How to deal with employee travel amid heightened safety concerns

Out-Law Analysis | 30 Nov 2015 | 4:32 pm | 2 min. read

FOCUS: It has never been more important for employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their employees when travelling abroad.

Oil and gas employees are routinely sent abroad to work by their UK employers; for example to the company's office in Point Noire, at an oil refinery in Indonesia or offshore from Venezuela. But the recent terror attacks in Paris and the heightened state of alert in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe have highlighted the importance to companies of putting processes in place to comply with their legal obligations towards employees before sending them abroad.

Any employer is under a basic legal obligation to take reasonable care for the safety of its employees. This obligation is strengthened where a staff member is sent overseas and the planning of the trip takes place in the UK, becoming an obligation to ensure the safety of the employee so far as reasonably practicable.

A suitable and sufficient risk assessment should be your first step towards compliance. This assessment should be in writing, should be retained until the employee returns safely and should be updated if there is any material change in circumstances. When preparing the risk assessment, you must take account of any foreign travel advice shown on the website of the UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Travel to developed countries

Once the risk assessment is complete, and if the employee is travelling to a developed country, you should then be able to make travel arrangements, provide a travel itinerary and leave the employee to make the journey. There will not generally be any need to do more unless you have reason to believe that the employee is vulnerable in some way. For example, if the employee has a severe mental health condition it would not ordinarily be a good idea to allow that employee to travel abroad on business in the first place.

Travel to developing countries

The position becomes more complicated if you want to send an employee to a developing country. Here, you will have to put a detailed risk assessment in place, paying particular attention to:

  • any FCO advice: firstly, in relation to security; and secondly, in relation to health, especially concerning infectious diseases. For example, the FCO's advice may be that it is simply not safe to travel to certain countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Or its advice might be that it is not safe to travel to certain parts of a country, for example northern Nigeria;
  • who will collect the employee at the arrival airport, and what has been done to vet that person and his or her organisation;
  • where the employee will be staying on arrival – for example a local hotel, international hotel, secure compound or somewhere else – and what has been done to check that an appropriate level of security is in place there;
  • if the employee will then be going offshore, what arrangements are in place to make that transfer safe;
  • whether any special security provisions are required at the place of work whether an onshore facility, ship or offshore installation; and, if so, whether they are in place;
  • how the employee will get home safely;
  • who the employee can contact both locally and in the UK should any problem arise in relation to health, security or any other matter;
  • what emergency procedures you as the employer can call upon should a crisis arise in the country while the employee is there.

Consequences of non-compliance

It is important to realise that apart from the humanitarian responsibility to look after the safety, health and well-being of employees, an employer that fails to comply with its obligations exposes itself to the risk of:

  • civil liability, by way of a claim for damages by the employee;
  • criminal liability;
  • damage to its reputation.

Bruce Craig is an oil and gas industry expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.