Many of my Safety Perspectives blog posts focus on the hazards faced by individuals who work jobs with inherently high levels of danger, such as construction and plant workers. However, as the global economy continues to grow, American companies are doing business all over the world more so than ever, and consequently, are sending employees to various countries to work on and manage their projects.
These expatriates (commonly referred to as expats) are those who temporarily or permanently reside, as an immigrant, in a country other than that of their citizenship, many of whom perform what we traditionally consider white collar jobs. Working overseas can present unique concerns for workplace safety, as these employees are placed in new cultures with laws and safety regulations that may differ significantly from those in the U.S., as well as a variety of other things to consider, depending on the country.
An organizational safety program in the states typically involves safety and training needs analyses for the job site itself, with a focus on meeting (and hopefully surpassing) the minimal standards required by state and federal safety agencies (e.g., OSHA). One common concern with expat safety is the potential that safety standards in the host country may be less rigorous than what they are used to at home, in addition to training expats to minimize risks in all aspects of life abroad.
The former is less of a concern for expats working in highly developed countries such as England or Australia, as their safety regulations are generally similar to those in the states. However, many third world countries where some companies outsource manufacturing plants, build oil derricks, etc., often lack the resources to maintain a strong safety culture and safety management systems. And as we know, employee safety and the value of human life are sadly not much of a concern in some regions.
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about this issue, beyond the steps that the company itself is willing to take to minimize risk, so before traveling overseas for work, we recommend that individuals seek out all available information on regulations, working conditions, and safety records for the industry and country in question.
Remaining safe in one’s daily life is a unique safety issue for expats. I remember as a child when my father, a petroleum engineer, would tell me stories of traveling to west Africa to build oil rigs and being escorted by a team of military personnel armed with assault rifles in armored cars anytime he had to go somewhere.
As frightening as that sounds, it is not a terribly uncommon practice for some expats. We must remember that not all neighborhoods, cities, even entire countries are safe to be in or travel through alone, particularly for Americans. Therefore, it is critical that employers teach their expats to reduce the potential for being robbed, kidnapped, assaulted, or extorted by locals, including:
Safety at home (expats are often provided housing by their companies)
- Keep doors locked at all times, using double or triple locks
- Enable security systems
- Don’t open the door for any strangers
- Keep outdoor lighting on at night
- Fences, barred windows
- Get to know neighbors
- Don’t assume that a gated company compound is always safe from outsiders
Safety while traveling to the host country
- Have a company contact or security meet the expat at the airport
- Escorts to ground transportation
Safety while traveling within the host country
- Learn what areas are dangerous and should be avoided
- Plan safe routes to and from the job site at safe times of the day
- Use well-lit and well-traveled roads, carpool
- Driving techniques to avoid getting boxed in by traffic as much as possible
- Don’t help apparent broken down cars, which could be a trap (call for help instead)
- Notice occupied parked vehicles
- Learn quick routes to safe areas if being chased, and NEVER STOP
- Vehicle security enhancements such as armored doors and glass
Safety outside of the job site
- Park in secure and well-lit areas
- Hide valuables from sight
Safety while walking/avoiding an assault
- Stay at least 20 feet from anyone suspicious looking when possible
- Stay in high traffic public areas
- Hide identification cards and other professional identifiers
- Hide money and valuables in front pockets, shoes, etc.
- Never count money in public, nor use ATMs at night
- Learn to notice if you are being followed by the behaviors of those near you
Expat safety training programs will delve into these topics much deeper to help any confusion, but we are happy to open a dialogue with anyone who has questions about any of these tips, or would like to add others to the list based on their experiences. Some of these tips may be more obvious than others, but they are all important strategies for remaining vigilant in one’s personal safety and security when not at the job site.
Although some will be more salient than others, depending on where an expat is located, even in the most developed countries robberies, assaults, and similar crimes occur, so they can generally be applied anywhere. This is unfamiliar territory for most, so being aware of one’s surroundings and exhibiting caution at all times will minimize the potential for an incident to occur. It can be easy for an expat to get caught up in the enjoyment of seeing new parts of the world, but we must remember that their reason for being there is work, and safety at all times must be a top priority.