Safety abroad: expat risk management

risk management

Hostage crises or stories of attacks targeting expat workers have been making international headlines rather frequently. Growing global mobility partly explains why incidents abroad are becoming more and more common: as an increasing amount of workers travel or live abroad, they are, proportionately, more exposed to health and safety risks. More than ever before, companies must face employee protection obligations by implementing expat risk management strategies.

Identifying and measuring risks

To conquer new markets and expand abroad, companies sometimes need to send staff in high risk areas. Identification and analysis of the risks employees will be exposed to while travelling, living and working in a specific country is the key to building a successful prevention program. While some large companies have safety & security departments, SMEs often are less fortunate.

Types of risks

Expats or business travellers may be exposed to both health and safety risks. To identify risk areas, companies can check medical and political risk mappings. They can also take a look at the recommendations and advice provided by various institutions or government departments such as the Department of Foreign Affairs. Calling upon the services of a risk management specialist also is an option.

Health risks

  • infectious diseases (malaria, dengue fever, hepatitis…),
  • epidemics (cholera, meningitis…),
  • low quality local medical facilities,
  • low amount of local medical facilities,
  • difficult access to medication,
  • poor sanitary conditions.

Security risks

  • criminality (attacks, fraud…)
  • hostage-taking,
  • terrorism,
  • piracy on land and at sea,
  • presence of landmines,
  • other risks related to the political and social situation (insurrections, coup d’état, civil war…).

In addition to these health and security risks, there sometimes are natural risks such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons or other types of natural disasters.

What factors can increase risks?

In some situations, risks (safety risks in particular) may rise. Increased dangerousness of an international assignment or expatriation can be due to:

  • the employee’s nationality (existing diplomatic tensions),
  • the employee’s position,
  • the company’s image in the country,
  • the employee’s behavior (carelessness due to ignorance of health risks, inappropriate attitudes which might be considered offending in the host country…).

Preventing and managing risks: building a health and safety policy

Success of a health and safety policy especially depends on effective awareness training of business travelers. According to the country and company’s budget, many other measures to protect employees abroad can be taken.

Raising awareness

Before departure to a risk area, companies must inform and prepare employees. They should know about the health and safety risks, the main country features and the local customs and codes they need to respect. Businesses can set up preventive initiatives on their own or choose to use the expertise of specialist companies. Preventive programs can include:

  • medical check-ups and vaccination verification,
  • provision of safety guides to different countries or territories through an intranet or a specific website,
  • provision of training sessions and/or e-learning modules containing a health unit and a safety unit,
  • pre-departure programs for the employees and their family.

Implementing security procedures

To ensure employees’ security abroad on a daily basis, companies must take adequate measures. Not only do expats need to travel safe, they also need a secure workplace and home. In addition to the subscription to an insurance solution for employees abroad, companies can sometimes decide to:

  • carry out accommodation, neighborhood and workplace security audits,
  • set up a 24/7 hotline for the employees,
  • impose strict travel rules (compulsory use of specific taxi cabs or security vehicles, planned itineraries…),
  • provide or select high security housing,
  • use tracking devices.

Despite all the preventive measures, an incident might occur: companies also must develop crisis procedures. This might imply setting up a crisis management unit, an emergency evacuation plan or a psychological support service.

To find out more about global risks:

Check the AON safety risk map.

Date of publication Dec 18 2013

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