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  • Simon Toseland
  • 31 May 2012
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Safety doesn’t stop at Passport Control

I have been asked many times – What do we need to do to comply with health and safety legislation when employees are working in offices outside the UK? My response would always be: Why should an employee be provided with a lesser standard of health and safety when they are working for the same company but in a different country? After all, the UK system may seem a little rigorous at times, but we have the best health and safety record in Europe as a result. 

In fact, this view is supported by the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Standard 18001. This is not a legal requirement but an international standard that asks you to demonstrate best practice consistently over your business portfolio, whether it be nationally or abroad. OHSAS 18001 stipulates that you develop a risk register, which is basically a risk-based assessment of your company’s business and working practices. It will help identify what it is that could potentially put your employees (or others) at risk from major injury or indeed death. It then enables you to plan a strategy to ensure that you are controlling these risks. 

After all, we don’t have unlimited time and resources for health and safety, so it is important that we have Corporate objectives as to what we want to achieve over a given period (normally 12 months). Often, organisations spend an awful lot of resources on, say, managing Display Screen Equipment (DSE) but allow dangerous practices, such as staff undertaking uncontrolled maintenance activities, to carry on unmanaged or monitored. Where does the real risk lie? Has a company ever been prosecuted under Criminal law for not having DSE assessments? Although it is of course important to ensure the health and wellbeing of your staff, focusing all your energy and resources on the perhaps more visible, but ultimately, less dangerous, aspects of your business, could prove costly. 

We also need to think about compliance with country-specific legislation, and having spent an awful lot of time researching this I have found such information very difficult to find. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is a helpful body for information but a lack of consistent and reliable information all in one place is a problem. 

Understanding cultural factors when working abroad is often overlooked. Knowing which areas to avoid, local working times, inoculations and availability of drinking water etc. in each country is perhaps more important than getting to grips with the legalities. After all, it should also be remembered that many countries do not have such proactive enforcement bodies as the UK (Fire Authority, HSE, Environmental Health Officers etc) and so therefore employees rely on their own organisation to set precedence. 

The accredited NEBOSH International Certificate, aimed to be delivered anywhere in the world, focuses on instilling best practice regardless of where you are working, and should be considered as the first port of call for those managing employees abroad. Tackling the risks, both large and small, it gives a good grounding in the issues, and paves the way towards 18001.

Click here to find out more about our NEBOSH International Certificate course and click here to find out more about our OHSAS 18001 support services.