Safety, Health and Wellbeing

Working overseas guidelines

Our role is to develop and assist in the implementation of the UWA safety, health and wellbeing programs in order to minimise the risk of injury, illness and property damage.

We provide consultancy and other services to promote best practice and legislative compliance in all University and related activities.

The purpose of this guidance is to outline the steps which should be taken for the safe management of activities while working or studying overseas.

It applies to work or study activity carried out by staff or students of the University in places which are not under the direct control of the University and which are outside of Australia. It applies to activities conducted by individuals falling into one of three categories, namely:

Category 1
Staff on their own or with colleagues.
Category 2
Students and staff in groups where the visit is part of a course of study.
Category 3
Students on placement.

Risks to safety and heath while abroad are many and include personal safety (for example, associated with endemic crime or civil or political unrest) and health related concerns (potential exposure to tropical or exotic diseases).

This guidance follows the principles of planning, control and review and suggests how the associated functions and duties may be allocated.

The guidance suggests a course of action, which will help identify foreseeable problems, difficulties and events and the implementation of appropriate precautions. It suggests some strategies and includes checklists that can be used to improve the safety and health of those working overseas. However, such checks should be modified and developed in the light of personal experience.

The checklists and risk assessments relevant to the work being undertaken overseas should, wherever practicable, be completed before the visit and also should be reviewed upon arrival on site in case they need modification according to the particular circumstances and the local conditions found at the time.

Where work activities are embarked upon without the prior knowledge of the University, a retrospective risk assessment will need to be completed at the earliest convenient opportunity.

Some overseas work may not be dissimilar to field work in Australia, and the UWA Field work procedures in rural and remote areas should be used in conjunction with these guidelines.

  1. Definition of terms
  2. Planning and organisation
  3. Arrangements
  4. Health matters and emergency action
  5. Monitoring and review
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. Appendices

Definition of terms

Work Organiser

Responsible for the work aspects of the trip overseas. In most cases the Work Organiser will be the staff member (Category 1), or the most senior staff member (Categories 1 and 2), or the Placement Coordinator (Category 3). Where the work and travel are arranged separately, the Work Organiser will normally be considered as the prime organiser.

Travel Organiser

Responsible for organising the travel aspects of the trip overseas and who may be the same person as the Work Organiser. Some of the activity may be delegated to approved external agencies but it is important to recognise that someone must take responsibility for the travel arrangements and associated matters.

Overseas Team Leader

Responsible for leading the group when overseas. This may or may not be the Work Organiser. When the Work Organiser is not travelling overseas, the Overseas Team Leader must assume responsibility for some of the activities assigned to the Work Organiser.

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Planning and organisation

Other employers in the country visited through co-operative ventures may well control the planned activities. These will be subject to the safety and health regulations of the respective country. Employers may have produced their own safety and health policies, procedures or guidelines to which UWA staff and students will be required to adhere. Where possible, any such requirements should be obtained in advance so that proper assessments and all necessary preparations can be made.

The following must be addressed in planning an overseas visit:

The Head of Academic/Administrative Unit

The Head of Academic/Administrative Unit must ensure that:

  • An adequate risk assessment has been made and that a safe system of operation is devised.
  • Proper arrangements and responsibilities have been established and both the conduct and role of all concerned is clearly understood.
  • Individual members of staff and leaders of groups that are working overseas are authorised, competent and, where necessary, qualified.
  • Local conditions have been explored sufficiently, commensurate with the likely risk.
  • Any group is as well prepared as is reasonably practicable.

The Work Organiser

The Work Organiser is responsible for the pre-planning, organisation, review, monitoring of the work and all the associated arrangements. The Work Organiser is accountable to the Head of Academic/Administrative Unit for ensuring that adequate safety arrangements exist and are observed. The Work Organiser should:

  • Ensure that known hazards have been identified and relevant risk assessments undertaken. On arrival at the site, other hazards may be identified so the risk assessment should be reviewed and modified accordingly. This should be undertaken by the Work Organiser (if present) or by the Overseas Team Leader. All members of the group should then be informed of any significant amendments to the original briefing(s).
  • Define a clear communication structure in any group (such as through Overseas Team Leaders to group leaders to individuals). Team/group leaders should be selected by the Work Organiser to organise and direct small groups, where appropriate.
  • Confirm legal and authorised access to any site not owned by the University.
  • Inform all persons involved of the nature of the work, the anticipated hazards and the precautions that will be adopted. Where necessary, support training may need to be given.
  • Register all overseas work in the same way as field work. This includes the itinerary and return times; likely deviations from the itinerary; the members constituting the group and their details; how they may be contacted and emergency contacts/next of kin.
  • Ensure all queries by press and public are addressed to the Work Organiser.
  • Ensure the School/Centre/Unit is kept aware of the activities of groups working overseas, including their itineraries.

An example checklist for the use of Work Organisers is contained in Appendix 1.

The Travel Organiser

The Travel Organiser must liaise with the Work Organiser and the Overseas Team Leader to ensure that adequate up-to-date information is available so that correct decisions on travel and work preparation can be made.

The Travel Organiser is responsible for ensuring the travel arrangements are suitable and sufficient and should address a number of issues:

  • Find out from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller any relevant travel advice.
  • Find out from Healix relevant medical and security information through their online country and city guides.
  • Obtain medical advice to determine necessary vaccinations, immunisations, first aid requirements.
  • Obtain information on climate, local culture and other local information, as appropriate.
  • Obtain tickets, using authorised suppliers only, visas and any other necessary documentation for travel.
  • Check all participants have a valid passport.
  • Ensure adequate insurance cover is in place for groups and/or individuals.

All individuals should be provided with a copy of the relevant UWA Corporate Travel Insurance information.

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Risk assessment

Risk assessment(s) must be made for all work undertaken overseas. The overseas travel risk assessment form (Appendix 2) will assist in documenting this and should also be used when a group is travelling.

Note that the nature and complexity of the risk assessment will vary with the type of activity and therefore should be commensurate with the actual risk that the identified hazards pose in the particular circumstances; for example, comprehensive risk assessments would be expected for organised field work.

The Work Organiser will usually be responsible for carrying out the risk assessment (Appendix 2). In many cases the work itself will not be unusually hazardous and consideration will only need to be given to local conditions. Where hazardous work is undertaken, some assumptions may need to be made based on the work as it would be undertaken in Australia.

The assessment should be based on previous knowledge, information from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Healix, travel agents, and contacts in the place being visited.

A 'checklist for overseas risk assessment' covering potential hazards while travelling overseas, including personal safety, physical hazards, biological hazards, transport and climate, is contained in Appendix 3. Schools/Centres/Units and individuals may amend and add to this checklist. Where the travel is not by recognised passenger carrier, the risk assessment should also include the travel arrangements.

The findings and conclusions of the risk assessment should be communicated to all participants and any significant factors communicated in writing whenever possible.

The Work Organiser should be satisfied that each individual appreciates the salient points and understands fully what is expected of them.

Individuals embarking on an overseas trip have a responsibility to cooperate with the University in the execution of its responsibilities. Every person proposing to work overseas must take heed of any advice, training, instruction and guidance given to them.

Training and information (all categories)

The training requirements of those participating in the work activities should be clearly identified and the necessary instruction and information provided. Appropriate records should be maintained.

Where staff are supervising students (Category 2), it is important to ensure that they have the relevant skills, competency and knowledge to discharge fully the duties expected of them. Special training and instruction may be necessary and the Work Organiser should ensure this is provided.

The information and instruction given to all participants needs to cover areas other than those concerned directly with the work activity itself. There is, for example, a need to:

  • maintain security of personnel, materials and equipment
  • minimise intestinal upsets due to dietary changes or different food hygiene standards
  • exercise some control over leisure time pursuits.

The above points need to be considered by the Work Organiser/Overseas Team Leader and adequate controls put in place. Students should be issued with a written code of conduct before an overseas trip begins, reminding them of their responsibilities to the University, its staff and their fellow students.

Supervision of students (Category 2 only)

Fully supervised courses

These are normally of comparatively short duration in low-hazard environments. Safety instruction should be provided to the students. Independent working is not normally permissible.

It is recommended that supervision levels should require one staff member per 10 students, with a minimum of two members of staff on any one course. Maximum and minimum party sizes may be set dependant upon the environment, the activity or the likelihood of foreseeable emergencies.


These may be prolonged and in environments which are remote and potentially hazardous. Participants (either staff or student) will normally be experienced but should still be reminded of safety practices and procedures.

The Overseas Team Leader should have experience of local hazards and conditions and, as appropriate, sufficient knowledge of survival, communication and navigation techniques. Another member of the group should be given the responsibility to take over should the Overseas Team Leader become incapacitated.

Placement supervision (Category 3 only)

As far as practicable, Placement Coordinators should follow the UWA Managing Student Activities in External Organisations guidelines. The student supervisor may not visit the site, but regular communication should be maintained (by phone, fax or email) and “distance” checks made on the practices on site.

Lone working (Categories 1, 2 and 3)

Lone working is discouraged as far as possible. Where it is not practicable to avoid it, lone working should only be sanctioned after a thorough assessment of the risks has been carried out. Reference should be made to the UWA Working in Isolation requirements and a safe system of work devised.

Local transport and expeditions

When travelling on foot, suitable clothing should be worn and adequate rest periods allowed. When using private transport (as opposed to public transport) it should be suitable for the purpose, properly maintained and the driver(s), licensed, insured and adequately trained.

If the use of a vehicle is necessary, at least two members of the party should be able to drive it. On public transport, University staff and students should conduct themselves in a safe manner so as not to endanger themselves or other people.

Appropriate regulations and legitimate instructions of the operator must be complied with. Dangerous items should not be carried on public transport.


Equipment should be checked and able to withstand the rigours of travel and must be suitable for the conditions under which it is to be used.

Protective clothing requirements, availability of appropriate storage and the transport and use of dangerous substances should be considered when assessing the risks, considering suitable control provisions and making travel arrangements.

If the equipment is not being taken from Australia, arrangements for the local procurement and the safe use of all necessary equipment should be made. Appropriate training or instruction should be given prior to it being brought into use.

Work Organisers should ensure that full instruction and training are available for all equipment to be used whether it has been provided by the University or not, and that proper visual safety inspections are performed before every period of use.

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Health matters and emergency action

Travel Organisers and those who intend travelling overseas on University business should use the University Medical Centre as the first point of contact. The Medical Centre will recommend that all such individuals:

  • obtain relevant information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website
  • obtain relevant information from Healix through their online country and city guides
  • obtain necessary vaccinations and immunisations in accordance with the UWA Immunisation and other travel requirements
  • obtain advice on appropriate travel first aid kits
  • accept appropriate medical advice where relevant and disclose to the Work Organiser/Team Leader any limitations imposed by their health that may affect their ability to participate safety in the activities. Information provided must be treated as confidential, unless non-disclosure creates a risk to the other participants.

It is strongly recommended that at least one member of staff attending an overseas trip involving five or more persons is trained and holds a valid Senior First Aid Certificate. It is recommended that others, such as group leaders, should be trained in emergency first aid.

Emergency action

Any incident should be reported to both the Head of School/Centre/Unit and relevant UWA Section (Safety and Health, International Centre, Insurance) as soon as practicable. All individuals embarking on an overseas trip should take heed of the advice, training, instruction and guidance given to them and act upon it.

Personal safety

Although the University has a responsibility to ensure it has in place management arrangements designed to protect the safety and health of its staff and students, every person has a responsibility to conduct him or herself in a reasonable manner and to cooperate with the University in the execution of its responsibilities.

As an aid to staff and students travelling and working overseas personal safety is included in the checklist for overseas risk assessment (Appendix 3).

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Monitoring and review

Effective management of overseas working requires review and feedback. It is important to learn from experiences, and a debriefing session should follow each and every trip overseas. The information learned can then be used to improve arrangements for future trips.

Students should be encouraged to use log books in which they can record all their observations.

Certain matters which should be given consideration during the debriefing:

  • Would the work have progressed more smoothly at a different time of year, different location or with different personnel?
  • With better preparation?
  • Were anticipated hazards encountered?
  • Were adequate precautions adopted to counter the associated risks?
  • In hindsight could they have been improved upon?
  • Would the School/Centre/Unit repeat the exercise?
  • Would changes be needed for any future similar work overseas?

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Health and safety guidance when working overseas. University of Glamorgan, UK.

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Appendix 1: Work organiser checklist

Appendix 2: Overseas travel risk assessment

Appendix 3: Checklist for overseas risk assessment

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