In their last article After COVID-19 – addressing the new ‘normal’, Securewest explored some of the wider health and safety considerations for organisations returning to some sense of ‘normal’ business travel – one of which was the possible uncertainty and anxiety of those travelling. This article explores traveller anxiety in more depth and suggests ways to address this complex but crucial challenge.
There is a lot we still don’t know about the virus itself – even basic things like how it is spread and how fatal it is and to whom – with anything like the degree of confidence we’d normally expect before making decisions that could directly affect the health of our employees – this in itself is a cause of anxiety.
This lack of certainty is exacerbated by the wide circulation, particularly on social media, of well-meaning but inaccurate or intentionally misleading material, as well as opinion and speculation, or the virus’s incorporation into well-established conspiracy theories.
As a result of this uncertainty, there is anxiety about the safety of even the most mundane activity, such as visiting your local shops, let alone international travel. It has never been more important to be able to access objective, accurate advice from a health and medical risks specialist, and the kind of reassurance that could provide might make all the difference.
Traveller anxiety, along with guidelines from international and independent bodies, will significantly alter air travel. Of the commercial carriers who survive the loss of revenue during the ‘lockdown’ period, there is pressure to ensure cabins are as ‘virus proof’ as possible, which seems very likely to transform the experience of air travel. With more stringent pre-flight medical screening extending queues, ‘social distancing’ increasing boarding time while reducing the number of seats per flight, PPE making already unpleasant economy travel more uncomfortable.
Having said that, there are various reasons why some people might still not want to travel, and these will seem reasonable to those people – it could be that they or those close to them are more vulnerable to the virus: your Travel Safety Policy might also address the issue of how to manage employees who choose not to even where all appropriate steps have been taken; and identify staff who could undertake the trip instead.
At the heart of addressing traveller anxiety is providing reassurance that you as a company take the matter seriously, are taking the correct and proportionate steps, and that travel is, at least in the near term, undertaken on a voluntary basis, with no prejudice should an employee choose not to travel. (This last point could also be addressed in coordination with your HR policy).
To provide this reassurance and to instill confidence, a well thought out, clearly articulated, and communicated Travel Risk Management Program, underpinned by a Travel Safety Policy, is essential.
What should the pre-travel preparatory phase encompass?
Travel Safety Policy
An integrated approach to Travel Risk Management should ensure that the company’s commitment to the health and safety of its employees is clearly articulated and aligned with relevant policies across the organisation. This will establish the principles, scope, and standards of how the organisation manages travel risk, including their approach to supporting staff through the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective of the Travel Safety Policy is to minimise the health and safety risk exposure to travelers, and to provide reassurance by:
• Ensuring awareness of current and emerging travel risks.
• Assessing the level of risk in relation to employer requirements – this will help to establish what constitutes business essential travel.
• Identifying appropriate mitigation measures to manage the accepted risks identified in the pre-travel risk assessment (see below).
• Providing information on relevant risks and appropriate mitigation measures to employees prior to travel and while traveling.
• Providing travelers with access to trusted appropriate medical and security 24/7 assistance in the event of an emergency or should they feel unwell.
• Allowing employees to decide not to travel should they deem the level of risk unacceptable – without prejudice.
Pre – Travel Risk Assessment
TRAs should be dynamic, current, and tailored specifically to the individual traveler – age, underlying medical conditions, gender, and ethnicity, travel experience, sexual orientation, and dates of travel. As well as identifying the traditional risks – road safety, petty crime, malaria etc – they should now consider COVID-19 specific risks – live cases in the specific city / destination, transmission rates, destination medical capabilities to handle one of your employees should they fall ill whilst traveling, adherence to destination social distancing laws and so forth.
COVID-19 regulations are often complex and can change as governments adapt to increasing or decreasing case numbers. To compound the complexity, restrictions vary between – and often within – countries. Those conducting the risk assessments need to have access to live, trusted information to provide guidance. Our partners Safeture have developed this free live restrictions mapping tool which can provide this much needed independent information.
Entry requirements also differ widely, and many are very restrictive. As an example, at the time of writing, to enter Indonesia, travelers must have a valid health certificate in English issued by the Health Authority of their respective country. It must be valid within 7 days and state that the passenger is free from respiratory disease and ‘fit to travel’. It must also contain the Polymerise Chain Reaction (PCR) test result (not yet available), and the traveler should have no travel history in the last 14 days from China , France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea , Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Vatican City. They must also agree to self-quarantine for 14 days and fill in statement of compliance on arrival. This would extend a five-day trip to a three-week trip and may even require self-isolating when returning home.
Pre-travel safety briefing
A thorough verbal briefing – face-to-face or via video conference – based on the findings of the personalised risk assessment will provide guidance and reassurance to the traveler. The travel safety briefing, like the Risk Assessment, should be specific to the traveler and destination.
They should be made aware of, and comply with, entry requirements which, as mentioned, differ widely in addition to understanding penalties for contravening strict social distancing laws – Indonesia and Singapore have enforced stringent virus-fighting rules. Breaking these rules can result in severe penalties — a fine of up to 10,000 Singapore dollars (£6,000), up to six months in prison, or both.
Organisations need to be able to locate and communicate with their travellers in real-time, and have access to relevant and accurate information and advice surrounding changes in the health and safety landscape, so that they can respond quickly and efficiently in the best interests of their staff. Just as importantly, companies will now need to know where their staff have been, to confirm, for example, how many of your employees have recently travelled in a country affected by a new outbreak, and therefore need to take precautionary measures.
There will be an expectation that the travelers’ employer has the capability to provide medical and safety support should things go wrong, and that appropriate insurance is in place to cover all eventualities, so the individual does not have to cover costs themselves.