Trouble hotspots around the world raise a question for employers whose staff encounter problems while overseas: do they consider all eventualities in the workplace? Professions such as tour guides, policemen and journalists often face challenges that include dicing with death. Last month's tragedy in Manila highlights concerns of workplace safety.
In other fields, such as construction, safety parameters are defined, at least in part by protective equipment, such as hard hats and safety shoes, but much is left up to the discretion of an employee and an employer to make decisions about the danger of locations and situations. This makes an understanding of environments, conditions and their associated risks indispensable.
"Tour operators should monitor countries and understand the location and threat events for the countries," says Douglas Renwick, managing director of Securitas Security Services (Hong Kong). "They need to keep abreast of changes and developments."
Renwick refers to the Social Amplification of Risk Framework, which measures how risk factors are amplified by perceptions that may be reinforced by the media. It is developed based on social psychology, psychometric risk and the perception of risk.
He gives the example of Bangkok during the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protests against the Thai government, and the way the media might have amplified the feeling that it was unsafe to visit Thailand.
While there may be truth in such cases, it is important to make realistic assessments about the genuine risk in a place. "The actual risk manifests itself when probability, vulnerability and consequence are present. Without one of these, there is basically no threat," Renwick says. "Ensuring insurance with adequate hospital cover for certain countries would be advisable. The United States, Australia and Britain travel advisories are a useful reference."
The extent to which employers can help remains an issue. They are legally bound to take care of insurance under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance, and are required to take out insurance policies to cover liabilities under the ordinance and common law for any work-related personal injuries, including death, suffered by their employees. Those who do not are liable to a fine of HK$100,000 and imprisonment for two years.
"Under the [ordinance], if an employee suffers a work-related injury outside Hong Kong, his or her employer is liable to reimburse him or her for medical expenses incurred outside Hong Kong unless the employer can provide adequate free medical treatment," says Winnie Ng, head of employment at law firm Minter Ellison.
It is in the interest of the employer to make sure employees are safe, she adds. "Employers are not merely obliged to insure their staff members in respect of any work-related injuries. They are also responsible for providing information, instruction, training and supervision as may be necessary for the safety of all employees."
Help at hand
Many employees of large organisations are insured for business trips, but aren't always covered if they extend the trip to a holiday
Employers are legally bound to make daily reimbursements of up to HK$280 for any in-patient and out-patient medical treatment needed by employees
Companies can call on organisations, such as the International SOS, to provide emergency hospital and evacuation cover