Business travel is projected to grow an average 6.9% through 2016. Small- to midsized businesses are a growing part of the global business market. Through 2014, nearly 98% of all US identified exporters were small or midsized companies, a trend that has held steady since 2006. Building and maintaining that export business has created an increasing need to travel business staff overseas. Many large corporations have corporate medical offices or contract for services that provide travel assistance and preparation for business travelers. However, small and medium enterprises as well as self-employed travelers may not possess the resources to make comprehensive decisions regarding travel abroad.
Employers and workers traveling internationally for job duties should take steps pretravel, during travel, and post-travel to prevent injury or illness. Risks associated with the type of work or the travel destination, as well as ways to protect and achieve optimal personal health and safety, should be identified during each of these three phases of travel.
Using checklists, planning tools, and various information sources, employers and workers can help maximize the likelihood that work-related travel is completed safely. This section cannot give specific information on the workplace hazards in every industry or travel location. Instead, the information in this chapter guides employers and workers in recognizing and mitigating common hazards, and it generally applies to all who travel for work.
The pretravel period is the best time to identify risks and make plans to prevent occupational injury and illness. Planning needs vary depending on the type of work; for example, business meetings in a metropolitan office setting differ from site visits at a mine or work on a construction site in a remote location. The first step in pretravel planning is for employers and workers to confirm the need for international travel. Make a list of assessment topics tailored to a given travel assignment to guide this determination. These topics may include the following:
If travel is judged as necessary, the next step is to give workers the information they need to stay healthy and safe. Employers and workers together can assess risks related to the type of work and make a plan that adequately addresses risks. Useful steps include the following:
In addition to assessing specific risks related to the type of work, employers and workers should remember to plan for common risks associated with the travel destination (such as risks associated with driving, personal safety, or infectious diseases) or opportunities to maintain optimal personal health. Workers may want to discuss their travel plans with their personal physician before departure. This is especially true for those with chronic health conditions. A health care provider can evaluate workers and guide them on issues such as food and water safety, vaccinations, prevention of exposure to infectious diseases and environmental hazards, and the potential impact of travel demands on personal health. Other sections of the Yellow Book give extensive guidance on these issues.
Once an employee arrives in a country, reassess whether conditions have changed since plans were put into place during the pretravel phase. Pretravel plans should be reassessed periodically throughout travel and whenever conditions change substantially. Common issues arising before and during travel include the following:
Each of the 3 factors to consider in work-related travel—type of work, travel destination, and personal health—need to be reassessed. Issues related to the travel destination and personal health may apply to either leisure or work-related travel, but some specifics related to the job need to be considered that may present challenges not encountered by typical leisure travelers.
Travel-related safety and health concerns do not necessarily end after returning home. The following issues should be considered in the post-travel setting: transitioning back to work and life at home, reporting of incidents and exposures, getting necessary medical care, and capturing lessons learned to ensure future travel is safe for other workers. In addition, certain elements of the pretravel and travel periods, such as completing vaccination series or resuming care of a personal health condition, may also need to be addressed after travel.
Depending on the length and nature of travel, returning workers may need a transition period before resuming pretravel work activities. It is important that employers and workers discuss a plan for returning to regular duty that addresses the following employee needs:
Returning workers can contact their employer’s employee assistance program, if available, or they can consult with their health care provider, especially if the transition to home becomes difficult or adjustment challenges are prolonged.
Returning workers need to notify their employer of any work-related incidents that may have occurred during travel and take appropriate actions. Commonly occurring incidents that require reporting include the following:
Returning workers should immediately seek treatment for any lingering, worrisome, or new medical complaints, symptoms, or concerns that have arisen during travel or after. In addition to information related to travel history and destination that would normally be reported to health providers, workers should give information about specific job duties and hazards encountered in their work during international travel. Health providers should consider potential associations between new symptoms and both the work duties and the travel destination itself. Until proven otherwise, it is safest to assume new symptoms—especially fever or other signs of infection—are related to the travel.
Workers need to resume routine personal medical care upon return. This includes actively managing ongoing chronic conditions, illness or injury that may have occurred during travel, as well as check-ups, screenings, and medical or dental visits that may have been missed while on travel status.
Depending upon the nature of the work performed during travel, employers and returning workers should assess whether work-specific medical monitoring related to hazardous exposures is necessary. This may include medical examinations, surveillance questionnaires, laboratory work, or other medical monitoring. If needed, specific guidance on this issue can be obtained from a qualified occupational health specialist.
It is important that workers returning from work-related travel share what they learned on travel with employers and coworkers to help assure the health and safety of future travelers. Revisions of pretravel safety and health plans can be guided by considering these issues:
During work-related travel, personal health factors and leisure activities not related to work are important to consider, along with job hazards at worksites abroad. Pretravel planning should assess risks related to the type of work, as well as the travel destination and opportunities to achieve optimal personal health. Other chapters in the Yellow Book give important information related to travel destinations (such as food and water precautions, sun exposure, environmental hazards, and infectious diseases) and personal health factors (such as chronic illnesses). Job duties, work locations and conditions, equipment needs, and conditions unrelated to work may change while traveling. While on the travel assignment, be sure to periodically reassess changes and develop strategies to reduce risks. Returning workers should address issues of transitioning back to work life, reporting incidents and exposures, determining whether medical monitoring is necessary based on travel-related work exposures, and documenting lessons learned for the benefit of future travelers. Carefully consider the special circumstances associated with work-related travel during the pretravel, travel, and post-travel phases. This gives employers and workers the information needed to help travelers both complete their work and stay safe and healthy.
Margaret Kitt, Kristin Yeoman, Casey Chosewood, John Gibbins, Leslie Nickels, Donna Van Bogaert, John Piacentino