The saying goes that people are a company’s greatest asset. Businesses are no stranger to the need to secure their more tangible assets, be it property, process, information or even reputation, but there are a number of considerations that complicate the mitigation of risks for employees.
Sometimes businesses will have to send staff to locations where the risk level exceeds the company’s risk tolerance. When mitigating risks for employees overseas, there are two overarching and interconnected elements that travel risk policies should consider. Businesses must consider not only the external environment or context of the locations their staff are going to; they must also assess the vulnerability that is specific to their staff, and whether they are more liable to be exposed to particular threats or risks than travellers of a different profile.
The questions to consider in relation to the location include:
- What are the risks that are common to this particular environment; crime, terrorism, natural disasters, civil unrest, conflict or even societal or cultural issues?
- What is the likelihood of an incident occurring, and in this location, what impact would it have?
- Are there operational challenges associated with working here?
- Is there anything out of the ordinary at present that might heighten the risk of working here, be it an election, a period of adverse weather or even global events that might impact the local environment?
- What are the local security forces and medical facilities like?
The questions to consider in relation to the vulnerability specific to staff include:
- What are the risks associated with this industry?
- What is the traveller profile; are there factors specific to them that place them in a different risk category for this location, be it gender, race, religion, LGBT status or mobility issues?
- What control measures are already in place for them?
- What is likely to be the local community’s perception of your staff, the company or the industry they work in? And what is the local media or government perception?
In light of these considerations, the following six-point checklist can help to mitigate the risks posed to staff abroad.
1. Developing staff awareness
Business travellers should know who to call for help in an emergency, whether it is your internal risk team or your international assistance provider, particularly for countries where the emergency services cannot be relied on. Signing staff up to an information and alerting service (ours is called Healix Travel Oracle) enables them to stay abreast of developments in a timely manner. The precautions that employees can take to ensure they are not exposed to risk should be adequately communicated, ideally in a pre-trip brief. For employees overseas on longer deployments, destination awareness training should be considered. For higher risk locations, it is worth considering enrolling staff in Hostile Environment Awareness Training.
2. Monitoring and pre-empting risk to overseas employees
Many companies choose to sign up to real-time tracking devices in order to immediately establish whether their employees are in the vicinity of an incident. However, risk managers should also proactively monitor developments where their staff are located for a deterioration in the security environment. International, local and social media should be monitored, though it is often easier to sign up to a security assistance platform with an intelligence offering which can identify escalation triggers for you.
3. Securing work locations
Businesses should ensure their security teams have an awareness of where their employees are likely to be working when in-country and understand the surrounding risk environment. Assess the precedent for risks like political violence or crime in the area surrounding your business operations. Consider having site security audits, emergency plans or evacuation plans written for facilities in higher risk areas.
4. Journey management planning
It is advisable for security teams to arrange an accredited local driver for meet-and-greet and overland moves to mitigate risk for employees overseas. In many locations, use of public transport and travel after dark should be restricted. There are additional considerations to take into account such as weather, road conditions, contingency routes, travel restrictions, curfews and fuel shortages which make familiarising yourself with the operating constraints specific to the location of your staff an important part of planning.
5. Accommodation considerations
Risk managers should understand the risk context of where employees are going and advise staff to select accommodation options in safer areas, preferably in facilities that have been audited or meet an established security, and health and safety standard. Consider not only the surrounding environment or perimeter of the location staff will be staying, but also the physical and procedural security measures protecting it.
Staff should travel with tried and tested communications devices, pre-programmed with relevant emergency contacts. Businesses should plan contingencies for areas more prone to internet and telecommunications outages, bearing in mind that satellite phones are not legal everywhere. Warden systems allow security teams to forward messages from embassies, information on incidents and security updates rapidly over instant messaging platforms, and can be the best way to disseminate information with staff overseas.