With Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 48% of global terrorism deaths, and a pandemic leaving no country untouched, what does effective management of Duty of Care look like? Chris Bees, Country Manager for Hart Nationwide, Somalia, sheds some light.
Duty of care is a broad term, what does it mean in the context of your work?
It’s a combination of policies, procedures and practices to keep staff and clients safe, but it’s also more than that: it covers staff wellbeing too. It’s a legal obligation for all companies to have Duty of Care of their staff.
Do you think interest in the delivery of Duty of Care has intensified over the last year from a global perspective? And has it also intensified in the context of Somalia?
Covid-19 has pushed duty of care even further into the spotlight; now there is much more focus on mental health of staff. In Somalia, staff well-being has always been a consideration because of the nature working in high-risk environments with intensified pressure. This has been even more so since the pandemic where many internationals working in Mogadishu, for example, went into lockdown. Some of the staff and guests at Chelsea Village, the Chelsea Group’s accommodation village in the AAIA, were unable to leave the country for six months or more when the pandemic first hit. I was stuck in Kandahar for 7 months.
From your experienced position, what does effective Duty of Care look like when working in environments like Somalia?
I break it down into the following:
- Understanding the risk
- Policies and Procedures in place to mitigate risk
- Good communication delivered at all levels
- Regular training and exercises
Where does the responsibility of the client end and Hart’s begin?
I don’t think it is as simple as that; the client will always maintain overall responsibility of their staff. Hart is there to ensure that Duty of Care is maintained and there is always clear communication between Hart and clients to ensure this happens.
What is the individual’s responsibility?
Before heading in country, as soon as you leave your home you should be conscious of your own personal security: travelling to the airport, at the airport, on arrival at your location airport. Arriving at customs in a place like Somalia can be challenging if you don’t know the information. As a security provider we give you an arrival pack, do’s and don’t’s, numbers to call. Duty of Care starts in the planning of a visit not in the arrival. And with COVID-19 the admin requirements are unique to each country – if you’re not correctly informed it can be stressful.
What must people do to minimise their risk while operating in Somalia?
My advice is always to seek information and if in doubt ask. There is no such thing as a stupid question, just a stupid answer. Communication is essential. I’d also say make sure you are aware of procedures, before during and after your time in Somalia, even if you are a frequent visitor – think of it like a pre-flight safety demonstration.
What does successful Duty of Care look like to you?
When I was providing risk management and security support to a humanitarian organisation in South Sudan, a local national cleaner was shot in the leg. We advised them to move her to the main hospital in the country to get care instead of the local treatment. She was put on a charter flight and taken back to Juba for treatment, and then kept an eye on in recovery. For me, that is true duty of care to your staff. Going above and beyond, regardless of the nationality and position; it’s what each staff member deserves.
Are there any well known incidents that have placed more of an emphasis for employers to focus on Duty of Care?
In 2012, there was a case of an employee of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Steven Dennis, who was kidnapped within days of arriving in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in Kenya, along with three other staff members. He was taken for four days before he was released – and he went on to sue his employers for not providing the necessary duty of care, in particular the necessary security training and the security oversight. And he won GBP 350,000. Since then, there has been an increased attention to security for humanitarians and NGOs in general.
There’s an awareness now that it’s not something that can be scrimped on and how important the delivery of HEAT training is, as well as pre-deployment training and situational awareness. Ultimately, it’s an individual’s responsibility to look after their own personal security but employer’s need to empower people to be able to make the right decisions for themselves.
How has Duty of Care evolved during your career?
From the security side of things lots has progressed in the last 15 years with a deeper understanding of post–traumatic stress. There are a lot of options for post-incident counselling such as TRIM. That now plays a massive part of Duty of Care. Over the last two years, with the pandemic resulting in long-term lockdowns, and people being confined in their accommodation camps in Mogadishu for example, the wellbeing of staff had to come to the forefront. And there is power in the small things: team work, doing things outside of the work environment – quizzes or get togethers – anything to not let the isolation get to you.
One thing you want people to take away about Duty of Care?
Employers talk about the investment in their people, and part of that investment in people has to be duty of care. Of course you can’t 100% prevent an incident from occurring, but you can manage that risk and prepare for it. If you get it wrong, the cost is high in more ways than one.
For further reading check out the Aid Worker Security Report 2021 by the Aid Worker Security Database.