Coronavirus: seven ways to protect travelling employees
UPDATE: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided interim guidance for businesses and employers on planning and responding to the coronavirus.
The recent coronavirus outbreak once again puts public health and the safety of international travel in the spotlight. Here Stephen Thomas, Health and Safety Business Partner at IOSH, highlights some key actions that organisations can take to manage traveller health, safety and wellbeing:
- To effectively manage travel risk you need to ensure you have proportionate and robust policies, procedures and controls in place. Communicate them to all relevant parts of your organisation, providing information, instruction and training as appropriate.
- Consider whether the travel is absolutely necessary: can you achieve the same result with video conferencing and spare the organisation and traveller the risk, time, cost and environmental impact? Situations such as the coronavirus outbreak in China as well as geopolitical conflicts, terrorism and natural disasters can change rapidly, potentially leaving travellers stranded or quarantined. It is therefore important to make ‘fly/no fly’ decisions based on best available guidance such as government travel advice.
- If travel is deemed necessary then you need to effectively but proportionately manage the risk, with controls identified and implemented which reflect the nature and severity of the risk. Such controls should be identified through a travel risk assessment incorporating not only the travel, accommodation and work itself but also the traveller’s physical and mental capabilities. The travellers themselves should be involved in this process.
- You will always need to know where your workers are and where they are going. Some travel management systems provide tracking and alert functions, and there are also products utilising GPS in either discrete equipment or smartphone apps which can provide live location tracking.
- Should your travellers become involved in an incident or emergency situation, you need to have a means by which to provide support for them. Considering issues such as number of travellers, international time differences and weekend travel it is potentially cost and resource-effective to implement a travel assistance scheme such as those provided by business insurers or commercial organisations such as International SOS, with whom IOSH collaborated on research and guidance on Managing the safety, health and security of mobile workers (2016). Most schemes and business travel insurance packages offer a 24/7 helpline which triggers support services for the traveller, providing assistance with medical treatment and repatriation due to injuries and illness as well as helping with lost documents, stolen money and other common travel-related problems.
- You should also provide relevant information, instruction and training to travellers, the nature and extent of which should be identified during the risk assessment process.
- Finally, don’t forget your travellers’ wellbeing. Frequent international travel has been shown to have negative effects on both physical and mental health, with situations such as a disease outbreak providing further sources of concern.
 ‘Keeping International Business Travellers Happy, Healthy & Engaged at Home and Away’ – white paper by International SOS, Kingston Business School and Affinity Health at Work