Safe practices Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

While travel is an integral component for continued business growth, there are risks to be aware of. Travel puts employees in unfamiliar environments where incidents may occur. They may be in locations where they stand out from the local population and are unfamiliar with the local health risks, culture and customs.

Travel risks affect not only your current employees but also future employees and your company’s security and operations. It’s important to be prepared for any type of risk that may happen and to manage those risks appropriately.

“There is much more emphasis placed on health and safety procedures in the permanent workplace than on travel, even though travel brings a greater risk potential,” says Tracy DeBarr, a corporate account manager at Professional Travel Inc.

Smart Business spoke with DeBarr about how to develop a travel risk management plan and communicate it to your employees.

What risks can you run into while traveling?

There are five risks to be aware of:

n Risk to personnel — Crime, civil unrest, terrorism, illness and weather conditions.

n Risk to corporate reputation — Failure in duty of care, unethical behavior by employees and misuse of travel expenses.

n Risk to data/equipment/productivity — Protecting data carried by employees while traveling; lost, damaged or stolen baggage, equipment or personal items; protecting employee’s personal travel data; and failure to meet immigration requirements.

n Legal risk — Duty of care, data protection regulations, failure to comply with tax laws and illegal activity by travelers.

n Financial risk — Penalties for legal risk and misuse of travel expenses.

Are employers responsible for travelers?

It is your legal duty to protect your employees, whether they’re working in your facility or traveling off site. New laws, such as the Corporate Manslaughter Act, hold you responsible for anything that happens to your employees while on business in Europe. It provides a more effective means to prosecute companies for corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and corporate homicide in Scotland. The law punishes corporations for failure to properly manage the health and safety of employees and toughens the duty of care responsibility toward employees. The organization is held responsible for travel incidents instead of individuals within the organization. This applies to any work-related death or injury, regardless if the company is based in the United Kingdom or not, and is not limited to business travel.

What benefits will you see from the right approach to travel risk management?

The six benefits you’ll see are:

n Effective travel budget management.

n Better tracking of travelers.

n A plan of attack that allows you and your employees to respond quickly and effectively.

n Reduced liability and lawsuits.

n A more secure future. There were 24 employees from one company on the flight that went down in the Hudson River in January. If that event were fatal, it would have caused a catastrophe for that company.

n Employees know you are concerned about their safety.

How do you develop a travel risk management plan?

Many companies have a risk management department or policy, but oftentimes, it does not include travel. You need to mitigate travel risks and assist travelers so they are able to do their jobs. First, assess the risk levels of all scenarios associated with travel. Then determine which threats you can handle internally, which you can transfer to an outside company, such as an insurance agent, which you can eliminate, and which you can tolerate with little risk to the company. From there you develop a travel risk management plan that will be effective for your employees, corporate image and bottom line.

Your travel management company should play a crucial role in your plan. It should assist managing, communicating and enforcing your travel policy as well as maintaining traveler profiles to track and assist in case of an emergency. It should also provide pretrip, destination-specific, traveler-specific, high-risk destination and intelligence reporting to employees.

How do you communicate the plan to your employees?

The plan should be readily available through your intranet, employee handbook, human resources department and department managers. Everyone should be clear on what his or her responsibilities are. Depending on the level of crisis management, the plan may need to be rehearsed ahead of time to make sure it runs smoothly. You don’t want to realize that kinks need to be worked out during an emergency. Meet with your employees after a rehearsal to gather feedback on the process to make sure situations are handled correctly in the future.

Review your travel policy and travel risk management plan at least once a year. With constant changes in the travel industry, your business, and economic, social and political issues around the world, what worked last year may not be the best practice for this year.

What are other ways employees can prepare for travel to unfamiliar places?

Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t wear expensive jewelry or carry expensive luggage. Also, don’t let anyone meeting you use a card bearing your name, company name or logo. Choose your luggage carrier and cab driver yourself, and always look for the nearest exit in case of emergency. Research your destination prior to arrival. Being prepared is always a good thing. Finally, do not carry more cash or credit cards than necessary and never check valuables or travelers checks in your luggage.

Tracy DeBarr is a corporate account manager with Professional Travel Inc. Reach her at tracyd@protrav.com or (440) 734-8800 x4096.