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Employers failing to protect travelling workers

Source | HRDaily 

Work-related overseas travel risks are easy to mitigate and even prevent, but many employers don’t take basic steps to do so, according to a doctor who warns of liability risks for illness and injury.

Travel health expert Dr Sarah Chu says about one million Australian employees travel overseas for business each year, and about 25 per cent of those who go to at-risk destinations (places where there’s a significant risk of contracting diseases not common in Australia) fall ill.

In addition to their health and safety duty of care, employers have a financial incentive to take precautions – illness can impair employee performance at a critical time, and could lead to costly treatment and compensation claims, she told HR Daily.

It’s therefore “quite concerning” that a 2015 survey of more than 1,000 employees, conducted by Sanofi Pasteur and Lonegan Research, found 36 per cent of employers don’t provide or suggest travel insurance, and nearly half of business travellers who attended at-risk destinations were not given vaccinations.

“There’s a saying: ‘if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel’,” says Chu. As for the vaccinations, failing to provide them could be considered negligent as “it’s a preventable risk”.

Start with prevention

Not all employers will have systems and processes in place for regular overseas travel, but they can ensure all employees travelling overseas consult a travel doctor before they leave, Chu says.

Vaccines are often relatively inexpensive, and some offer long-term or even lifelong protection. Some take two weeks or a month to work, so the sooner employees consult a doctor the better, but others work almost immediately, so even last-minute visits are worthwhile, she says.

The level of risk associated with an overseas trip will partly depend on the employee’s age and general health. Risks can also be job dependent, location dependent, and time-of-year dependent, so prevention isn’t just about taking pills, Chu adds.

Travel doctors can also give employees general advice, including how to avoid unsafe food and water; access prescription medicines overseas; change the doses of medications they’re on when crossing time-zones; avoid mosquito bites; and minimise the effects of jetlag.

If an employee’s travelling to a remote location, there might also be a “standby treatment” to consider, such as a medical kit that allows them to start “self-treating” if they fall ill.

The preventable illness most likely to hit business travellers, regardless of their destination, is the flu, Chu says.

It can hit within 24 hours, and usually lasts for one or two weeks. “Often that’s the duration of your trip – you can leave healthy, fall ill within a day or two, and be wiped out. And we’re not talking a head cold, we’re really talking proper influenza with high fevers – 38, 39 degrees – and aches and pains all over the body,” she says.

“The Australian Government recommends that everybody over the age of six months considers getting the influenza vaccine, and that’s irrespective of whether you travel or not.”

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