Close the gaps on duty of care for your road warriors

Brian Robertson

Brian Robertson

By Brian Robertson

Travel budgets have not escaped the scrutiny of resource companies under pressure to cut overhead costs. And while activity across the board may have slowed up to a point, there will always be a need to send staff offsite. In-house procurement specialists are trained to look for the best possible travel options for the lowest possible cost, but management should emphasize that this should not come at the expense of duty of care.

Duty of care is embedded in Canadian law. According to Bill C-45, legislation that amended the Canadian Criminal Code in March 2004, “Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.”

As it relates to travel, this bill could cover a broad sweep of incidents, as employees abroad may face a higher level of risk, whether referring to inherent foreseeable dangers in the destination or through intentional actions of a third party. It may also cover a range of incidents from local criminality to full-blown crisis situations.

Cut costs, pay the price

On paper, it may appear that allowing staff to find deals and organize business travel directly through online booking channels translates into commercial savings. Doing so, however, puts companies and their travelling employees at risk. In the event of a critical incident, these companies will have no organized recourse to locate staff and implement safety and security mechanisms to guarantee their protection.

It is essential that employees are aware of this. If a company has a travel management supplier but employees choose to arrange travel plans themselves through an external provider, they are most likely not protected by the duty of care travel measures set in place by the company, such as an evacuation plan in case of emergency. Often these measures are entwined with the centralized travel arrangements coordinated through the travel manager. While their intentions may be noble – staff may think they are saving their department some money by finding a cheaper fare deal online – when considering the wider implications of this deal, the risks far outweigh the outright savings.

Communication is key

The Global Business Travel Association recently reported that in the event of a crisis, a majority of companies (67 per cent) will take more than an hour to locate a travelling employee, while nearly a third have no idea how long it would take. This is a particularly alarming statistic as the first few hours are critical in an evolving crisis.

Take the situation in Kurdistan earlier this year as an example. When violence erupted in the region after a terrorist group moved into the territory, mining companies and their travel partners had to quickly implement evacuation for their staff. We at Vision Travel Solutions had chartered planes on standby ready to take clients to the nearest safe location at the drop of a hat. Imagine not having the ability reach staff within the crucial early stages of this development – it could mean the difference between safely transporting your staff away from harm and having your staff shut in after government officials close their borders.

Mobile technology can be an efficient tool in keeping communication lines open. Some solutions offer a direct line to contact travelling employees, or can track the locations of all remote staff. The ability to provide travellers with up-to-date alerts on their flight and booking status, as well as any security warnings in their destination, from inclement weather to criminal activity, is also valuable.

Safety training

Risk assessment should be a shared responsibility, and the traveller must be an active party in the implementation of duty of care. A full understanding of the ground situation and potential risks of his or her destination means the traveller is better prepared for any untoward incidents. Often, travellers take a laissez-faire approach to duty of care because they consider it the responsibility of the company travel manager or security officer. In reality, travellers themselves are the ones who will need to respond to the situation and follow the correct safety protocols.

Providing staff with hands-on training on how to identify and manage safety issues specific to their destination is key to their safety. This emphasizes the unpredictable nature of inherent dangers and keeps them alert and prepared for any situation. It also shows you care.

Duty of care, as a function of travel, may represent a small upfront cost but the potential for enormous savings in the long run makes it well worth the cost.

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