility is to work with a TMC.

By booking all travel through a TMC, all bookings will be recorded which means you can:

  • Be alerted if travel has been booked to a high risk destination.
  • Quickly search and locate all travellers in a specific location, using a particular supplier or travelling on a particular date or date range.
  • Run “forecasted” reports showing which travellers will be where in advance of them travelling. This is useful if travel advice changes or you receive advance notice of events that may affect travellers such as strike action or adverse weather conditions.

 

If your travellers arrange their own business travel, make sure you have a documented process that notifies the relevant people within your organisation that 10 the trip has been booked. If you don’t know where your travellers are going and when, you can’t help them prepare for their trip. This is even more important today when travel advice changes daily, and travellers shouldn’t be complacent just because they have visited the destination before.

Once you know where your high risk destinations are and who is planning to go there, you can arrange for them to receive any training or take any special precautions that may be required. Speak to the person in your organisation who is responsible for risk and security on how you can best prepare your travellers and what actions you should take to protect them.

This could include:

  • Face to face training with a security advisor.
  • Pre-arranging all ground transportation and forbidding the use of public transport.
  • GPS tracking of the traveller so their location is known at all times.
  • Security protection while travelling.
  • Not travelling alone.
  • Only staying in internationally recognised chain hotels.
  • Avoiding certain areas

 

Your TMC will be able to advise how high risk destinations can be built into your travel booking process. For example, you may wish to implement an approval process so high risk destinations can’t be booked without prior approval or you may wish messages to appear during the booking process to alert the traveller or booker that a risk assessment needs to be carried out.

Communication

Communication is vital for any travel management programme, even more so when the health, safety and security of your employees is concerned. Crucially employees need to be fully engaged in order for them to understand travel risks and take the necessary precautions.

Keep your employees updated using the following methods:

Email: Travellers will be familiar with receiving their booking confirmations by email and it’s equally good for sending travel advisory notices. Email can also be used to send travel alerts to travellers if they need to be aware of something that may impact their trip.

SMS: SMS can be even more effective than email to get a message straight to the traveller’s phone. People are generally more likely to open a text message than an email so consider using this method for any communication about traveller safety.

Telephone: Nothing beats speaking directly to an employee when you need to discuss their safety and security. Make sure all travellers provide their mobile phone number so you can reach them while they’re travelling.

Online Booking Tool: If you use an online booking tool speak to your TMC about showing messages throughout the booking process to advise travellers of travel risks. o Emergency Service: Make sure your travellers know who to contact if they need support while they’re travelling. If you use a TMC make sure they have details of their contact numbers so they can reach them 24 hours a day. If they need to speak to someone within the company in an emergency, who should they contact?

Travel Portal/Intranet: If you have a Travel Portal or an area in your company Intranet concerning travel, document the travel risk process so employees are aware of the various roles and responsibilities and who to speak to if they need some guidance.

Travel Alerts

Make sure there is a system in place to keep travellers updated of any changes to travel advice or if an incident occurs that could affect them. Most good TMCs will provide travel or risk alerts to keep travellers up to date but if you don’t use a business travel agent, make sure you have your own systems to capture and disseminate such information.

If you use a TMC, you should be familiar with travel alerts which keep you and your travellers up to date with information that may affect their travel plans, including the following:

  • Impending strike action, in any country, by airlines, airports or ground transportation staff.
  • Changes in FCO travel advice.
  • Amendments to passport and visa requirements for specific countries.
  • Advice and implications of weather or major incident.

 

It’s good practice to ensure any travel alerts received are relevant to the traveller, otherwise they’ll start to ignore all alerts if they’re inundated with emails that don’t affect them. At Good Travel Management we code our travel alerts by level of 12 severity and the potential impact so alerts are tailored to the traveller and therefore relevant to their current or upcoming trips.

Traveller Tracking

It’s imperative that organisations know where their travellers are when they’re travelling on company business.

If you use a TMC, you should have management information that shows who is travelling where and when, you may even have access to traveller tracking software that shows you this data in real time. In the absence of a TMC, it’s important that you keep your own business travel records so you can locate travellers when you need to. For example, if there is an incident, you’ll want to check if any of your travellers were in the area at the time.

If you use a TMC, ask them about their traveller tracking tools. At Good Travel Management, we offer our customers an online traveller tracking solution which displays itineraries on on a map. This allows customers to quickly pinpoint a traveller’s location using GPS functionality in their smartphone or by geolocation of an airport or hotel. Users can also contact travellers from within the traveller tracking tool which makes tracking down travellers in an emergency as quick and seamless as possible.

Crisis Management

We all hope that a crisis will never happen, but even so, it’s vital that companies are prepared for it if it does. If one of your employees is affected by an incident when they’re travelling on business, both you and your employee need to know the process they should follow to help keep them safe and give them the reassurance they’ll need.

If your business is using a TMC, they should have a crisis management process that will quickly locate any travellers that could be affected, define a plan to get them home and keep everyone in the loop on their progress and the traveller’s wellbeing. If you’re not using a TMC, consider how you’ll provide this level of support.

  • Communication: Issuing travel alerts to all travellers to make them aware of the problem and keep them updated on developments.
  • Locating travellers: Locating affected travellers and contacting them to check they are safe.
  • Assisting travellers: Helping affected travellers get home safely or to an area of safety until onward travel can be organised if flights are cancelled, for example.
 
Crisis Management Plan

Whether you use a TMC or not, you’ll still need your own crisis management plan that includes the following:

Identify Crisis: This could be from a travel alert issued by your TMC, news item or staff member for example.

Who is at risk and the level of risk: Use traveller tracking to identify any travellers that could be affected and the severity of the potential risk to them.

Contact travellers affected: Contact any identified travellers to find out if they’re safe and confirm their exact location. Inform travellers what the situation is, that the company knows they are affected and what is being done to help them.

Is the traveller safe: If the traveller is safe, agree the action required to keep them from harm.

Traveller is not safe: If the traveller is not safe, arrange support required to get them to safety.

Communication to traveller’s next of kin: Even if the traveller is fine, it’s important to keep their next of kin updated as they are likely to be worried.

Internal communication: Issue internal communication advising of crisis, impact on the company and its employees and plans to support staff affected.

Prevent further travel to the area until crisis resolved: Obtain reports of any future travel to the area and prevent any further trips from taking place.

External communications plan: Depending on the nature of the crisis, your business may need to communicate externally. Liaise with your marketing and/ or media department for guidance.

Listen and Learn

Supporting your travellers doesn’t stop when they’ve landed back on home soil and it’s important they’re given the opportunity to tell someone what went well and what could have gone better on their trip. This knowledge is invaluable as it will show if you need to take any further action to support your traveller’s well-being and it could also help other travellers in the future.

If the traveller did require support while they were away, was it adequate, better than expected or poor and if so, why? Questions such as this one will fuel the continual improvement of your approach to traveller safety and also demonstrate that you take duty of care seriously. Use this information to update the risk matrix if required and be sure to communicate any updates to staff promptly.

Finally, even if your travellers never seem to need any crisis support when they’re travelling, schedule regular dates to review and test your crisis management process. Uncovering flaws in the plan during a test scenario is much better than discovering them when you’re dealing with a real crisis.

Checklist

  • Create a travel risk policy.
  • Ensure all traveller profiles are up to date at all times.
  • Verify travel insurance is adequate – are you insured for medical and security repatriation?
  • Provide travel and destination advice for all travel bookings and consider any individual needs the traveller may have.
  • Implement an approval process for high-risk destinations.
  • Provide risk training where required.
  • Record ALL travel itineraries.
  • Track all travellers.
  • Implement and maintain a tested crisis management process.
  • Listen to your travellers – their feedback is valuable but is often overlooked