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21 Oct 2014

Ebola – how well do you understand your Health and Safety obligations?

What you really need to know about Ebola and keeping your corporate travellers out of harm's way


The Ebola virus outbreak continues to make headline around the world. It’s undoubtedly a serious situation that demands a considered response – particularly in relation to what companies are doing (or not doing) to protect their employees as they travel around the world.

Like it or not, pandemics like Ebola will occur, and often when we least expect it. Why is this important to corporate travel? Because new Heath and Safety laws in Australia (soon to come into effect in New Zealand on 01 April 2015) dictate that a company has a legal, not to mention moral, obligation to keep their travellers safe, or at least prove that they’ve taken every practicable step to mitigate the risks.

What is being done to control the spread of Ebola at country level?

Airports have begun screening passengers arriving by air from the three countries most affected by the Ebola virus: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Screening consists of questionnaires and temperature checks, and takes places in areas separated from normal airport traffic, in the following airports:

Passengers travelling from and to all other countries should experience little to no Ebola-related disruption. At this point, no government or health authorities have implemented measures or made recommendations to stop travel through border closures etc. This may of course change at any time, so it's important to keep a close watch on the situation.

Whether the checks that are being put in place at airports are useful or not is another matter entirely – you can make your own mind up about that. Here’s an interesting insight

What needs to be done at a company level to protect travellers?

To protect travellers from harm, a company has a legal obligation to consider all the hazards associated with the specific journey and not place the individual at risk. This obligation can only be met via a systematic, consistent process that evaluates hazards, control measures, decision points and continuously improves or evolves with the input of new knowledge or information. It goes without saying that knowingly sending an employee into an area known to be effected by Ebola is placing them at extreme-risk (even with appropriate training and equipment) and should be avoided as it not only places the employee at risk, but also exposes travel bookers / company officers at risk of criminal prosecution if the employee contracts the disease and dies.

At the same time as having a legal obligation to monitor and measure risk, corporations also have a requirement to influence what employees do and don’t do whilst travelling on business. The aim here is to try and avoid a situation where travellers make bad decisions based on non-verified information sources they find on the Internet by giving them easy access to verified content before they go and whilst they're away.

From an Ebola perspective, there’s a LOT of content on the web. How much of it is truly verifiable is another question entirely…

Executives, travel managers and travellers all need to demonstrate how they have implemented acceptable systems when considering or undertaking travel to affected areas. This includes post travel management when returning from affected areas or likely exposure to the hazard(s). 

Businesses need to consider two key elements when travelling to Ebola affected areas:

  1. The first is the hazard, control measures, decision points, supporting resources and exposure of the individual to unnecessary risk.
  1. The second is whether the events spawned from this event have affected business activity to the point to where business is not possible or greatly diminished as a result, at this time.

One or both issues may result in travel being cancelled outright. Conversely, it may result in modified actions but permit business and travel to continue, with select additional control measures. 

Intelligent Travel, our partner in the Health and Safety space is monitoring the Ebola breakout. Access to information relating to Ebola is immediately available at the time of pre-travel planning or booking and via their customer support/dynamic knowledge base. Managers and travellers can communicate with travel safety and medical professionals pre-travel, en route or upon return. 

For more information email or call +61 3 8658 1427.  

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