2016 — The Year the Needle Moves on Duty of Care


2016 — The Year the Needle Moves on Duty of Care

By Marie McNamee

Director, Program & Member Services Humentum

In the spirit of making resolutions, hopefully one that your organization has made this new year is to place safety, security, and staff care (known as Duty of Care) as a priority goal. While organizations care deeply about staff care and security, the evidence shows that for numerous organizations their sensitivity has not translated into tangible actions.

To be clear, Duty of Care is the obligation of an organization to take practical steps to safeguard its employees against any reasonably foreseeable dangers in the workplace. So why am I recommending this as a critical 2016 goal? Well, for the last two years we've seen major crises dominating much of the humanitarian space: from the Ebola epidemic to the Nepal earthquake to the current global refugee crisis. Events such as these, and the increasing frequency of large-scale crises, require a large number of NGO workers to provide assistance, resulting in greater risk and exposure for staff and volunteers and thus a greater need for organizations to ensure they are addressing their Duty of Care responsibilities.

If recent emergencies and disasters were not enough, the development community received a wake-up call in November when an NGO was found guilty of negligence in its handling of an employee kidnapping. Why is this an important case? Many organizations have lulled themselves into a false sense of complacency because of the lack of evidence that organizations are being found culpable for failing at their Duty of Care responsibilities.

In the recent Humentum co-sponsored webinar, The World of Aid is Changing: Understanding Unique Challenges and Duty of Care Best Practices for NGOs, Lisbeth Claus, a recognized expert in Duty of Care, noted that she has been called to testify in a number of cases. She reported that the majority of NGOs settle out of court. In the November case I mentioned above, the European court found that it "cannot see that there is a basis for applying a more lenient standard of due care for employers within the aid sector than that for other employers." Thus, this recent judgement is a red flag to senior management teams that they must seriously assess their organization's strengths and vulnerabilities.

How do you begin to address your Duty of Care obligations and keep that New Year's resolution?

  • Ensure that you have completed and understand your organizational security risk assessment
  • Define and communicate clear management roles and responsibilities
  • Develop appropriate policies, standards, and procedures and communicate them regularly to all
  • Have a core team in place to respond to all emergencies as an "incident management team"
  • Train staff as appropriate and document all training activities
  • Assess travel risks regularly and manage staff travel tracking

There are many formal and informal resources and networks to reach out to such as: US Overseas Security and Advisory Council (OSAC) and the International Development Working Group (a sub-group within OSAC); the International NGO Safety and Security Association (INSSA); the European Inter Agency Security Forum (EISF); your own emergency insurance providers (for example, ISOS, MedEx); and Disaster Ready (a free learning portal). You can also read the recent report, The World of Aid is Changing: Understanding Unique Challenges and Duty of Care Best Practices for NGOs. Humentum's Member Community has a number of resources posted as well as recommendations for external support and guidance.

While more resources and focus have been placed on organizational safety and security, as a sector, less has been done in the area of staff care. Why is this important? There are financial and reputational implications if ignored, but probably the most critical reason is this – you want to take care of the folks that are delivering services and conducting programs on your behalf.

There are some bright spots. World Vision International has a team led by Global Staff Care Director Michael Hegenauer, which has successfully counseled thousands of employees with various stress issues. Other organizations, such as Food for the Hungry, have recently been successful through grassroots efforts to implement a staff care program. Some members have partnered with consultants and vendors to implement programs. More can be found on the Humentum Member Community. We would be happy to highlight your successes and showcase your Duty of Care models—please contact me.

So here's to 2016 and to all Humentum members moving the needle on Duty of Care within their organizations!

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