June 14, 2024

Risk factors

What is reasonably foreseeable risk and why do corporate travel managers need to know about it? Frank Harrison at World Travel Protection shares his expertise

Suppose something happens to an employee when they are travelling internationally on business. In that case, the first questions are, was the traveller prepared, did the traveller understand the risks associated with their destination and what support was available to the employee during the trip? Was the organisation following the employee’s travel? In light of these assumptions, the weight of Duty of Care for the company is significant. The analysis will consider whether the risk was ‘reasonably foreseeable.’ If it was and the organisation hadn’t taken steps to address it, they could be liable.

Organisations recognise they have a Duty of Care to their employees, but what is it, and is it the correct term? Perhaps a better expression is “avoiding negligence”. Of course, trying to foresee risk is a pandora’s box, but it is crucial.

So how does an organisation avoid being negligent? 

If we look at this issue from a health and safety perspective, the approach needs to capture threats and vulnerabilities through hazard identification. Sounds simple, but many organisations have moved to a user-focused, decentralised electronic travel process. In many instances, an authorised employee can purchase their ticket, make their itinerary and travel. Once they return, they submit their receipts, which is often the end of the travel process.

“Organisations recognise they have a Duty of Care to their employees, but what is it, and is it the correct term?”

In our experience often businesses may have substantial rigour around financial management, but may not be conducting due diligence around ‘reasonably foreseeable travel risk management’.  There are many assumptions around travel safety such as notable safety of airlines, ground transportation and hotel accommodations.

To expand on this, when looking at a location an employee is travelling to, the first thing to consider is whether there any reasonably foreseeable risks. Often this is a judgement call of what a ‘reasonably prudent person’ would consider risky. Could anything practicable be done about this? 

For example, someone hit by a vehicle because they looked the wrong way when crossing the road in New York is reasonably foreseeable, however practically, there is little that could have been done to stop that person from walking.

As an occurrence, apart from pointing out in their departure notes which side the country drives on, there is little else that could be ‘reasonably practical’ done.

“Some small foreseeable risks can become serious very quickly”

However, authorising the use of a hire car after a long-haul flight in Mumbai, where people drive on the other side of the road and traffic accidents are common, is a reasonably foreseeable risk, which is why many companies don’t allow their staff to hire cars in Mumbai. 

Many other risks are foreseeable. For instance, the location of hotels is crucial. The company may choose a well-known international hotel, but in a known dangerous area of Johannesburg or Jakarta. Location is critical for a traveller’s safety. 

Malaria, for instance, is foreseeable and preventable. A business operating in known malarial regions should have an anti malarial programme for employees. Employees should be educated and provided support for prevention under a medical screening and supervision programme that ensures compliance. If someone was unprepared and contracted malaria, the company could be liable. 

Some small foreseeable risks can become serious very quickly. As an example, an employee attends a business development symposium hosted at a mountain resort in North America or a jungle retreat in South East Asia and is unaware of the risks associated with wild animals and is attacked during a walk from their accommodation to the venue. An organisation has a business retreat and hosts an evening cruise as a team-building event and an employee drowns. 

Alongside mitigating risk, it is important how a company reacts when something happens and the consequences. Going back to the New York example, a company should foresee that their team might need healthcare if an accident were to occur. Whilst all healthcare is likely to be of good quality in New York, what could be a barrier is the insurance not signing off on the care quickly enough.

“Alongside mitigating risk, it is important how a company reacts when something happens and the consequences”

Reflecting on the term ‘foreseeable’, when a business manages their business travellers with a risk-focused, education-led travel risk management programme, they demonstrate duty of care.  When a traveller experiences an incident, mistake or vulnerability, and the company has a feedback process, they have shown due diligence. If a traveller experiences harm and any step in this process is missing, the business can be liable.

While this can be overwhelming, support is available. Many organisations work with travel risk experts and travel assistance providers to create a comprehensive travel safety policy to mitigate for reasonably foreseeable risks, which help to avoid common pitfalls and policy gaps.

Frank Harrison is Regional Security Director for UK and North America at World Travel Protection