Improving the odds on risky moves

What employers need to consider when sending staff to dangerous locations
By Tim Verbic
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/20/2007

Sending employees abroad has become, in recent years, more difficult in terms of the transit, the stay and the repatriation. Dangers, borne from political upheaval, economic instability and personal risks are making it tough for employees to perform their duties abroad and posing a challenge for HR departments in ensuring expatriates and their families are protected.

Relocation firms can offer employers best practices in policy development to mitigate the dangers faced by expatriates in high-risk countries. This includes identifying hardship factors both the employee and the employer should take into account when considering relocation to a foreign country. They include, but are not limited to:


: What is the availability and quality of expatriate housing and security to protect workers from violent and non-violent (economic) crime?

Climate and physical conditions

: Should a natural disaster befall the location, what are the measures to locate, assist and evacuate the employee?


: What is the severity of the pollution where the employee is located? What health-and-safety measures are in place, or can be taken, to minimize its effect?

Disease and sanitation

: What are the levels of sanitation and what is the degree of risk to the health and welfare of the employee?


: What is the quality of the infrastructure, including the reliability of, and access to, communication? Are transportation routes secure and in good shape? Are there certain times of year when routes are inaccessible or unsafe?

Political violence

: What is the behavior of the local, state and federal governments towards expatriates residing and working in those countries? Is the country politically stable?


: What is the level and type of crime towards expatriates by the local population? What is the legal and police system and is it friendly towards expatriates?

Physical remoteness

: How accessible is the employee in the event of a medical or personal emergency?

Factors such as political and economic upheaval are beyond any employer’s control. But there are steps an organization can take to ensure the safety of employees.

Pre-departure and transit

It is vital the employee understands the risks of travelling abroad to countries considered hostile to Western culture or the company itself. The location of his residence and his place of work; the availability of immediate medical, security and emergency evacuation services; the ease of transit in, out and within the country; the perception of foreigners by the government and population; communication with head office and the expatriate’s home country; and diplomatic relations between the host country and the employee’s home country. These are but a few requirements that should be addressed before making the decision to send an employee to a dangerous location.

Some Canadian employers have defined the profile of an ideal expatriate for high-risk situations. For example, one organization has stated that an unmarried individual is the preferred candidate for certain locations. Another organization has gone a step further, and dictated that only single individuals are allowed to be on assignment in particular high-risk countries. This mitigates the risk of abduction for ransom, which has unfortunately become a more popular form of violence.

Transit, depending upon the route required, can be the riskiest part of the relocation. Depending upon where an individual is headed, the dates and times of departure and arrival can reduce the risk to the individual. Knowledge of the most current political situation of each country is a factor in determining the best time to depart to and from the foreign location. Although the length of time is defined prior to the acceptance of an assignment, and may be defined by the visa offered by the host nation, it is not a guarantee.

Host-country and city location

To mitigate risks to employees, most employers choose to place them in secured locations, such as compounds, which house other foreign nationals. By housing the employee in a secured location, challenges to communication, personal safety, access to other foreign nationals and transportation can be reduced.

A recent danger to employees, particularly in Latin America, has been abductions for ransom. While originally this crime was aimed at local upper- and middle-class people, it has spread towards the expatriate population. This trend has necessitated the hiring of personal security firms to act as escorts in unsecured locations or during transit from one location to another. In the past 20 years, according to the U.S. State Department, 120 American citizens have been kidnapped in Columbia and 14 have been murdered.


The return phase of the relocation has its own set of risks for the expatriate and employer. Apart from the actual transfer, and any health risks such as bringing a disease back from the host country (such as tuberculosis), a significant risk is the danger of the expatriate not acclimatizing to his home location. This can include dealing with family issues that may not have existed when living abroad, working to a different tempo or not being seen as the “all-star” in the home office the way he was overseas.

While these risks are not of the same type as seen abroad, they can significantly affect the success of current or future assignments.

Tim Verbic, is the director of business development and marketing at Royal LePage Relocation Services in Toronto. For more information, visit

Global hot spots

The most dangerous countries

Earlier this year, identified 13 high-risk countries based on numerous categories, including crime and civil unrest:




•Democratic Republic of Congo;



•Ivory Coast;





•Sri Lanka; and


Danger close to home

Calgary violence merits warning

Though Canada isn’t considered a global hot spot when it comes to danger for employees, at least one major company, BP Canada, has issued a memo warning staff about where and when it is safe to stroll in downtown Calgary.

The memo, which was obtained by CTV Calgary earlier this month, states:

“Calgary has experienced a spike in violent crime incidents, including murder, drive-by shootings and altercations in the downtown area. Staff and visitors can confidently walk about the Calgary downtown area throughout business hours… however, during the early morning and late-evening hours, persons are well advised to avoid travelling alone.”

It also went on to state that “outlying areas… not operating during business hours should also be avoided.”

A BP spokesperson told CTV the memo was limited to one department and the company still considers Calgary a safe place to work and travel to.

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