Safety of overseas workers "needs careful consideration"

    10 Sep 2008

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    The health and safety of people working on placements and field trips overseas should be given careful consideration, according to one of the leading authorities behind the development of a new British Standard covering this area. 

    Speaking at a Universities Safety and Health Association (USHA) conference in Cambridge, Shane Winser of the Royal Geographical Society highlighted the problems that are associated with conducting a risk assessment for any form of venture exercise where it is difficult to foresee the hazards that are likely to be encountered ‘on the ground’.  

    The problems are exacerbated in the university sector where students may be considering activities such as filming in Kabul, or carrying out research in Darfur – but the health and safety issues when risk assessing off site programmes applies as much to schools organising French exchange trips as it does employers organising personal development training in Brussels. 

    Mrs Winser is one of the people behind the development of a new British Standard governing the health and safety of overseas projects: BS 8848: 2007, Specification for the provision of visits, fieldwork, expeditions, and adventurous activities, outside the United Kingdom. 

    The British Standard is essentially an action plan which sets out a number of recommended steps which should be taken by the organiser to plan for the safe running of any programme. It does not have legal force, but the specification can be – and indeed is being – used as evidence to support a prosecution or defence in the event of an accident occurring.  

    Highlighting the types of problems faced by organisers, Mrs Winser referred to an accident where a student fell from a horse and suffered a suspected fracture. In this case, it was important for the UK-based organiser to have known under what circumstances the accident took place. Was horse-riding part of the project, such as in order to travel from one centre to another on rough ground? Was the student riding in her own free time, but while being supervised by the organiser’s local site representative (“private time”)? Or had the student simply gone off on her own and made the arrangements herself (“down time”)?  

    Each of these scenarios has a different impact on who has responsibility for planning and implementing a safe work programme – and where liability may lie in the event of an accident.  

    BS 8848: 2007 has been widely consulted upon and may be revised soon. While it is aimed predominately at the education sector, its adoption of a standard methodology – the organiser of a project is the ‘venture provider’ – and its application to common elements of risk such as interaction with third party providers and projects involving lone working, make it a useful framework for all employers.  

    A summary of the document is available in pdf format from the Royal Geographical Society 

    The document itself can be purchased from BSI at a cost of £40 for members and £80 for non-members.  


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