Today most business travel requires risk assessment. You may simply need to prepare your travelers against health hazards, or areas to steer clear of, but you have to prepare them. Your duty of care can range from very light to extensive, but it has to be in place.
TARGETTING A PROBLEM THAT WON’T STAND STILL.
If you’re looking into the matter for your company, you may be at the point where you’ve already heard too many differing opinions about duty of care (DOC) for traveling personnel, much of it paranoia-inducing. And with each presentation, with each white paper, an employer’s responsibilities seem to grow.
At get-togethers of travel management companies the phrase ‘duty of care’ has become an almost audible background buzz. There is a whole industry springing up around this new awareness.
Or perhaps you are just starting your research into the matter, in which case: welcome to ‘frontier land’. This is a place where the boundaries are still being defined, where every new court case inspires someone else’s litigation, and pending lawsuits become precedents: “Hey, they’re suing – why can’t we?”
Many employers have only recently become uncomfortably aware that their responsibility toward personnel has been expanded beyond the walls of their establishment, that they need to put in place a DOC program to cover traveling personnel that is as solid as the program they have in place for employees working on the premises; perhaps more so, because so much of what can happen to the mobile employee will occur outside their sphere of influence.
And there is a huge area of the canvas left unpainted here. Over time, only companies with travelers going to destinations with riskier environments, like engineering firms, or media firms with reporters, have taken steps to protect their traveling personnel against risk. In fact their DOC practices were in place before the concept found widespread traction, before the new popularity of fines and lawsuits. For that type of organization there was a naturally occurring need to prepare personnel against dangers associated with the job. They immediately learned that they needed to have policies in place that specified what thickness of coat you needed to wear, the type of steel-toed boot you brought along, and so on.
So there are presently a few industries where a true DOC policy has been implemented, but those organizations have traditionally only done it for just a small portion of their traveling workforce. The rest of the employees – the account representatives fighting jet-lag, the mid-level and top executives going to meetings, the technical support teams – were generally considered to be on trips taken in a ‘safe’ world.
Well, while no one was looking, two major changes have taken place: the world is not as safe as it used to be, and a bunch of laws with teeth have surfaced.
It is imperative that every employer who has personnel operating outside the company walls now have someone appointed who will be responsible for assessing the risks involved in any and every trip booked for employees.
A program needs to be implemented that educates and trains personnel, before departure, on the hazards they may encounter, and on avoidance of possible risks. And there needs to be a monitoring of the traveler during the trip so that they can be warned if conditions change, if a peaceful location suddenly becomes hazardous. And that now applies to travel within the borders, not just international jaunts.
DATA-CENTRIC vs EXPERT-CENTRIC
Early solutions were expensive, and if your company is just starting to look at the project you may be in a better position than companies that have already made a large commitment. With most early solutions you were offered intelligence, information about destinations to which you would send people. You could then have someone assess risk for each trip you booked based on the most current information received. Let’s call this solution data-centric.
Since you’re buying information only and you’re supplying the resources to use it, to interpret it, your costs are high on the side of personnel. You may have a problem with events that occur on weekends and off hours when there is no personnel available.
Because it’s too expensive for most companies to have their own security department operating 24/7, specialized services made an appearance. With trained personnel on staff, some even offering rescue operations worthy of a Hollywood thriller, these services can monitor a traveler’s progress and be on the alert for news of possible threats in the countries visited. Their capabilities are difficult to surpass: maps tracking each traveler’s position, information feeds from government sources and from world health organizations, and resources available in strategic locations making it possible to render assistance to or even retrieve a traveler. This is an expert-centric solution.
For a while, expert-centric services were the best solution around. Though expensive, if you were sending engineers to an oil-refining facility in the desert, you needed the coverage, there was no question. The cost of this coverage, however, led to the situation mentioned above, where only a few of the company’s travelers are monitored and the rest of the travel being done, with fingers crossed, was considered ‘safe’.
Clearly, with kidnapping becoming an industry in some parts of the world, political unrest and freak weather doing a number on us, and the text of labor laws now ‘clarifying’ that penalties to the employer are involved, clearly it is no longer possible to ignore duty of care for the bulk of the travelling workforce.
So how is the cost factor to be dealt with?
NEW PLAYERS ON THE FIELD
Recently a surprising new idea coming from travel agencies took on that ‘unstoppable’ air. Their story has not always been a rosy one, and their demise has often been predicted, but in the world of corporate travel that was not to be. Here they deploy sophisticated technology that allows them to check each booking to ensure it complies with a client company’s spending policies, that find unused tickets saving companies thousands of dollars, that generate reports letting ‘Finance’ pinpoint spending leaks, or negotiate hotel rates. Here they are growing rapidly, popular because they can control spending.
These travel management companies (TMCs), have now come out with a surprisingly inexpensive service for traveler security that fits snugly between the data-centric and expert-centric solutions mentioned above.
Because their technologies already track travelers with the itinerary, they now are able to offer the TMC and the client company a map that lets you see where on the planet all your travelers are.
Key to duty of care, these systems email the traveler pre-trip reading material on the country of destination, and send alerts automatically if something happens during the trip. Some systems let you define a safe area, maybe a perimeter around the compound where an engineer is bivouacked, and if your traveler seems to have been forced out of it, their system starts to call on the GPS chip in the traveler’s mobile phone. They can actually show you to within a few yards where a traveler actually is, how fast he’s traveling, etc. Of course, if the cell phone is lost or stolen, all bets are off.
The system does some new and wonderful things, like initiating an automatic phone call to the security officer if it determines someone is no longer inside the safe zone, emailing a link to instructions on what to do and/or who to call, and providing a link to the map showing the actual position of the person in trouble – with a breadcrumb trail, even! At last word on the subject, TMCs were only going to charge a couple of dollars per trip for this service, which makes it a lot less expensive than anything else that’s been offered until now, and to all outward appearances, for a service that offers a lot more than what was out there before.
Of course, the information it provides about the destination country is culled from US or Canadian government travel advisories, and does not include on-the-ground intelligence sources, but it is aware in real-time of quakes, tsunamis, health alerts, and transportation problems. It monitors flights too, so it can tell when a traveler’s flight is delayed, possibly making him miss a connecting flight. The TMC can usually fix problems for travelers before they’re aware of it.
The main supplier of this technology is a company called MagnaTech in Montreal, Canada. They call it SafeToGo, though different TMCs may rebrand it. In Canada the TMC taking the lead with its development is the Vision 2000 Travel Group.
In the USA several leading TMC groups are already implementing the system.
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