Our January Webinar, in collaboration with Barbour EHS, focussed on Managing Workers Overseas. Here, we put your unanswered questions, to panellist Mike Taylor, Director at MRTS Consulting Ltd and former Director of SHEQ at Turner & Townsend.
Alongside Mike on the panel, was Katie Vickery, Partner at Osborne Clarke LLP. The pair discussed some practical examples of how to handle and manage overseas staff, how health and safety in the UK compares to overseas and an update on global health and safety standards.
To listen back to the session in full, click here.
The following questions, answered by Mike, were posed by listeners during the webinar:
What is your advice on risk assessments for those travelling to hostile environments?
Mike Taylor (MT): “Risk assessments for hostile environments are no different for any other risk assessment. It’s about finding a process that works for your situation, and most importantly getting the right information to support the risk assessment – The government website (old Foreign and Commonwealth Office) should be a place to start. Determining the right controls (ones that will work and are practical) is also crucial. This is specialist field.”
Are employees on a secondment to another country still entitled to UK legislative requirements, such as H&S workstation assessment?
(MT): “As discussed in the webinar, the UK employer would have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of the worker, but the local legislation will dictate the extent of the workstation assessment (in this case). If the UK standards are higher, then the employer may want to prescribe additional controls – remember, sometimes overseas requirements are more stringent theta the UK!”
Are companies required to arrange emergency repatriation for a sole traveller abroad for a one-off trip?
(MT): “It should always be part of the risk assessment to determine what emergency arrangements are in place, and what emergency controls may be required. Usually repatriation in medical emergency is covered by appropriate business travel insurance – arrangements for this should always be in palace.”
Can you discuss workers compensation considerations?
(MT): “Workers compensation arrangements vary widely around the world and in different legislative systems. If this is something you think you will fall under, then you will need to research the local legislation and insurance arrangements. Brief details are covered within the Barbour international country guides as a start point.”
Where can I look to compare H&S legislation between UK and other countries?
(MT): “There are many sources available. Care must be taken on researching as many websites simply ‘copy and paste’. A good start is usually the county government (Labour or Enforcement) websites, as is the Barbour international service. Within Barbour country guides are written in a consistent format to allow comparison.”
How can organisations deal with health and safety issues in territories where extant laws are ineffective and mostly lacking?
(MT): “As discussed in the webinar, having a global framework for health and safety management is the best approach. This will enable an organisation to determine where any legislative gaps exist in their countries of operation, and what additional controls they may want to implement, e.g. work at height controls, use of personal protective equipment, training and competence systems etc.”
How do we find out about new legislation affecting workplaces overseas?
(MT): “Most of the government health and safety, labour or inspection services have email alerts that you can sign up to for receiving such information. Barbour international is also regularly updated with changes and new development.”
How do you manage the travel interface of employees working abroad bearing GDPR in mind?
(MT): “GDPR is about protecting the data kept on any individual and is not designed to prevent data being used for the right reasons – i.e. protection of the individual when working. This would be classed as a legitimate use, but still needs to be managed effectively.”
How to you manage non-effective multi diverse teams in different countries?
(MT): “As covered in the webinar, this is more a management issue, and implies that managers are ineffective. If a health and safety framework is in place that clearly sets out the expectations of people working on the site / in teams, then this should be easier to manage.
“The issue comes when people are ‘allowed to do what they want’, or ‘use the equipment they want’. As ever, clear behavioural expectations and contractual arrangements help, as does an appropriate sanctions regime for individuals or groups who will not follow the systems in place.”
Ideally it would be great to ensure the same standards are adopted when on foreign land. That isn’t always the case, even with a handbook to work to and contact details for emergencies. How would you deal with a situation where the person in charge was focused on getting the job done no matter what the cost?
(MT): “This is about having clear behavioural expectations, and an understanding that health and safety is paramount. Obviously, some jobs are riskier than others, but usually these are more tightly controlled. Employees should have the right to stop work (in many countries this is written into local health and safety legislation) and have the protection of their organisation e.g. against contractual issues.”
If we are organising events overseas via third parties for customers and staff to attend, what is our H&S obligation?
(MT): “Primarily to understand that you have a duty of care for all you customers and staff, to abide by local legislation, and to carry out an effective risk assessment (including emergency arrangement) – especially if higher risk activities are being undertaken.”
Are there any tools to manage mental wellbeing away from home?
(MT): “As covered in the webinar, this is a massive issue and should not been bypassed lightly. There are many elements to having a good mental wellbeing strategy such as; clear information, support to the individual(s), regular and effective communication, keeping people feeling part of the home organisation (and not ignored), effective processes for raising issues, correct selection of individuals to work away from home etc. etc.”
What is an employer’s legal liabilities for employees who chose to work from home and does that liability change if employees are directed to work from home?
(MT): “The duty of care still applies. Homeworking can be seen in a similar way to working abroad but has other issues outside of the scope of this webinar. Basically, having an effective management process in place, ensuring the employees have (and use) the correct equipment, and a process of monitoring are the basics. Many countries are now developing specific legislation to address working from home and the gig economy etc.”
What are the best ways to develop a consistent safety framework and culture globally?
(MT): “Having worked for multi-national organisations for many years, my experience is that you will need; a clearly defined system based on a standard and communicating expectations effectively, making sure that the expectations are translated into clear, and healthy and safe working practices based on effective risk management and the provision of the correct equipment.
“Listening to the concerns of employees and having an effective two-way communication and consultation process. Most of all, buy-in throughout the organisation that the framework is important and must be followed. The preceding issues than tend to lead to the development of health and safety cultures on site.”
What is the major difference between UK H&S Law and US?
(MT): “Primarily the UK is based on reasonable practicability when implementing legislation, whereas the US tends to be compliance based (although there has been a drive in recent years to become more risk based).”
Whose responsibility is it to oversee the H&S of employees and self-employed (contractors) who are travelling to sister companies within Europe who have their own H&S advisors and procedures?
(MT): “The duty of care remains with the organisation. If they are ‘sister’ companies, it would be useful to have an effective ‘cross-organisational’ health and safety management process in place to reduce inconsistencies.”
Are rules in EU different to those in UK?
(MT): “Although most European countries follow EU directives (including the UK), Europe tends to be based predominantly on a process of ‘due-diligence’ and the UK based on ‘reasonable practicability’. There was a challenge from Europe a few years ago on this for the UK to move away from RP.”
Why is there such a wide variation between EU member states regarding the interpretation and implementation of EU health and safety related Directives?
(MT): “Most European countries who follow directives have similar legislative requires, often it is how these legislative requirements are applied and enforced that creates much of the perceived differences.”
Do we need to give cultural awareness training and physical training for employees travelling through Africa, including anti-kidnapping? When would you agree to supply close protection or armed chaperone and what are your liabilities with these companies?
(MT): “The importance of cultural awareness training cannot be underestimated. It is vital that people travelling or working abroad understand the cultures and behaviours likely to be found, which can relate to; government secrecy, gender, disability, bribery, corruption, security etc. In my opinion, cultural awareness training should always be provided. Close protection etc. should be determined as the result of a specific risk assessment and is a specialist area.”
(MT): “This varies widely, and each country will have its own legislation – often tied into worker compensation / insurance requirements. Most countries have a health and safety enforcement body, which are often part of a labour inspectorate.”
Can you confirm that in USA, State legislation takes precedence over Federal?
(MT): “The USA has an overall Federal health and safety legislative system under OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration). Individual States or Territories can apply to OSHA to be self-governing on work place health and safety through a state plan but must demonstrate that they have an effective legislative system in place and an effective enforcement policy.
“There are currently 22 State Plans covering both private sector and state and local government workers, and there are six State Plans covering only state and local government workers. State Plans are monitored by OSHA and must be at least as effective as OSHA in protecting workers and in preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. In these cases, employers are required to follow the State Plan.”