Building International Travel into Your Company Safety Program

Building a travel policy into your company safety program doesn't have to be complicated.

company safety program

After hitting a pause button several years ago, companies are back to sending employees on the road. According to the Global Business Travel Association, business travel will continue to spike in the years ahead, with growth between 5.8 and 6.9 percent through 2019.

Retailers are central to this surge in employee travel. As they look to become more nimble, many are focused on maximizing global sourcing opportunities, seeking new customers in emerging markets, and sending employees to comb the globe for the next jungle superfood or local fashion to turn into a trend on Brooklyn streets.

Of course, opportunity—as it often does—runs headlong into risk. More international assignments put more workers outside of the protective shield that companies try to place around their workforce via their company safety program. It’s tempting to let the prospect of capitalizing on the next hot global marketplace overwhelm security concerns. In a survey of clients, International SOS, a provider of medical and security assistance, found that of 3.5 million international trips taken by employees, 25 percent were to what the firm identifies as high- or extreme-risk destinations.

Companies aren’t blind to the security and safety risks of international travel. In a world where luxury hotels have become recognized terrorist targets, most organizations appreciate the importance of helping traveling workers stay safe. So why do companies struggle to make security central to corporate travel programs?

The Coordination Challenge

Communicating with traveling employees, tracking their whereabouts, and extending help to them if necessary are important parts of an organization’s effort to protect employees from harm. However, a survey of 300 corporate security directors by Security Director’s Report (SDR) found that many international trips that employees take go without a security review. Without sufficient advanced notification of employees’ travel plans, threat assessment and logistical planning to support safe travel are impossible.

The SDR survey points to another difficult challenge: goal alignment. Employers may fail to meet their responsibilities for protecting traveling workers because responsibilities fall to different business areas and functions, which often have different objectives. Individuals with responsibilities often have such diverse roles as corporate security managers, risk managers, travel managers, medical directors, insurance managers, legal managers, heads of HR, global HR, and line managers.

Improving the security of traveling workers overall relies on the extent to which the different players fill the security aspects of their broader assignment. For example, a corporate travel manager may issue a request for proposal (RFP) to develop a preferred list of hotel properties, with the ultimate goal of improving efficiency and reducing the cost of travel. Within the RFP, hotel properties will be asked a range of questions on which their suitability will be judged, from services and amenities, available technology, rate proposal, to whether or not they will provide a traveler with free transportation to a new hotel if they are oversold.

A safety and security module will typically be part of this RFP, but the extent to which security criteria is examined in the selection of preferred properties can vary. A travel manager, whose primary objective is to please workers who want convenient and quality accommodations and heed management’s desire to trim expenses, may not let something like incomplete responses on safety issues interfere with property selection.

So what is the key? In a word, coordination. With the amount of corporate travel ramping up, security management might start by mapping out the security roles that different function areas are expected to play in the protection of traveling associates and ensuring that the responsibility for those roles are assigned to specific employees.

Security staff might also want to review how well information is being shared among departments. It can be helpful to use a comprehensive database that houses all travel-related information, including employee profiles, corporate and employee contact information, and risk intelligence information on travel destinations. Through a centralized data collection point, security, HR, and the corporate travel department can better coordinate their activities and responsibilities with respect to ensuring the safety of traveling employees.

Finally, security leaders might find it helpful to determine whether individuals who provide security advice to traveling employees are sufficiently informed and knowledgeable, and get them up to speed if they’re not.

Adding Travel Components to Your Company Safety Program

There are challenges beyond coordination to keeping a travel safety program operating effectively, including cost and management complacency.
In a presentation at the 2015 National Retail Federation (NRF) PROTECT loss prevention conference in Long Beach, CA, Scott McBride, vice president of loss prevention, safety, and security for American Eagle, described how his company’s travel safety program has, over time, built out to include a complete compendium of traveler safety information.

A travel safety program typically includes the following items:

  • Risk ratings for travel locations,
  • A traveler tracking system,
  • Pre-trip assessments, training, and awareness briefings,
  • A travel safety website, and
  • An emergency response plan in the event a traveling worker runs into trouble.

It should also define a process for examining employee travel itineraries, comparing them against the unique risks and availability of services in the destination region, and concluding if additional security steps need be taken before travel, such as specialized traveler education or equipping the employee with tracking technology.

But a travel safety program starts with a company travel policy, which McBride says to write with your duty of care in mind. To demonstrate a company’s due diligence, it should cover and include the following elements:

  • A statement from management that employees’ personal safety is a primary concern of the organization and that it does not want business interests to put workers at undue risk.
  • How the company will determine which destinations are unsafe for travel, such as prohibiting employees to travel to countries or regions the US State Department has declared as unsafe.
  • Responsibilities related to business travel for both employees and those in charge of monitoring the safety of travel destinations.
  • Special action employees should take if they are traveling to high-risk locations.
  • The individuals who are responsible for the daily monitoring for notices about travel to high-risk countries to ensure the safety of employees during their travel out of the country.
  • Procedures for communicating warnings to employees and for locating and communicating with employees in a crisis event.
  • Actions employees must take before departure, such as leaving their supervisors with a detailed itinerary, flight information, destination contact information, contact numbers, and updated emergency contact information.

As he built off the travel policy in his company safety program, McBride said his team realized that ancillary policies are also an important part of a robust company safety program. Data security, for example, has become an integral part of minimizing a company’s risk with respect to workers traveling abroad. Some of the ancillary policies his team identified included the following:

  • Travel Code of Conduct.“We have a travel code of conduct policy in addition to an ethics policy,” McBride explained. More than just keeping workers in line, American Eagle strives to provide traveling workers with information that will prevent them from unwittingly getting into sticky situations, which can result when local laws or customs differ from the United States, such as on the treatment of homosexuality or alcohol consumption. “What about people living in a hotel overseas for two months? What are the acceptable behaviors? You need to spell those out in a policy so you have evidence you told people about them,” McBride warned.
  • Foreign Ground Transportation Policy. “With us, you’re not permitted to rent a car if you can’t read the language,” said McBride.
  • Foreign Corrupt Practices Policy.Traveling workers need to be aware of actions they might take—to smooth out a travel snafu, for example—that could violate the FCPA.

McBride and other security pros SDR interviewed offered additional tips for enhancing the value of a travel safety program—without breaking the bank. Review the expert advice by reading the full article, “Keeping International Travelers Safe.”

This article was excerpted from “Keeping International Travelers Safe,” which was originally published in 2015. This post was updated July 31, 2017.

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