Preparing for Disaster: Duty of Care

Preparing for Disaster: Duty of Care

Duty of care encompasses the legal and moral obligations employers have to provide for employees’ well-being, security and safety at home and abroad; this article explores best practices companies can adopt when developing a plan and process to fulfill duty of care for their mobile employees.

According to an article from The Economist, the number of disasters worldwide, including hurricanes and wildfires in the U.S., earthquakes in Central America, flooding in Bangladesh, among others, has more than quadrupled to around 400 a year since 1970. In addition, non-natural disaster threats, such as terrorism and civil unrest are also on the rise. With the dramatic increase in disasters, organizations are doubling their efforts to plan, prepare and manage their response when a disaster affects their employees by integrating duty of care functions.

Duty of Care Best Practices

Integrate Functions

Leading organizations use a cross-functional infrastructure to ensure they can proactively assess health and security risks. By integrating in-house functions with a relocation management organization’s expertise companies can build a foundation to ensure quality duty of care practices. This planning and preventative approach lends itself to reducing incidents and quickly providing the appropriate responses during emergencies.

Develop a Top-Down Framework 

Executives and company leaders must lead this initiative.  First, define the competencies that should be applied to protect the health, safety, security and legal status of mobile employees. Then from this foundation a formal duty of care policy can be developed and subsequently added to travel and mobility policies, global benefit programs and emergency response policies and procedures. These policies must:

  • Stay current on compliance requirements, including national occupational health and safety requirements
  • Use a policy such as a corporate travel security policy to take an integrated approach to manage incidents
  • Develop contingencies in case travelers and workers need to be protected, moved or evacuated
  • Provide systems for employee tracking and emergency communication
  • Include policies and procedures for health, travel and evacuation assistance, as well as insurance coverage and claims assistance
Recognize Safe Locations May Become Unsafe

Destinations formerly considered safe can rapidly degenerate into high-risk locations due to current health, safety, security, political or social reasons, or natural disasters. Today’s global business landscape is considered VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous; include all locations and situations in the company’s updated risk and preparedness plans, policies and procedures.

Invest in Risk Assessment

According to a 2016 study by the Collinson Group, 53% of HR professionals at larger corporation say that they conduct risk assessments only if the employee is travelling to an area deemed high risk. Yet, risk assessment procedures are essential to a successful duty of care program. A risk assessment program should:

  • Identify and assess the risks, tools for mitigation, responsibilities for action and means for evaluating measures taken.
  • Evaluate the risks of the assignment and location and understand the cost benefit analysis of sending the employee on assignment.
  • Determine the employee’s medical, psychological and social fitness for travel or assignment.
  • Include analysis and provisions for ‘high threat’ locations – such as candidate suitability checks, culture and security training, secure housing, etc.
Use Technology to Maintain 24/7/365 Contact

Companies need to know where their employees are and what they’re doing – especially in high-risk locations. Tracking methods range from a simple spreadsheet to complex GPS based travel trackers. Relocation management providers should be able to provide real-time data on employee locations. Regardless of employee data origin, to aid in emergency situations it must be available instantly – 24/7, online and anywhere in the world. Your communication system should:

  • Provide real-time travel alerts for mobile employees.
  • Locate and communicate with the individual during an emergency.
  • Provide up-to-date information and locally manage employees during incidents or crises.
  • Maintain updated documents international assignees and travelers can access to understand emergency procedures.
Effectively Communicate Risk to Employees

At the 2017 Duty of Care Summit in Berlin, Mathias Braje, head of corporate continuity at SAP, talked about the importance of timing.  “After a major incident, there is a three-day window when employees will be particularly receptive to advice. You have to be ready.” Employee risk training and communication can often be provided by a company’s internal security group. Alternatively, companies can engage a third party provider through their global mobility partner.  Prior to an assignment, risk communication should:

  • Raise employees’ awareness about the cultural, social and legal norms of the destination.
  • Provide training for the individual surrounding protection from, response to, mitigation of and avoiding a potential incident.
  • Provide information on safety of personal information.
  • Assign one department or team to assure the health, safety and security of the individual on assignment for emergency issues as well as preventative, routine advice.

Protect the well-being of employees by formalizing a plan and implementing the practices discussed here and taking a cross-functional approach. Understanding expectations and knowing the steps to take during an emergency affords increases peace of mind and psychological support. Company staff will be prepared, less stressed, and perform in these compromising situations. They will act quickly and effectively to implement the plan and processes in place and ensure the best outcome.