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11 health and safety tips to adopt while travelling for business

Whether you’re a globally mobile business owner or an executive on an international business trip, travelling can be hazardous. But you can employ our tips to reduce the chance of injury and illness.

Modern travel is the safest it’s ever been. Falling since the 1970s, plane crash figures almost halved between 2005 and 2014 and only six people were killed in rail accidents in the U.S. in 2013. 2017 was also the safest year on record for commercial air travel.

While governments, airlines and other safety-focused organisations have improved the safety of vehicles, routes and logistics, passengers can still fall foul to accidents, crime and poor health decisions. While figures for the number of accidents and injuries to those travelling for businesses are not easy to come by, a 1995 UK report suggested that the proportion injured while travelling had doubled to 5% in four years.

The numbers of those travelling for business is increasing and predicted to continue to rise until 2020. As businesses look to reduce the costs, semi-permanent international assignments are becoming a last resort, with frequent travel replacing relocation. Despite this, businesses are not equipping their frequent fliers with the knowledge or support to avoid common mishaps that can lead to injury or poor health.

Familiarity is important as two studies that found tourists were likely to suffer more severe injuries than local residents were.

This article provides a checklist of situations that can be hazardous to globally mobile individuals while travelling and those flying abroad for business, and tips on how to avoid them or mitigate their impact.

Man in gray pantsuit wheeling her suitcase through an airport Man in gray pantsuit wheeling her suitcase through an airport


1.       At the airport

A third of British travellers hurt themselves at an airport, half blaming their luggage (2014). These accidents resulted in back pain, bruises, and broken toes so keep an eye on your and others’ luggage. Another key cause was rushing, so plan your time well and take care on escalators.

Passengers boarding an airplane Passengers boarding an airplane


2.       On the plane

Luggage falling on people is a common cause of injury on planes (2017), so take care when loading and unloading luggage from the overhead bins. 

Traffic jam in downtown Delhi, India Traffic jam in downtown Delhi, India


3.       Traffic

Road traffic accidents are the biggest killer of American citizens (2016) in foreign climes from pedestrians to car crashes. Pedestrians should take particular care in African countries, Iran and Bolivia where fatalities are highest. Note which side of the road traffic drives on when crossing the road, always wear a helmet on motorcycles and avoid driving in cars in developing countries at night.

Man sleeping on his bag in an airport while awaiting his flight Man sleeping on his bag in an airport while awaiting his flight


4.       Sleep

Getting good quality sleep on a flight is very hard, and many flight times interfere with sleep patterns so it’s important to know the impact of reduced sleep and how to mitigate accidents. The fact that one in six of the serious injuries (2016) that result from car accidents can be associated with driver sleepiness, just shows how much our senses, reflexes and/or judgement can be impaired by lack of sleep, which can also affect vision. If you’re tired before or after your flight, take things a little slower to make time to concentrate on the new and potentially alien things around you; from escalators to doors and traffic.

Get into the sun so you get your time clock organized as quickly as possible. Eat at the time locals do and get on their schedule. Using sleep aids or taking naps when you land might make you feel better in the short term but could delay you from adjusting to the local time, which is better for healthy travel. Click here to see our sleep tips infographic.

Mosquito sitting atop human skin Mosquito sitting atop human skin


5.       Wildlife

Most business travel is city to city and back again, but there will be rural businesses and even hospitality that takes us beyond city limits. It’s not hard to find sensationalist news items about people killed by alligators or sharks, but these encounters are the exception to the rule. While fewer than 100 people are killed by lions each year, snakes kill 50,000 every year. The biggest killer from the animal kingdom is mosquitoes, responsible for 725,000 deaths and for incapacitating 200 million through malaria alone. If you are in a malaria, zika or other area prone to mosquito-borne disease, seek medical advice on jabs. When you’re there cover up, use strong deet and consider taking a mosquito net if you are staying in the countryside.

Panoramic view of beach in Acapulco, Mexico Panoramic view of beach in Acapulco, Mexico


6.       Violence

Homicide is the second biggest killer of U.S. travellers (2016). And rates of death are three times higher in low-to middle-income countries than in higher-income countries. This is often because Western travellers are seen as both wealthy and naïve, making them more likely to be the victim of an attack. Travellers should limit night-time and lone travel, avoid ground floor accommodation. You may consider not wearing expensive jewelry and familiarise yourself with areas to avoid completely. 2015’s top five cities for homicide in 2015 were Caracas, Venezuela; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; San Salvador, El Salvador; Acapulco, Mexico and Maturí, Venezula.

Crowd standing in a smoky field during a protest with a police van in then background. Crowd standing in a smoky field during a protest with a police van in then background.


7.       Civil unrest

Civil unrest can be hazardous to tourists when either targeted or caught up in domestic issues. Always check the latest travel advice on the country you’re going to and, in particular, the specific threats with the town or city as it may vary from place to place.

People watching seafood being grilled at Japan's Tsukiji Fish Market People watching seafood being grilled at Japan's Tsukiji Fish Market


8.       Illness

Traveller’s diarrhoea is the most common travel sickness, experienced by up to 50% of international travellers, especially those visiting developing nations in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. Avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish, and vegetables. Choose branded bottled water and check that it is still sealed when you get it. It is worth investing in hand-sanitizer and using regularly — even handshakes can carry viruses. The International Association For Medical Assistance for Travellers say: “The golden rule to prevent gastro-intestinal infections is: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!”

Sunburned Caucasian man on a beach Sunburned Caucasian man on a beach


9.       Sunburn

If you’re travelling for business, the chances are you won’t be spending much time outdoors. But with corporate hospitality often including trips and outdoor dining, it is essential to have a high-factor sun screen with you in case.

Business woman tied with rope in an abandoned house as part of a hostage-concept photo Business woman tied with rope in an abandoned house as part of a hostage-concept photo


10.       Kidnap

Aetna International partner, red24 are a specialist crisis management assistance company providing global risk management to employees and companies. Their 2017 report cites the following countries as high-risk for kidnapping: Mexico, Haiti, Brazil, The Philippines, Colombia, Venezuela, North West African countries in the Sahel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The single easiest way to avoid kidnap is  to check the UK’s Foreign Office travel advice page for up-to-date information on where is and is not safe to travel. But if you do have to travel to a high-risk nation, consider using crisis management experts such as red24

Stressed-out businessman with his hands clasped at a bar Stressed-out businessman with his hands clasped at a bar


11.       Alcohol

Alcohol can lead to so many types of harm — and so often does. Excessive alcohol intake can not only make you ill, but it disinhibits people while also reducing coordination. Most of us know our limits and can manage our intake when in familiar setting: we know our brand, we know how many glasses, we have food, we know what time to quit. But in an unfamiliar setting we can often find ourselves with nothing in our stomachs but drink that’s stronger than we’re used to while distracted by clients, colleagues and new surroundings. 27% of workers admitted binge drinking while away on business (2015).

Hotter temperatures can exacerbate things with faster dehydration and slower recovery from ‘hangover’. Flying can also impact the effects of alcohol due to air pressure and dry air. Many insurers won’t cover medical costs if injuries were caused by excessive alcohol.

Tip: Make sure you eat. Have a safe target of units (or ‘drinks’) per hour, in mind and keep a keen eye on where you are, bearing in mind that the body can process one unit of alcohol per hour. Interchange alcoholic drinks with big soft drinks. You may even decide to not drink on your trip. Because alcohol can inhibit a good night’s sleep, you may decide to stay fresh for your meeting.

Pre-trip planning

Many of these tips involve a bit of planning. Making sure you have the right information, equipment or mindset.

Here at Aetna International, we have a team of highly skilled medical experts who can help guide corporate employees through some of the crucial steps to take during international assignments. These help to ensure they are kept in the best possible health before, during and after travel.

Why not call us to discuss your short-term assignees’ needs? Our sales consultants will be happy to talk through our flexible portfolio of plans and optional benefits, as well as the secure tools and resources available for your employees.

For further reading:

Why do assignments fail and how to avoid it?

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