Safeguards essential for travel to ‘most dangerous’ list

Libyan protests in 2011.
Libyan protests in 2011. Ongoing attacks and industrial action have hampered oil exports.
Opinion by David RobertsonConsultant at Direct Travel’s Aberdeen office

While you might think otherwise, we are actually far less likely to be exposed to terror attacks in the UK today compared with recent decades.

As figures from the Global Terrorism Database show, the 126 lives claimed in UK terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2017 is significantly lower than the 1,094 people who were killed in incidents in the 15 years between 1985 and 1999. While not forgetting the personal tragedies of the families who have suffered in recent years, far more were affected between 1970 and 1984 when terrorism accounted over 2,000 fatalities across the UK, particularly in Northern Ireland.

With London, Manchester and even Glasgow being targeted in relatively recent incidents, there is certainly no room for complacency here in Britain. For energy sector workers and their employers, however, the real threat to safety lies beyond these shores.

Frequent travel to foreign nations, some of which are lacking in political stability and security, is an essential part of doing business for most companies operating within the global oil and gas sector. Following the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act in 2007, the employer is now legally responsible for ensuring their people are kept as safe as possible when they are sent abroad. Failure to uphold this duty, especially in the event of a tragic incident, could result in serious personal legal consequences, including imprisonment, for a firm’s directors.

Oil rich nations like Libya, Iraq and South Sudan currently appear on the UK Home Office’s  ‘most dangerous’ list. Meanwhile foreign travellers are also advised to proceed with caution when visiting other destinations including Algeria, Nigeria, Venezuela, as well as Saudi Arabia and Russia, currently two of the world’s leading oil producers.

While many people working within the UK oil and gas sector continue to make frequent trips to many of these destinations without incident, employers have a duty of care to ensure they consider the potential volatility of any nation before they request staff to travel there. Of course there’s no 100 per cent guaranteed means of preventing incidents in volatile or even relatively safe countries, but there are some simple guidelines employers can follow to help safeguard their people when they are sent abroad.

The first step is to carry out a thorough assessment of a country before sending colleagues there on business. The Foreign Office website is a good starting point as the threat level of different nations is regularly updated there. If a country is deemed as unsafe it’s important to evaluate the specific risks in the areas and sites that your people need to visit and consider if it’s possible to mitigate and control them. From there you will be able to make clearer safety-related decisions.

Maintaining contact with your colleagues when they travel, especially to potentially dangerous locations, is vital. Many oil and gas companies regularly use tracking methods as part of their processes. This could be done through basic means like SMS messaging or through more advanced systems which provide 24/7 monitoring. The level of risk should determine the complexity of the appropriate tracking technology required to enable regular contact with staff and, in the event of a security incident, provide them with a potentially valuable lifeline.

Putting in place effective contingency planning and procedures is also essential to ensure you are able to take fast, decisive action, protecting staff and preventing them from being stranded overseas in the event of a serious incident.

The degree of pre-emptive planning will differ for each company, based on its specific travel requirements, the local knowledge of its people on-site and the facilities it has available. Putting a robust policy in place is, however, an important means of demonstrating a moral commitment towards staff safety. Given the severe legal consequences for failing in that duty, it is also a common sense measure.

As North Sea companies become increasingly globalised in their focus, foreign travel will continue to be an essential aspect of business. In the vast majority of cases this occurs without incident, but the legal requirement for companies to take responsibility over workers’  safety means travel security must be given serious consideration.