My husband travelled to Siberia recently in connection with his work. His journey took place around 3 days after the bombing at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, where he happened to be catching a connecting flight.
To be honest, I was worried. The explosion in Moscow concerned me. But what really made me nervous was knowing very little about where he was actually going. I know it’s cold in Siberia, they have tigers and a large meteorite once landed there. But that’s it! That’s pretty much all I know.
I know nothing about the people, the regions, the crime rate or how good the hospitals, the local transport or communications systems are. And I certainly don’t know how safe it is.
On the other hand, I do know a fair bit about the Middle East. I’ve been there on business several times. If my other half went there, I could tell him the best way to get to and from airports, where to eat, a few things about the local culture and business etiquette, where it’s safe to go out at night (and where isn’t) and a whole lot more.
According to the Office for National Statistics, people living in Britain make around 7 million business trips overseas each year, with around 1.5 million outside of Europe. I wonder how many know enough about where they’re going? And I wonder how much their employers know either?
Most of us are familiar with the growing political instability in the Middle East and North Africa. And we’re all too aware of the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami, along with the fears surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
But what about other parts of the world? How safe is Antigua, Estonia, Mali, Singapore or Uruguay? And what about places closer to home. If you needed to spend a night in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester or Newcastle on business, would you really know which parts of these cities are considered safe, and which aren’t?
The key of course is to be prepared. Advance information is vital, and employers must recognise they have a responsibility here. Employers have a duty of care to reasonably protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, and this duty applies wherever in the world someone is working.
Simply organising travel isn’t enough. Employees must be properly prepared for travel and there should always be a plan in place for when things go wrong. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website is particularly useful. Its ‘Travel advice by country’ section provides information on countries throughout the world, and includes warnings against travelling to certain countries (or parts of countries) or where “essential travel only” is recommended. It should be noted that travelling to such places can impact on travel insurance cover.
The FCO also offers a ‘Locate’ service where travellers can register their personal details and travel dates. Should an unforeseen event occur, such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack, embassy and local crisis staff will be able to get in touch with you, your family or employer, and provide important advice. All of this should be incorporated into a travel policy – ours is a key part of our health and safety policy.
Often people back at base think that overseas business travel is glamorous and exciting. The reality is that often you work long hours to try and get the best value out of your time away, and jet lag disrupts your sleep patterns. A long drive home after a night flight back into the UK in a state of sleep deprived exhaustion could be the most dangerous part of the trip.