Scouting the danger online (Web sight)

Protecting employees sent to work far from home
By Ann Macaulay
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/20/2007

The list of dangerous hot spots around the world is long. Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Chad and Lebanon are just a few of the countries where employees can encounter myriad problems including disease, a higher incidence of crime, civil unrest and war. In addition to offering danger pay incentives, there are steps an employer can take when sending an employee to a dangerous destination, such as implementing a disaster management program or offering a 24-hour crisis hotline.

Working in a war zone

“Dangerous business” on the Workforce Management site discusses the issue of sending employees to work in a war zone. “It might seem tough to recruit employees to work 16-hour days that begin with the donning of flak jackets. But offer salaries of $20,000 a month and it’s easy to find people with the right job skills.” The director of HR for Iraq operations for a 30,000-employee global engineering and construction company says a main task is to ensure new recruits know what they’re getting into. “Our disclosure statements cover subjects ranging from unexploded ordnance to terrorist attacks.”

Extreme benefits

“Duty of care,” an article on the Benefits Canada site, describes how sending employees to dangerous locations adds “a whole new dimension to the types of benefits employers must provide… employers have a ‘duty of care’ to their employees and have to take all steps that are reasonable to keep them safe when travelling in high-risk destinations.” Citing corporations such as Petro-Canada that send employees overseas, the article says “there is usually a corporate security officer or department that makes sure employees on their way out are given the basic education, knowledge and tools to protect themselves in remote and sometimes dangerous areas.” Firms such as International SOS incorporate medical, security and risk management for plan sponsors. The company’s president says its “plan sponsors and travel management departments can have a wealth of information on their employees — from flight numbers to hotels — and can track them in times of emergency.”

Help is just a phone call away

“When help is just a call away” on the Expatica site examines the growth in 24-hour hotlines spawned by international terrorism. Several organizations offer a phone service that’s staffed by security professionals. “When you have employees who get themselves in a sticky situation, they can make a phone call and know there’s someone on the end of the line that has the right skill sets,” says a director of the American Society for Industrial Security and head of physical security for Sprint Corp. Clients pay a monthly fee for the service and employees carry the number of a dedicated phone line. “Clients mainly want to know where it’s safe to travel, what to do when they’ve lost a passport, or whether they should be worried about a nearby riot they just saw on CNN,” says the article.

More danger, more cash

“Sending employees abroad becomes tougher than ever” on the Wall Street Journal site says many companies now give security briefings for all expats and foreign travellers because “the standard of care for employees post-9/11 has been raised.” Companies are having a tough time persuading U.S. managers to take certain international assignments due to worries about safety and some businesses are using more aggressive tactics to lure them overseas. “A major U.S. engineering and construction company with federal contracts to rebuild Iraq compensates for the hazardous duty by offering each typical $130,000-a-year expatriate an extra $75,000 tax-free a year in foreign-service, hardship and danger allowances,” according to a national director in KPMG LLP’s international executive-services practice in New York, who adds, “the greater the danger or hardship, the more ways the employer will find to funnel cash to that person.”

Most dangerous destinations

This Forbes article, “Most dangerous destinations 2007,” says risk consultancies can offer “clients extensive pre-trip advice and help track and protect employees in-country.” One suggestion is for employees to familiarize themselves with the most current information on where they’re going, “because sometimes out-of-date facts can be more dangerous than none at all. (Last year’s rebel leader could be this year’s president.)”

Ann Macaulay is a Toronto-based freelance editor and regular contributor to Canadian HR Reporter. Her Web Sight column appears regularly in the CloseUp section.

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