When an employee goes abroad on company business, their health and safety
remains the concern of their company, and of course their OH department, by David
OH professionals face a number of challenges when dealing with business
travellers. For example, persuading busy senior executives to spend time with
the OH team; finding the most effective way to deliver information to travellers;
and keeping track of who the business travellers are and who will need advice
It is vitally important to prevent business travellers assuming that because
an insurance policy is in place, they do not need further support from OH. They
should be encouraged to take a preventative stance to avoid ever having to use
Know your audience
The first challenge OH professionals face is identifying their core group of
regular business travellers, short-term overseas and expatriate assignees.
OH can work with insurance providers to identify these individuals via the
insurance provider’s membership databases, which are normally updated with the
assistance of the HR team.
The insurer can provide detailed information, such as which employees are
covered by the policy, what the policy covers for each employee, where
employees are based and how the claims process works. This will help the OH
team to answer questions from individual travellers, such as: ‘how does the
company look after my family? who will pick up the costs for any vaccinations
or medical packs issued by the OH team?’
In many cases, the company will have an independent adviser or broker who
can also assist with interpreting the finer details of the cover. For example,
some insurance policies will include pre-assignment vaccinations and
screenings, while others will not. Most now cover ‘chronic’ conditions,
including paying for insulin for diabetes and inhalers for asthma.
It is important to establish these facts to ensure adequate cover.
It is also a good idea to check that duplicate policies are not in place.
A key challenge for OH professionals is convincing business travellers of
the importance of looking after their wellbeing during travel and while abroad,
and persuading them to spend time with the OH team.
Hosting an internal event with the aim of reaching every regular traveller
is an effective and economic way to communicate with this audience. This will
ensure everyone has had at least one OH consultation and advice on general
travel medicine. They can also be given information and advice about how and
when to self-refer back to OH, for example, when their health status changes or
travel patterns alter.
Cost-effective tools could include arming travellers with access to 24-hour
helplines, relevant websites on health issues and providing information on the
political climates in each country.
OH should also ensure that details of any foreign travel tickets booked are
fed back to the OH team, enabling it to provide advice appropriate to the
Insurance and other support
OH teams often avoid getting involved in insurance – yet they are often
best-placed to know the medical risks and hazards people will face. They have a
key role in advising HR and the finance director of the appropriate insurance
cover for the company’s employees, and their advice may well save their company
money. It could cost an organisation £5,000 to cover every female employee for
complications in maternity care. However, without this cover, treatment for a
single incident, in Japan or the US for example, could cost £45,000.
Political and environmental risks
Recently, the fast-moving political situation has been causing as much
concern as medical risks. A number of insurance companies now provide online
minute-by-minute information on political situations around the world, as well
as medical information and details of quality local health professionals and
Insurance providers such as Securité Sans Frontiers and PERI also provide
repatriation services for non-medical reasons in emergency situations.
Industries particularly vulnerable to political change and terrorism include
the media, financial services and political organisations.
David Heppard is head of international at IHC (insurance brokers and