Mitigating risks to mobile workers

After watching the news or reading the newspapers, many people could think we are living in increasingly risky times. Cities we previously thought were generally safe, such as Paris and Brussels, are now portrayed in the media to pose a threat to travellers, and global events like the European migration crisis are unprecedented.

While it’s true that some things are indeed different from 12 months ago, one of the fundamental principles of risk management is to understand and assess the actual, rather than the perceived, risk.

The world hasn’t suddenly become a riskier place, but what is the case is that businesses, drawn by the need to send their staff into new countries, to develop new markets and maintain a competitive edge, are exposing their people to new risks.

It’s gauging this exposure to risk from a safety, productivity and business continuity perspective that is vital for organisations to get right. Terrorist attacks and pandemics are likely to grab headlines, but it’s the more mundane, everyday occurrences like road accidents, petty crime and illness that are actually the largest causes of disruption to both the travelling employee and their organisation.

These disruptions matter. At the very least, there are the costs to business of lost productivity, revised travel itineraries and incomplete projects due to staff spending their time in consulates, in police stations or navigating local healthcare systems.

More concerning though is the potential for exposing both the traveller and the organisation to further risks as minor incidents can have major safety and financial repercussions if not properly managed.

So what does all this add up to? As already noted, we need to put risk into perspective. Threats aren’t necessarily hiding around every corner and the vast majority of employees live, work and travel abroad without incident. However, it’s also important to remember that a “been there, done that” view can breed complacency.

Mitigating risk is all about knowing the facts and being prepared

We find many organisations underestimate risk by assuming that because their people have previously travelled to certain territories and come back without incident, there is nothing to worry about. But people make their own, often unpredictable, decisions. That’s why travellers themselves and their travel behaviour are key components to overall risk mitigation.

Organisations should ensure business travellers are trained and equipped to make the right decisions if exposed to a security or medical incident. Equally, it is vital organisations know where their people are and can communicate with them in an emergency and support them with trusted, qualified local resources.

Travellers may also face risks based on their personal characteristics, such as age, race, gender and sexual orientation. Organisations need to be aware of these variances and provide appropriate guidance for all their travelers.

Mitigating risk is all about knowing the facts and being prepared. The health, safety and security of mobile workers falls under the responsibility of the employer. There is a need to have clear organisational policies in place and competent individuals to mitigate these risks to staff.

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