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Travelling employees: Where your health and safety obligation begins and ends

by , 20 April 2015
According to the labour law, employees who travel for work are considered to be 'on duty' 24 hours a day. And that means they're on duty the moment they travel to the airport, station or port.

If however, your employee has to be at the office and then leave for the airport, bus station or port from there, the employee is considered to be on duty the moment he enters the office, up until he returns home after travel (Chapter IV of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases (COID) Act).

But what happens if he has an accident or gets ill during this time?

Let's look at what your legal health and safety obligations are for these employees.

Here are your eight legal health and safety duties for employees that travel for work

Note that there are many laws that apply to employees who are recruited in South Africa and sent to work outside the country. The following laws apply to these employees:

1. It's your responsibility to ensure a safe working environment where ever your employee works
(Section 8 of the OHSA).

This includes:

•  Doing your research about the destination your employee will be travelling to and identifying safety hazards; 
•  Ensuring your employee is provided with any required vaccinations and medication to prevent the development of infectious diseases;
•  Advising your employee about the place he'll be travelling to and providing first aid training to comply with the OHSA; and
•  Ensuring the place of lodging is safe from any insects that carry infectious diseases (such as malaria).

Important! If your employee is travelling to a place prone to malaria, ensure the place he'll be staying at and the working area has window and door screens, as well as air-conditioning for ventilation to keep cool. Moreover, provide your employee with mosquito repellent sprays to protect himself.

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2. You have to provide your employee with any information about risks they may face at the place where they'll be carrying out work. 
I.e.: In case your employees will be working at high altitudes, you must inform them of any health related risks, such as fatigue, dehydration, musculoskeletal pain and injuries, upper respiratory tract infections, hypothermia and frostbite.

3. You have to take the necessary steps to prevent, minimise and reduce the risk these hazards may pose to your employee. From your part, this means providing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. immunisation and anti- malaria treatment). 
By doing the things listed above, you'll reduce or eliminate the risk of the hazards you identified in your research.

4. Inform and educate your employees about the hazards or danger they could face while away on business.

5. Inform your employee of any precautions he must take with regard to any safety or security issues.

6. You must ensure your employees are fit for work.

7. Your employee must be registered with the Compensation Commissioner so that he's covered whilst traveling abroad, should any injuries or diseases occur (Chapter IX of Compensation for Occupational Diseases and injuries Act).

8. You must ensure you comply with any International Health Regulations for the destination country. Most countries have their own health regulations and your employee needs to comply with them. Information about their laws can be found on the internet. You can use a search engine like Google to find the required information.

For example, if you're looking for specific legislation on New Zealand, type in 'Labour laws for New Zealand' in the search engine. You'll be directed to the necessary website, and in some cases, to the government's website that has all the legislation. But: If your employee travels to developing countries, and there are no local or other relevant Occupational Health and Safety legislation,  you and your employee must comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act of South Africa.  

Keep in mind that if your employee travels to a country where there are existing occupational health and safety legislation, the stricter legislation applies.

For example, South Africa doesn't permit HIV testing for work purposes, but other countries insist on HIV testing before the employee enters the country. To comply with this requirement your employee must have an HIV result available.  

Use this tip: The applicable Occupational Health and Safety legislation for each country can be found on-line or at the destination country's embassy.

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