Employee Education: The Key to Keeping Them Safe Abroad

Employee Education: The Key to Keeping Them Safe Abroad

This article was updated on July 18, 2018.

Employee education to mitigate risk can save lives.

Not long ago, a senior marketing manager for Merck, the New Jersey-based global health care organization, emerged from a long flight from Miami to Caracas. He was tired, but not so tired that he didn't notice an airport anomaly: in addition to the expected inspections of boarding passengers, government agents were also conducting spot inspections elsewhere in the airport.

So it was with relief that, as previously planned, the manager was met by a transport service contracted by Merck to safely transfer him to the previously vetted hotel.

When the limo abruptly swerved onto a less traveled, lightly maintained road, the driver apologized. I don't go the same route twice in a row, he explained to his passenger.

Defensive Firepower: Advance Knowledge

Was the Merck employee anxious during this cloak-and-dagger visit to Venezuela's capital? Not as anxious as might be expected with other employers.

Merck began protecting their employees against risks before they even boarded the plane. Advance itineraries given to traveling employees were paired with other resources to identify in-country resources, such as nearby hospitals, emergency contacts and local political sensitivities that could impact safety. Venezuela was at the time a high-risk area for the kidnapping of U.S. employees.

Sending people into these potentially dissimilar settings can be confusing to employees and can lead to poorly trained employees unwittingly engaging in behaviors that put them at greater risk, such as identifying themselves to kidnappers as U.S. employees of a high-profile global business.

Here are three approaches taken by very different global enterprises to mitigate risk to employees:

1. Zero Harm Culture

At Siemens, which identifies employees as "our greatest asset," the organization operates what it calls the Zero Harm Culture, launched in 2012. Siemens partnered with Active Training Team (ATT), a training specialty firm, with clients such as Morgan Stanley and Barclays, to access their immersive and drama-based learning and films, and to encourage employees to learn through doing.

2. Global Online Learning

In its Code of Business Conduct, AT&T tells its employees that "We adjust our practices to comply with the laws and requirements of our diverse markets. Thus, where local country laws are more stringent or differ from the provisions of this Code, those local laws prevail for employees working in those countries."

How are employees to learn which of those local laws and regulations are important for health and safety? At Underwriter Laboratories, the solution is to go with online learning. According to the organization's Teri Hale, who works in UL's Professional Learning Services, "Online safety training can ensure that workers receive consistent, high quality instruction in about half the time it typically takes to deliver it through the classroom. It encourages employee engagement and retention, and establishes the foundation for a strong safety culture."

3. 24/7 Virtual Response Operations Center

Cummins, the Indiana-based global engine manufacturer, decided that some of the changes needed must be made stateside. Partly using the Travel Risk Management Maturity Model developed by the National Business Travel Association as a guide, Cummins assessed its global travel health and safety program. Cummins partnered with contractors iJET and American Express to improve its monitoring of global events and contingency planning "through the Cummins lens," which included local and remote employee training.

Benefit From Benchmarking

Despite proactive measures, Merck does not rely solely upon internal measures of employee health and safety metrics. Using the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's record-keeping criteria, Merck checks its own performance, using measures such as injury rates sector by sector, against other manufacturers or sales and marketing groups.

Mitigating employee risks in global operations is about knowledge and forward thinking. Through education and comprehensive organizational policies, your employees will be protected and know how to protect themselves.