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Duty of care in practice

15 February 2018

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), created in 1919, is an independent, neutral organisation ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of natural disasters. With 1,600 staff members in over 70 countries, meeting Duty of Care standards requires a structured and thorough approach.

Hannele Haggman, Senior Health Officer at IFRC in Switzerland, explains how the organisation cares for its staff members around the world.

Employing healthy people

The IFRC aims to engage and deploy healthy people, to support them during missions to keep them healthy and safe, and to ensure they finish their missions just as healthy as when they started.

Duty of Care starts with the recruitment process. Candidates go through a medical clearance check with their own GP using a standard medical form to ensure there are no underlying conditions that could jeopardise their health. The health officer in HR then approves the medical file as doctors don’t always fully understand the challenging environments people are sent to. The second check is essential to make sure these new staff members are truly healthy enough for their missions.

Preparing staff members

It’s not just physical health that needs attention, mental health is equally important. Since 1991, we have a psychosocial support programme in place with professional psychotherapists (stress counsellors).

Each staff member has a briefing with a stress counsellor before starting a mission, either face-to-face or by Skype call. During their missions they can contact the stress counsellor directly for any problems or critical incidents. Staff members have my contact details as well; they know I’m on call 24/7 for any questions or concerns.

New recruits also receive an extensive health briefing package including information on various tropical diseases, travel health, and medical evacuation procedures. They need to have access to reliable information to be well-prepared and to know where to turn if there’s any kind of health problem during the mission.

Caring for staff members

The IFRC is very aware of the challenging circumstances into which we send our staff members. Maintaining staff members’ good health is vital. Not only for people on a mission but also for those at headquarters as they often travel to areas with various concerns too.

The IFRC focusses on maintaining good health at the workplace and avoiding non-communicable diseases. Initiatives include offering healthy food choices in cafeterias and encouraging physical activity throughout the day. There’s also a dedicated website where people can discuss health topics. Our main goal is to remind people of the many opportunities for making healthy choices and the effect of those good choices.

We not only promote caring for yourself, but also keeping an eye on colleagues’ physical and mental health. Many IFRC volunteers find themselves living outside their home countries away from family and friends and can benefit from the extra support.

Defining needs

Every two years, a staff survey is carried out that includes an array of questions on health and wellbeing and that gauges staff members’ satisfaction with the systems in place. I also visit delegations all over the world to talk to staff and find out what they need. Personal contact with staff members is essential for gathering opinions and ideas. That’s why I make sure all staff members can contact me directly.

Ensuring implementation

Briefing programmes for country representatives make sure they’re aware of the Health policies and practices. There are various e-learning programmes for all staff members, such as the mandatory Stay Safe course. The challenge is not only to reach everyone with the information, but also to provide it in a manner that the receiver understands it easily. It’s important to be aware of the culture of the recipient.

Measuring the success

The IFRC has many different ways of measuring the success of their approach to meet Duty of Care standards. One is a thorough system for collecting and analysing security incidents. We check whether the incident could have been predicted or prevented and whether there were any policy breaches. Analysing statistics is also important, as well as keeping track of general trends.

Most important is that our Duty of Care approach is not static; it’s continuously evolving and improving as we learn from analysis and experience.