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Aspen Opinion

Accident & Health: Duty of care for a safe journey

June 14, 2017

Guy Wilson

International Head of Accident & Health

Tel: +44 20 7184 8180

Guy Wilson, International Head of Accident & Health at Aspen Insurance, points out that, despite uncertainty created by BREXIT, UK business travel forecasts for the immediate term are upbeat and demand for new export markets should reinforce this appetite. Against this backdrop, the need to protect business travellers has become increasingly complex and observance of duty of care calls for insurance to be truly fit for purpose.

Duty of Care

Recent UK data (Figure 1) shows a rising trend in business travel abroad. The more modest growth in 2016 reflected the uncertainty created by the BREXIT referendum but forecasts for business travel visits are optimistic. For an employer, this increasing trend may be prompted by business growth ambitions and it is incumbent on them to put in place robust travel risk assessment processes and procedures in keeping with their duty of care responsibilities to their employees.

Figure 1: Number of UK residents’ business visits abroad

Source: https://www.ons.gov.uk/

An employer’s duty of care is a moral requirement and also a legal requirement of UK employment law. An employer can be considered to have breached their duty of care by failing to do everything that was reasonable in the circumstances to keep an employee safe from harm - this includes employees who are travelling abroad. In other words, preparation and protection for all employees participating in business travel is absolutely crucial. Travel safety is important for all stakeholders because, if ignored, any incident that occurs while an employee is on a business trip could escalate and ultimately involve reputational damage for the employer. 

Risk assessment and preparation are required prior to travel. This now commonly involves the services and duty of care provisions within a business travel insurance policy as business has become increasingly interconnected and global in its reach. As headlines suggest, business travel is prone to more than simply medical emergencies. Terrorist attacks, rising incidence of natural catastrophes, kidnap and ransom and sudden change of political regime are all now more likely, and not just confined to more remote areas of the world. These risks impact the safety and security of the business traveler who should be well briefed before each trip.

Incident Response

Preparation before travel is only part of the story. Employee responses to incidents need to be in line with the company’s corporate crisis management plan which is, in turn, informed to some extent by the insurance policies that are in place. That is no different for business travel insurance. For example, if an employee is sick or injured while on a business trip, they should be fully aware that they need to call the 24 hour emergency assistance provider for help in sourcing medical assistance, liaison with local hospitals and potentially, including payment of medical expenses and/or repatriation. A helpline also needs to provide assistance and advice following, for example, travel delays or even loss of personal effects.

Despite duty of care requirements, many companies still do not make their employees sufficiently aware of the need to be fully prepared, pre-travel and while travelling, and the provision of multiple contact points and telephone numbers can make coping with an emergency situation more difficult. Business travel insurance is not just about comprehensive cover but the provision of a user friendly service. Rationalization of all responses through the provision of one contact point where all services are accessible and available for any emergency is of significant benefit to both the employer and employee. The search for different telephone numbers at a crucial, even potentially life-threatening moment, is negated and, in addition, the speed of response may also help the insurance company to limit risk.

Many business travellers expect their employer to coordinate any arrangements necessary. The reality is that in an overseas emergency, there may not be the opportunity or time zone allowance to contact the employer in time, if at all. Travelling employees may have taken details of a basic medical emergency assistance helpline, but rarely do they have the number stored in an easily accessible place.

Peace of Mind

Duty of care prompts the employer to ensure that an insurer’s appointed assistance company responds quickly, has the requisite expertise and pulls out all the stops to get the employee treated abroad or airlifted home, or if in a security situation, advised knowledgeably about how to ensure both immediate and ongoing safety.

An employer’s checklist should include assessing breadth and depth of cover. Cover should combine all the insured’s requirements in one policy and include Personal Accident cover, Emergency Security, Medical and Assistance Expenses, Kidnap & Ransom (K&R), Baggage and Money. The cover should also perform as expected. For example, many personal accident and travel policies provide low-level K&R cover - some as low as £250,000 and many at under £500,000, including consultant costs. This is inadequate as the hiring of kidnap consultants alone for any length of time can be costly.

The goal is to provide complete peace of mind for the employer and their employees. This can be delivered through an online, pre-travel e-course, providing all the pre-travel training, knowledge and advice that an employer needs to disseminate to employees in manageable, relevant sections. For the employee the provision of emergency assistance through one point of contact accessed via telephone, smartphone app or web-portal, accessing all assistance and/or claims functions, may be ultimately crucial in protecting a caller’s wellbeing. One call, accessing a relevant expert as opposed to simply an unqualified quasi-call center employee, no matter what the emergency situation, is a must. The ability for a traveler to be able to explain their predicament to trained staff, with qualified nurses answering incoming emergency calls who are able to triage those calls depending on the nature of the call (medical, security etc) is crucial. Assistance providers who have excellent medical expertise but who also have their own in-house security expertise and claims handling capability are now the only truly “under-one-roof” providers of Assistance and Claims services and clients should expect nothing less.

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The above article/opinion reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent Aspen's views. The article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update these articles.