Given the recent unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, and the potential impact on other countries in the region, it is important that employers are aware of their obligations in respect of the safety of employees who are required to travel and work in parts of the world where their health and safety might be compromised.
Employers have a non-delegable legal duty under statute and common law to take care of their employees. Employers must, as far as reasonably practicable, ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees and provide a reasonably safe place and system of work (regardless of location). Any failure on the employer's part to take reasonable steps to ensure its employees' safety could lead to the employer facing large sums in compensation if the employee is injured or killed and, possibly, criminal liability.
In light of the above duty, employers should give proper consideration to any risks posed to employees required to travel and work in troubled locations as to how they might safeguard their safety. The key to an employer meeting this duty is to ensure that it takes all reasonable steps to identify and assess foreseeable risks.
What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances and in this respect the employer's duty is not absolute - working in a war zone, for example, entails risks that may not be fully guarded against. Employees must also have regard to their own safety and not take unnecessary risks or be negligent in respect of their health and safety or that of others. When considering what steps should be taken to deal with/reduce any risks, an employer will need to take into account factors such as:
- the nature and purpose of the employee's work;
- the extent of any risks;
- the effectiveness of protective measures that could be taken; and/or
- the consequences of taking them.
In determining what practical steps might be taken, these would include:
- undertaking a documented risk assessment of the foreseeable risks associated with a particular location (including consulting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other agencies if appropriate);
- considering measures to safeguard the employee but which may still allow that employee to carry out his/her duties safely in the location in question;
- consulting with the employee before they leave to ensure they understand the potential risks and what they need to do to keep themselves, and any of their colleagues who are with them, safe;
- keeping in touch with the employee on a regular basis and as far as reasonably practicable providing any assistance or support they may request;
- having prepared strategies in place to support and provide advice to employees on what they should do in the event of an emergency situation or any unforeseen event that might compromise their safety;
- providing training and security briefings to all employees who may have to travel to unsafe locations as well as those who may be supervising or managing employees working in troubled or unsafe locations; and
- wherever possible obtain adequate insurance cover not just for medical cover, but loss of limbs and life, repatriation and if necessary and possible, ransom monies.
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