The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the International SOS Foundation have recently issued a guide outlining the aspects of safety, health and security for which organizations should take responsibility when they have workers travelling for work, or on international assignments.

Under UK common law, employers have a duty to take reasonable care of their employees. This means that they must take reasonable precautions to protect their employees from foreseeable risk of injury, disease or death. They must provide their workers with safe systems of work, take care in selecting proper and competent fellow workers and supervisors, and provide proper machinery and materials.

This duty of care continues to exist when their employees are sent to work in other jurisdictions, either on a short-term basis or as part of a longer-term arrangement, such as an international assignment. It may cover a worker’s travel arrangements to or from work on a day-to-day basis while working abroad. It may also include a duty to ensure the employee’s safety while in transit.

The oil & gas reality

The new guide, “Managing the safety, health and security of mobile workers” gives a sobering example from the oil & gas industry that illustrates the importance on delivering on duty of care.

A worker contracted a fatal malarial infection when travelling to West Africa to work on an oil rig. Prior to travelling, the employee was informed by his employer that he did not need to be concerned about the risk of malaria in West Africa, as he would be working offshore where there was no risk of being bitten by a mosquito. Trusting the employer, he took no anti-malarial medication before or during his trip.

When he was bitten by a mosquito during an overnight stay on an island en route to the rig, he contracted malaria, which proved to be fatal. The High Court found that there was a clear failure on the part of the employer to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of the employee in the course of his employment, which included travel to and from the oil rig.

Measures to take

To mitigate the risk of their conduct being found to be unreasonable, employers should:

• Have safety and health policies in place that cover travel safety, health and security. Employers must make sure these policies are actively enforced.

• Carry out risk assessments in order to understand properly the relevant health, safety and security risks that will apply to workers while they are abroad. These need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of the business trip or international assignment.

• Put a system in place to be able to pinpoint their workers’ location in order to ensure their safety. Full itineraries should be prepared and consideration should be given to tracking and monitoring.

• Test systems, where these are in place, to ensure that they remain adequate. Tests should be adapted to fit local requirements.

• Prepare and educate their workers about the locations they will be working in with a special emphasis on female employees.

• Arrange additional types of training if workers will be travelling to high-risk locations – such as security briefings and hostile environment awareness training.

• Establish systems so that they stay informed of changing risks and can relay such information to their workers while they are working remotely.

• Provide workers with access to a 24-hour helpline, which may be able to provide support for medical or security questions or facilitate the provision of emergency assistance at a time when a worker’s usual points of contact would not be available.

Source: Dr Michael Braida, regional medical director at International SOS; posted by The Energy Voice