Your Duty of Care in a crisis
The COVID-19 health crisis has now been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation and tighter boarder restrictions and self-isolation policies are coming into effect in Australia and around the world.
With the situation changing rapidly, you might be wondering what your responsibilities are to your staff who have travelled, are currently on the road, or have travel plans in place.
We spoke to Kim Hamilton, Account Manager at Flight Centre Business Travel for an overview of what your duty of care is to your staff in a time of crisis and how best you can prepare to keep your staff safe when they’re on the road.
What the law says
According to Australia’s Workplace Health and Safety Act of 2011, businesses have a responsibility for their staff, even when travelling domestically and internationally. ‘Reasonable care’ must be taken by employers to avoid potential risk or injury, and decisions made about travel plans must be ‘reasonably practicable’.
So, if you’re considering whether your staff should be undertaking travel at any time, but especially during a crisis or state of emergency, you need to consider all of the potential risks associated with that travel.
“This includes considering whether travel at a specific time or to a specific destination is really necessary, or whether it poses any additional risks to your travelling staff,” says Kim.
If staff are travelling when disaster strikes, businesses are required to monitor and communicate with them, so it’s important you know how to keep track of your travellers’ whereabouts. You should also have up-to-date personal records so you can communicate with their next-of-kin if needed.
Update your travel policy
Your travel policy should have procedures in place for what your travellers should do in the unfortunate event that they’re impacted by disaster or emergency when they’re on the road or about to travel.
“This should be standard within your travel policy so your travellers can become familiar with it before they travel. It should include details such as who to contact and how, with direct phone numbers, and which government agencies and governing bodies to turn to for current updates on situations and locations,” says Kim.
Having your travellers monitor and register with the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller portal is ideal as well, as is providing apps for your travellers to access while away.
And as a crisis continues to unfold, you should update your travel policy with the specific warnings and recommendations and communicate these to all of your staff, not just those who are travelling or have travel plans coming up.
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Put in place a Duty of Care Plan
A Duty of Care Plan essentially details the travel risk management policies you have put in place to protect your travelling staff. If you don’t yet have a Duty of Care Plan in place, you should do this now, regardless of whether your staff are travelling at the moment or your travel program has been put on hold.
“Even if you don’t use it during this pandemic, there may come a time in the future where you’ll be glad you put this in place,” says Kim.
Your Duty of Care Plan essentially needs to include:
- How you will continue to monitor travelling staff and communicate with them. Consider both online and offline options, as they may not always have access to WiFi or power to charge devices.
- What tools and support you’ll provide to your travelling staff. Consider apps, on-the-ground organisations and people with direct phone numbers.
- A comprehensive corporate travel policy. You’ll want to ensure this includes first-world medical treatment, so your staff are looked after in times of need.
- Your updated travel policy. This should place your travellers and their wellbeing at the centre of any travel activity.
You should also consider a business continuity plan, so you and your staff know how business will function if and when this plan comes into play for any of your travelling staff.
When your staff return
Your duty of care to your travellers doesn’t stop when they return home, even when government policies such as quarantine and self-isolation take precedence.
“You’re still required to keep monitoring and communicating with them and providing additional support where needed,” says Kim.
Your Travel Manager can help
Your travel manager will form an integral part of your Duty of Care Plan and be a key source of current travel updates and information. Call on them today to update your travel policy and seek their expertise to support your Duty of Care Plan.