Picture: Balkon Tours.

CAPE TOWN - When you’re working 16-hour days to keep your small business afloat and living off room service, your safety and that of your employees is probably the last thing on your mind. 

Did you know?

However, that your failure to devise and implement a duty of care plan, whether you are aware of your legal responsibility or not it could land you in serious hot water if a staff member is injured or dies while traveling for business?

The duty of care is the employer’s responsibility to his employees to do all that a reasonable and prudent employer would do, to secure their health and safety in the workplace and yes, this includes while they’re traveling for business.

If you don’t, you could face having to pay for any negligence and, in extreme cases, even result in a prison sentence.

When you consider that South Africa falls on International SOS’s list of the top 20 primary perceived high-risk employee locations worldwide, the conversation around duty of care and how companies, even SMEs, have a responsibility to safeguard staff, becomes very important. 

“Even destinations that were once seen as safe can in an instant no longer be seen safe."

It doesn’t matter where your staff is traveling to, it is your duty of care responsibility to ensure you have taken steps to ensure their safety as much as possible for the duration of their business trip,” explains Flight Centre Business Travel (FCBT) Brand Leader Ryan Potgieter.

All too often, businesses endure significant costs in trying to remedy situations or rescue their staff, when a great deal of pain can be pre-empted by pre-planning. It can be as simple as keeping their contact details on file and developing an emergency process your travelers can follow if any arises, explains Ryan. 

“SMEs may have a lot of other things on their plate to deal with and push this to the back of the queue, but they are actually well positioned because of their size to be proactive and implement best practice to resolve issues before they actually arise and this includes communicating about the dangers of travel before and during the trip.”

Ultimately, says Ryan, the duty of care is an area in which their travel professional can assist. “A dedicated travel management company like FCBT will help you define a simple and effective travel policy for your business and enforce it."

So, when disaster strikes or your travelers fall ill whilst traveling, they will know where your employees are and help to get them out of harm’s way.”

This harm need not even be as serious as a terrorist attack. 

Staff members could be the victim of a petty crime or involved in a car accident. They’ll still require the assistance of the company while their traveling to assist with formalities.

When it comes to the end traveler, they too have a responsibility not to conduct themselves inappropriately and put themselves in unnecessary danger. 

Travellers also need to be convinced of the importance of safety over their need for privacy, such as by providing their company with up to date contact details. 

 Knowing where the traveler is and how to contact them while they’re on the road is essential to being able to exercise a duty of care responsibilities accurately and speedily, concludes Ryan. 

Here are some key steps for SMEs to begin taking their duty of care requirements seriously:

Prepare basic destination briefs for the destinations to which your employees are traveling.

Communicate safe travel practices through email, mobile, and face-to-face training.

Communicate the dos and don’ts of the travel destination.

Ensure that the traveler has the appropriate vaccinations and has been advised of any health warnings.

Introduce a formal travel risk plan that outlines what to do in the event of an emergency.

Ensure that key staff members are not traveling together, e.g. on the same flight.

Conduct a risk assessment prior to every trip to identify proactively any possible pain points.