The Importance of Duty of Care

Although the phrase “Duty of Care” is understood by many in the corporate world, it is a phrase that lacks an explicit definition.

The duty of care responsibility held by companies is meant to provide protection for the company as well as its employees.  In this way, a relationship exists between the claimant in a matter and the defendant.

For a duty of care responsibility to be determined, it needs to pass a three part test:

  1. Harm must be a “reasonably foreseeable result” of the defendant’s conduct, i.e. a failure to provide suitable knowledge or information about a potentially hostile environment
  2. A relationship of proximity between the claimant and the defendant must exist, i.e. the claimant is a member of staff, a family member or contractor.
  3. A fair, just and reasonable penalty should be assessed when imposing liability.

In essence, a duty of care responsibility is the legal obligation of both individuals and companies to adhere to a standard of reasonable care when performing acts that could foreseeably harm others.This is the first point that needs to be established before suing individuals or companies for acts of negligence.   This current understanding of the duty of care responsibility has evolved from an early 20th Century idea of a general duty of care which was understood to cover all who could be foreseeably affected by one’s conduct.

In the 21st Century, the concept of duty of care must be viewed as another risk to a business.  The risk of failing to exercise the proper duty of care in the workplace can result in expensive litigation; business interruption; and adverse reputation.  Unless the risk of one’s duty of care responsibility is addressed as part of the risk management framework, a company stands to lose not just physical and intellectual assets but also personnel and reputational matters.

So, what dangers can arise from failing to exercise one’s duty of care?  Given today’s globalised marketplace, specific risks exist when managing staff, contractors and senior management who work on behalf of your company in a hostile environment, especially a potentially lucrative emerging market.
How would you handle staff members who are not equipped to respond effectively to local man-made or natural disasters, because they lack the training or survival skills?
What defence could you adopt if company assets are stolen or destroyed because no proper evacuation protocols were implemented and there was no understanding of the violent circumstances in the country?
Who in your company would bear responsibility for an employee who is killed or maimed at a result of poor intelligence and insufficient advice in respect of high security threats in the country to which they have deployed?
On our H.E.A.T courses you benefit from new research and insights regarding duty of care obligations.  By attending our courses you learn more about duty of care and how to empower your staff accordingly.