By Paul Dobinson, Head of Commercial Underwriting, Accident & Health Chartis (www.chartisinsurance.com)

Employers have a duty to ensure suitable and sufficient risk assessments are undertaken for their employees, particularly when asking them to travel overseas on business. Recent unrest around the world, including conflict in Libya and the Middle East, has prompted many organisations to review their policies and procedures for overseas business travel.

Now that many organisations have been reminded of the risks associated with overseas business travel, what can you do to reassess and re-evaluate your pre-travel planning and preparation? Here are some suggestions you can consider and implement to mitigate some of health and security risks associated with business travel.

1.Review current employee protection

A review of existing policies and protection is the best place to start to ensure employees are appropriately protected when travelling on business. Under current health and safety regulations, employers need to understand and comply with their duty of care obligations associated with business travel. They also need to demonstrate they have taken all practicable steps to ensure their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing needs are met, whether the business travel is in the UK or overseas.

A recent study by Chartis Insurance UK Limited reveals a significant lack of awareness among employers about the need to conduct pre-travel risk assessments to meet their duty of care obligations for employees travelling on business. According to the companies surveyed, 86% whose employees travel abroad do not use or are unaware of the need for a pre-travel risk assessment despite two-thirds of organisations regarding this type of assessment as useful for their employees and their organisation.

Pre-travel risk assessments will review, for example, an employee’s fitness to travel and work overseas, identify specific health risks, seek to reduce the risk of employee illness while they’re away on business and ensure appropriate medical services are available to treat an employee’s pre-existing conditions.

The addition of a traveller safety programme will highlight many of the risks and hazards associated with international travel. It can provide information about instilling a self-awareness culture in each business traveller, help in planning ahead and managing potential complications, give tips about staying safe in a new and different environment and help people feel more confident after taking responsibility for their own safety. And, of course, providing employees with education and awareness training prior to travel minimises risk for an employer and helps ensure compliance with current health and safety requirements.

2.Invest in a business-specific travel policy

When it comes to developing a business travel policy, it’s important to invest in travel insurance cover that is designed for business travel, rather than leisure travellers. A business travel policy is specifically designed to help organisations provide appropriate and effective support and protection to employees if there is an emergency, incident or crisis while they’re travelling on business. It also ensures individuals have the necessary tools and information to maximise their personal safety and security while travelling overseas.

Travel insurance offered via credit cards or private bank accounts, for example, is likely to have significant limitations such as the type of business travel covered or exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions. Cover provided through credit cards is also likely to be in effect only if the employees paid for their business travel ticket with that specific credit card. It is also important to consider if the business traveller will undertake any form of physical work overseas and, if they do, whether the travel policy covers such activity.

With nearly 80% of overseas business travel undertaken within Europe, employers may be tempted to rely on a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as the primary source of protection for employees travelling on business. However, while these cards do provide local medical cover, there are downsides. For example, the EHIC scheme does not guarantee all medical expenses will be paid and will not provide for repatriation services or the wider liability, property and other cover offered through business travel insurance policies.

In addition to offering more comprehensive cover and employee protection, many business travel insurance policies provide access to information and advice that can be incorporated into a formal travel procedure. Chartis, for example, offers a web-based solution that enables policyholders and their employees to access country information, details about required vaccinations, medical clinics and services, as well as security advice.

Emergency document storage facilities to allow employees to scan in their driving licence, passport, medical and other important information to use if there is a medical emergency or crisis, are also available with business travel policies. And Concierge Services can help employees to plan business meetings, entertainment, dining or shopping while overseas.

Make sure your employees know about it!

Communication is imperative if you’re going to maximise awareness and use of business travel advice, as well as the services that form the core of your travel insurance policy. Unless employees are aware of the travel advice, protection and services put in place and know how to access them, it’s a waste of time and budget and could put employees under unnecessary stress.

As with communicating about any company policy or employee benefit, it’s important to utilise a range of communication methods to ensure all employees are reached and key messages and up-to-date information are received and understood.

Whether it’s advising employees about the corporate travel policy in an induction programme, asking them to sign the policy to demonstrate their understanding of the key rules and requirements or hosting workshops to brief employees about travel safety, there’s bound to be a communication solution to suit your workforce, organisation and budget.

Alongside the work that many employers do internally to communicate and promote travel policies, suppliers and brokers also offer communication tools that can assist individuals. Chartis, for example, distributes a business travel pack to individuals covered by a group policy. This contains all the information an employee needs when they travel on business and also includes ‘leave behind slips’ that enable individuals to keep details of their trip with family members so that they can access essential information in case of an emergency.

3.Promoting cultural awareness and avoiding culture shock

Of course, having invested in a business travel policy to protect your employees, you shouldn’t risk your investment by failing to educate them about the country and cultures they’re travelling to.

Employees should be encouraged to understand how clients or suppliers in a particular country do business and recognise how their practices and behaviours may be different to those of businesses in the UK. As each country has its own rules and norms when it comes to business practice and etiquette, it’s important your employees research their destination before travelling.

Business travellers should look to investigate issues such as how business people dress in a particular country, how their organisational heirachy ‘works’, how best to address a potential client, how to shake a person’s hand or how to hand over their business card without offending people. Failing to appreciate and relate to even the most subtle differences could inhibit business and is not something that an organisation seeking to expand into new global markets can afford to do.

The ongoing reliance of many organisations on business travel and the increasing responsibility on employers to ensure they fulfil their duty of care obligations to their employees raise issues that cannot be ignored. So make a resolution to take stock of your existing employee protection and assess it objectively against your duty of care and ongoing business travel requirements. Doing this will be a productive and valuable first step to minimising the potential risks that come with business travel and will ensure that once you or your employees are overseas on business they can concentrate on the task in hand and help to grow your business.