February 23, 2016

Business continuity risks are subject to the degree of duty of care exercised by companies while sending their employees abroad, says Nicolas Bertsché, General Manager India at International SOS.

A new study from Ipsos on ‘International Travel: Risks and Reality’ points out that Indian travellers experience illness and injury while abroad more often than average. I completely second this having tripped down and hurt myself hours just a few hours before I began writing this in a location 13,000 km from India. The results of the study indicate that 9 out of 10 Indian travellers have felt their personal safety could be threatened while abroad; I ensure that I fully wrap up in cold locales despite being sufficiently insured during overseas travel.

International SOS, a global medical and travel security risk services company, offers a range of preventive programs to deliver emergency assistance during critical illness, accident or civil unrest. Nicolas Bertsché, General Manager India at International SOS, said, “India is home to many global organisations that often send their employees abroad on business trips, incentive tours, conferences, etc. Many workers are also expatriates living and working in the country. This increased staff mobility correlates to increased exposure to risks. Therefore, it is imperative for organisations to take care of the health and well-being of their employees by assessing the risks, implementing appropriate preventive measures and preparing to fulfill their duty of care towards their employees.”

He referred to ‘Duty of Care’ as the moral and legal obligations of employers to their employees, contractors, volunteers and related family members in maintaining their well-being, security and safety when at work, when deputed on international assignments or sent to work in remote areas of their home country.

Here is where International SOS helps companies understand the risks their employees may face while abroad and better prepare workers and expatriates before they go abroad and to fulfill their duty of care. This preparedness, he said, would help organisations be more proactive in their risk mitigation efforts.

International SOS has over 11,000 employees across the world, led by 1400 doctors and 200 security specialists and clients from more than 850 locations in 92 countries. We are passionate about helping clients put Duty of Care into practice. With us, multinational corporate clients, governments and NGOs can mitigate risks for their people working remotely or overseas.

Nicolas explained, “Preventive measures could be as simple as providing pre-travel safety training for employees. Road safety training may be particularly valuable for Indian travellers, as they tie only with Brazil in having the highest incidence of injuries through road accidents while abroad.”

At 19%, the rate of injury from road accidents for Indian travellers abroad is more than double the world’s average.The study also found that 9 out of 10 Indian travellers had concerns about their personal safety abroad, indicating that employees may benefit from travel security and personal safety training.

“Organisations have started understanding the importance of ‘Duty of Care’ and risk mitigation planning as it also helps them save considerable costs incurred through emergency medical interventions, insurance claims, or evacuation situations. Over the last three years, the number of travellers using medical and travel security pre-trip advisories has increased by nearly 30%. Correspondingly, the number of cases where evacuation and/or repatriation has been prevented has risen by 10%. However, there is a great scope for more organisations to review both medical and security issues when preparing their employees for travel and assignment abroad.

In order to cater to the specific demands of high risk industries like oil and gas, mining, aviation, maritime, offshore and remote medical sectors, International SOS partnered with AMAS Medical Services, to provide job-specific and industry compliant health checks, preventive and emergency services to organisations.

To help organisations better understand the risks in the markets where they operate and travel, International SOS recently released its Travel Risk Map 2016, the industry’s first integrated medical and travel security risk map for 2016. The Travel Risk Map displays each country’s medical risk rating and travel security risk rating. The result is a comprehensive overview of risks by destination to aid organisations and staff in their travel risk mitigation efforts.

“We help companies, NGOs and governments manage their medical and travel risks to prevent things from happening by educating people before they go on a trip. International SOS shares facts on disease and epidemic threats prevalent in a certain destination, threats of natural calamities, illnesses, etc. Today 85% of our business lies in helping our clients to prepare and prevent things from happening. The remaining 15% is reserved for things that are not preventable.”

Its medical team and specialists around the world lend support through a backbone of critical 27 assistance centres including one in India. The difference in its thinking is that it strongly focuses on preventing incidents and not on financial repair. “If something happens, say, if a house is on fire, we first call the fireman and not the insurance guy. We go the extra mile on the very situation. A very recent example would be of the unfortunate floods in Chennai. We got a massive number of calls from people who were stranded in hotels without any means of communication. We roped in our assistance centres to help the situation,” Nicolas explained.

The company has 2500 verified and audited service providers in India. In the event of a security concern, it advises people in advance about the same, tracks and monitors the case and keeps the company informed.
There is a strong return on prevention.For one dollar invested, the benefit will range at a minimum 1.60 dollars. Risk prevention during travel is widely underestimated. If something goes wrong during an external assignment for any reason, (medical, security, etc.) the average cost of the failure can go up to one million USD or a lot of higher as well.

SOS on-the-scene
The first problem faced in times of calamities is that the companies won’t know where the employees are. International SOS has tools that allow them to identify what is the exposure and how many of their travellers are in that particular affected city/region. It has a membership model, wherein, when a company approaches International SOS to inform them about sending its workers to remote areas like Kashmir, for instance, or any unmanned territories to tap resources or any overseas location, they seek help to mitigate risks.

“We have a travel tracker tool through which we are able to tell them about the whereabouts of their employees. We work with travel agencies; whenever there is a calamity, at the click of a button, we can gather the number of employees working in that particular city. Be it the recent floods in Chennai or the Nepal earthquake last year, communication is generally down during the first few hours in the aftermath. Text messages work most of the time. We use the tool to track people. In Chennai, we had companies approaching us, employees calling the assistance centres and we had coordinates. We activated our gathered information source with the help of ‘Travel Watch India’, a dedicated desk that screens the situation of security at gunpoint,” said Nicolas. “The company working with us will give the ticket PNR issued by its travel agency, and that helps us get information on our travel tracking system.”

The company then activates its local service providers and arranges ground transportation. The Travel Watch Desk exists because of an increasing number of business travellers. In India, especially, there is more foreign direct investment (FDI) being pumped, ‘Make in India’ campaign and corporates sending their workforce on outdoor assignments. The desk comes in handy becomes things can difficult when we step out to work outside metros. Hence, International SOS, which has a team of specialists based in New Delhi, monitors the travel security of people on a day-to-day basis. It sends daily reports to the same people, weekly summary that allow individuals on the ground to appropriately take care of the people. It has an assistance centre in the national capital as it works with the governments.

Some examples would be assessing the security situation in the railway station if there were a rally in Kolkata or if a company were sending its employees to Africa on an assignment. As for the latter, International SOS would first help the company assess the risks. Liberia, for instance, poses risks in terms of road safety, vaccination requirements, travel and medical risks, Ebola threat, dengue and malaria, etc.

Further, it provides online training to female employees for security. Once the employees land in the destination, it tracks them and ensures that they check-in safely and are secure until they check out. The company offers membership contracts based on duration, size of company, requirements and the renewals are close to 100% usually.

Journey management
In the case of an evolving risk, Nicolas says that the company advises its clients against sending their employees to a particular place. He quotes a finding from a study by the Centre of Disease Foundation, Chennai that states that for every 100,000 travellers visiting a country in a month, 50% will incur some kind of a health problem; 8000 would need to be seen by a doctor; 5000 would have to be confined; 300 to be hospitalised; one would have to be evacuated and one might die on a trip. “Even if we try to do everything that we can, we have to intervene in many instances. We have an assistance centre in Paris that will take care of the one in South Africa.”

Inbound market into India- If a USA-based company, which is already our member, sends employees to India, then the awareness on travel risks begins in the USA. We work with our American counterparts. Globally, we work with 80% of the top 500 companies.

Outbound market– With more and more Indian conglomerates sending employees overseas and to remote areas, there are risks naturally. The whole phenomenon of outbound travel on business is growing and hence, awareness on the duty of care is also growing. There is more awareness on risks from a business continuity perspective that a company is taking by sending its employees abroad.

International SOS has approximately 50 corporate clients in India that are within energy, mining and infrastructure segments primarily. “We have observed that automotive and finance sectors are sending their employees abroad. We also have a strong demand from Indian companies operating domestically as there are challenges even within the country such as a hydropower project set up in Himalayas or an automobile plant on the outskirts of Chennai.”

France, Germany, USA, China and Japan are extremely active. Australia is active in mining and there is more reception to duty of care in these sectors in these countries. Some industries like oil and gas are exposed to more risks and they come up with their own risk standards. An oil rig in Navi Mumbai, for example, would need higher medical assistance.

Nicolas said, “When something inevitable happens, the employees will call us. We also have apps that are enabled on the phones of the employees. The apps are in sync with GPS to help us identify where they are. Through their location, we give them the phone number of the nearest assistance centre. When Ebola broke out, we had dedicated teams screening the globe to ascertain the situation and proactively inform the companies. We did the same when SARS and H1N1 broke out some years ago and during the recent attack in Paris.”

“In times of crisis, we inform the employees and if required, we stand on the spot with the incidence management team like we did it in Nepal. Some of the times when we extended our services were the riots in Kinshasa, Storm Sandy in New York, Gaza conflict, Venezuela protests and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris. We understand the volume of the company’s travelling population, profile of the travellers, level of risks in the place where they are being sent. The risk in Somalia is not the same as something in Europe. We have doctors in suits for corporates; doctors in boots in a mining site and doctors with guns in a hostile situation. In many situations, it is more advisory assistance and no other intervention is required.”

“Unfortunately, companies realise our USP when something happens to them. We ask companies if they think about risks and safety when they send their workers outdoor from the perspective of a duty of care. We recommend this as part of their best practices, self assessment program and to measure their degree of preparedness in the best interests of business continuity,” he concluded.


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