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The importance of conducting risk assessments for human resources

firefighterWhen an organization gives one of their human resources a task, how often is a risk assessment done? The answer is: it depends. When firefighters are asked to enter a burning building, the person in charge first assesses the risk to his people. When the engineers at the Japanese nuclear plant had to re-enter the facility to prevent a meltdown, a risk assessment was also completed before that. However, when most organizations fly their sales guy to South Africa, or get the young clerk at the gas station to close up the shop at night, rarely do they consider all the risks.

There are a number of different guides for job safety. One example is the CCOHS (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety) who have a publication entitled “Job Safety Analysis Made Simple”. There are many other resources, including some specific to the issue of workplace violence.

When we begin to examine the issue of people working away from a central location, whether it is a single worker doing a day trip, or a traveller on a long term assignment abroad, the risks start to become more complex to analyze. Do you need to do a full ISO 31000 based risk assessment or use the Canadian Government Harmonized TRA Methodology? Probably not; the former is very cumbersome and the latter is heavily weighted towards IT security.

The answer is: You need to have put forth a “reasonable” effort at conducting a risk assessment. Risk assessments vary widely, from a simple one designed to deliver general guidance, to one customized and tailored specifically for a company, taking into consideration its risk tolerance and its actual engagement. The latter one can be made automated so that it can easily be used by managers and decision makers.

The sales trip to South Africa is a perfect example, due to a recent kidnapping case that has been covered by the media. The salesman was recovered unharmed, but sending anyone to South Africa without mitigating the risks of kidnapping, carjacking or violent crime is asking for trouble for both the individual and the organization that sent him or her.

Organizations and employers need to look at threats to their travelling employees. Unlike a normal Canadian workplace, there are a broad range of different issues to consider abroad. Not only do some of the usual “Violence in the Workplace” factors need to be assessed, but also factors for serious crimes (violent carjacking, sexual assault), environmental health concerns (disease, pollution, flora and fauna) and even political risks (instability, social unrest). Other risks can include terrorism and natural disasters. Even something seemingly minor, such as a car accident, can have far different ramifications in other parts of the world.

One of the biggest risks to organizations has not yet been mentioned: reputation. What would happen to the reputation of a company, charity or organization if they had sent people abroad without preparing or training them? Social media can be incredibly damaging, and the damage can occur within minutes. What’s more, if the organization is not trained to support a victim’s family during a crisis, not only will they not be able to react in “Twitter Time”, but they could say or do the wrong thing, making the situation worse.

Once a risk assessment has been done, consider the risk of not mitigating. In if in doubt, have a Travel Risk Management audit completed, and see where you can save money by leveraging government services and support.

In the case of legal action, without a reasonable risk assessment it is very difficult for an organization to convince a court that it considered the health and welfare of an employee. The risk assessment is your first step of the road to achieving a standard of duty of care… and the risk and the cost of not achieving that should be assessed very, very carefully.

John Proctor
Integrated Human Risk Solutions

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John Proctor

CD CISM Vice-President at Global Cyber Security
John Proctor is one of the leading experts in human risk and travel risk management in Canada and is recognized internationally in this capacity. He has been responsible for the development of all of the federal captivity survival programs currently in use in Canada today and has helped several other countries with their own systems. Read more
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