Foreign postings

first_imgRelated posts: Withmore and more multinational companies sending employees abroad to work,employers need to ensure staff are kept safe and healthy wherever they are.  By Monica Dobie, Alan Osborn & Mark RoweSendingemployees abroad or setting up overseas branches always takes some preparation,and an important part of this is taking care of workers’ health needs. Not onlymust local employment laws be followed, companies must ensure they can managethe health risks faced abroad. We look at how employers cope with sending staffto Europe, the US and south-east Asia.EuropeThereare two main reasons why multinational companies generally find that sendingworkers abroad to European countries poses significantly fewer health andsafety problems than sending them to other parts of the world. First, work inEurope involves little or no exposure to tropical or other diseases.Also,and maybe more importantly, in contrast to other parts of the world, mostEuropean countries now maintain relatively highly-developed systems for legallyenforcing health and safety in the workplace, together with comprehensivehealth protection schemes, be they private or state-run.Butdespite this, preparations are still needed. Paul Mitchell, head of humanresources at the British American Tobacco Company (BAT), outlines thearrangements the company makes for staff sent to or maintained in othercountries. The company is one of the UK’s largest multinationals with “tens ofthousands” of workers, including 3,400 managers, in a dozen or so Europeanmanufacturing plants.“Whenwe’re aware that someone’s going to be posted overseas, the occupational healthdepartment is alerted, prompting them to conduct a full medical for theindividual and his or her partner and children,” says Mitchell. “This is verycomprehensive, including blood tests, an ECG, tests for lungs and eyes and soon. There is also an annual medical which is either done in the UK or in thehost country, through an international clinic or a local hospital,” he says.“Wealso provide staff with reports on the country they’re going to, whichconsiders risk levels for specific diseases. For Hungary, say, there will be ajourney profile, which will list main diseases, such as tetanus, hepatitis,rabies, dysentery etc, and provide advice on the risk level and any precautionsthat might be necessary,” says Mitchell. “Of course, Hungary, as a centralEuropean country, would be low risk, but something such as rabies is present,and people would need to be aware of that and given appropriate advice.”BATalso provides its workers with contact details of the British embassy in thehost country and advises them to register as a family unit with the localinternational clinic.BATmakes sure the company’s plants and factories abroad all fully respect thelocal health and safety at work regulations. Mitchell adds that when thecompany acquires a new operation, “our medical advisers would normally look atthe manufacturing facilities and make sure they were in line with our globalstandards so the plant would meet local employment health and safety (EHS)rules, as well as complying with BAT’s global EHS standards”.Thereis also additional security for expatriate BAT employees in other Europeancountries. Under a scheme run with the insurance company Allianz, employees areguaranteed provision of any medical cover that may be beyond the local clinicor hospital, including transportation to more advanced centres. “We’ve hadthree medical evacuations in Izbekistan, and Allianz has covered the costs,making sure that air ambulances got in as quickly as possible and taking peopleto where they could get Western-style medical attention,” says Mitchell.South-eastAsiaAccordingto the British Occupational Health Research Foundation, there is no singlepoint of information that any company looking to set up in south-east Asia canturn to for OH advice. In Singapore, for instance, OH is run under the auspicesof the Occupational Health Department of Industrial Health, which answers tothe Ministry of Manpower. It has the remit to control health hazards atworkplaces and reduce the incidence of occupational diseases through assessingand monitoring the work environment; conduct medical investigations andsurveillance; organise promotional activities; and provide advisory services. Theresult is an infrastructure as strict as anything in the UK. The Ministry ofManpower is currently widening the scope of the key legislation in this field –the Factories Act – which covers issues such as sanitation, ventilation and firstaid, as well as the appointment of safety officers, to cover non-industrialworkplaces. In the first phase, the healthcare sector, hotels, restaurants andcatering establishments, and research and development laboratories will beincluded. Forwhite-collar workers, companies face similar responsibilities to those in theUK – for example, ensuring that the level of chemicals in the air do not exceedpermissible exposure levels and lower environmental noise levels are kept low.However, the health risks are heightened for expats who work with machinery andoutside the major cities in the region. In particular, while many companieshave offices in Singapore, staff often go into the field in neighbouringcountries, such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam, where health and safetyrules are – if they exist at all – frequently ignored.MostUK companies sending staff to the region offer free medical insurance and stafftheir OH departments with locals, or an occupational in-house doctor. They alsoimplement local OH laws. Unilever, for example, delegates all OHresponsibilities to the local factories and units in the country concerned. Italso has a general policy for all overseas operations, though it says this is“not in the public domain”.OneOH practitioner, who has recently returned from south-east Asia, said that inspite of Singapore’s ‘squeaky-clean’ image, the region did present challenges.“Malaria is an issue in some areas, and the region has a denial culture whereHIV/Aids is concerned,” she said.“Malaysia,for example, has a very good reputation on occupational health, but when youget outside Kuala Lumpur, there are issues for workers. Many local people willkeep pigs, which attract mosquitoes that can transmit Japanese encephalitis.Often the best thing to do is to consult the Lonely Planet guide, asbackpackers also go off the beaten track.”BTuses its in-house OH service in London to give advice on immunisation,medicines and places to avoid. The staff that do travel tend to be managers,and they are given free medical insurance and emergency repatriation ifnecessary. Aside from that, staff will liaise with local offices on the groundfor OH support.Likemost other companies, BT does not have a list of local laws to be aware of, asstaff are advised to gather this information from the regional OH in Singaporeor Hong Kong. However, if a crisis develops, such as SARS, then headquarters inLondon takes over.“Duringthe SARS outbreak, we did stop people travelling to the region and we stoppedour staff out there from travelling around,” says BT spokesperson, RogerWestbury.HSBC,however, took a different approach. “We didn’t deviate from the advice given bythe World Health Organisation,” says Gail Scott, from HSBC’s OH department. “Wedidn’t embargo travel but we told people to be sensible. People were fine aboutit.”TheUnited StatesAsbefits a land that is – as George Bernard Shaw famously said – divided fromBritain by a common language, the United States presents special challenges aswell as a certain familiarity for the travelling employee.UrsulaFerriday, senior medical adviser for Unilever, told Occupational Health thather company’s employees are thoroughly briefed with regards to any health andsafety precautions that should be taken while in the US. For instance, whensending its employees to the US, the Anglo-Dutch multinational provides themwith a comprehensive portfolio on living alongside Americans, among which arethe key OH problems that need to be considered. Some of this information isbasic administration, such as acquiring social security numbers. However,guidelines on health and safety rules and regulations in the US are alsoincluded, as well as specific advice on driving safety, how to safeguardagainst violence, such as muggings, and basic health advice, such as preventingsun exposure.Priorto leaving the UK, Unilever employees must undergo an overseas medical, whichentails a blood test, blood grouping, eye test, a weigh-in and blood pressurechecks, as well as an appointment with the in-house doctor for a physicalexamination.Unileverstaff in the US are insured with Bupa International policies, coveringlong-term chronic illness, and are also provided with cover from InternationalSOS for urgent acute health treatment.In-housecompany doctors are also made available to staff to advise them on anyspecialised medical assistance they may need, and can also help with smallerproblems, including health and safety issues.Ferridaysays this triple coverage and assistance is essential for their employees: “Ithink it helps with consistency in approach, in that Unilever has a globalnetwork of doctors.” She adds that these doctors were able to help thecompany’s component parts implement ‘global health standards’ written byUnilever for all branches and subsidiaries, with the aim of providing aharmonised OH policy. These include a demand that there is a named companydoctor and a named OH department available. This ‘framework standard foroccupational health’ also insists that Unilever’s businesses design OH policiesbased on ‘local risk assessments’, which in the US, for instance, includes theneed to protect staff from violent crime.Indeed,if problems of this type develop locally, security officials working within thecompany in the US are supposed to relay pertinent information to local OHdepartments, who can alert Unilever employees about any risks.Ferridayadds that Unilever designated local representatives to advise staff on localsafety issues generally, with transferred employees being given named Unilevercontacts in their portfolios to deal with a range of personal issues.Withregards to specific medical issues and their relation to the company’soccupational health policies, Ferriday says: “These doctors are all aware ofthe policies and can then initiate appropriate processes and systems to ensurethat those standards are complied with.”Ferridaysays that if an employee does become ill while in the US, its health servicesare generally of such a high standard that staff are usually treated locally,even for long-term illnesses. She could think of only one instance whereUnilever repatriated an employee from the US to the UK, and that was forpersonal reasons.Ofcourse, with Unilever employing 21,000 employees in North America, the bulk ofits staff in the US are actually American citizens. Ferriday says that thecompany also makes sure that these workers are supplied with adequate healthinsurance coverage, in a country where free-delivery public healthcare is notalways available.http://www.bupa-intl.comwww.internationalsos.com Previous Article Next Article Features list 2021 – submitting content to Personnel TodayOn this page you will find details of how to submit content to Personnel Today. We do not publish a…center_img Comments are closed. Foreign postingsOn 1 May 2004 in Coronavirus, Personnel Todaylast_img read more