By definition, duty of care refers to the moral and legal obligations of employers to their employees, contractors, volunteers and related family members in maintaining their well-being, security and safety when in the workplace, wherever that might be, or traveling on behalf of the company. According to International SOS’ 2024 Risk Outlook Report, created to identify top concerns that organizations are expected to face in the coming year, 75% of surveyed organizations expect an increase in duty of care expectations from their employees this year. With these increased expectations and the dynamic work environments we see today, prioritizing duty of care should be at the core of your organization’s priorities and policies.

At the heart of duty of care lies a commitment to creating a safe and conducive environment where employees can thrive without fear of harm or negligence in both an in-person or remote work setting. This commitment extends beyond just physical safety and encompasses mental and emotional well-being, as well. Recognizing and prioritizing duty of care fosters an environment of trust, loyalty and productivity, thereby enhancing overall organizational performance and employee satisfaction.

To effectively prioritize duty of care in the workplace, organizations must adopt proactive measures that address all aspects of workplace safety. While each organization’s specific duty of care plan will depend on several factors, including employee’s individual risks, where employees are located, and what they are doing, the following strategies will help managers and leaders facilitate plans that prioritize overall employee well-being:

Leadership commitment

Leadership sets the tone for prioritizing duty of care. Leading by example allows managers and team leads to demonstrate a strong commitment to safety through their words and actions. Allocation of adequate resources and support to safety initiatives, along with holding individuals accountable for adherence to standards, reinforces the organization's commitment to safety and allows duty of care to remain at the forefront of the organization's values.

Risk assessment and mitigation

Begin by conducting thorough risk assessments to pinpoint potential hazards and vulnerabilities that may impact the operation of an organization and its employees, as well as the physical workplace. Develop protocols and procedures to effectively mitigate these risks, ensuring the safety of employees and the physical environment is a priority. Set up regular reviews to assess what new threats may impact an organization and adapt plans accordingly to account for evolving circumstances and emerging threats. In these reviews, security leaders should open the floor to employees within the organization to understand where areas may need to be improved.     

Training and education

Equip employees with the necessary knowledge and skills through comprehensive training programs. Providing education on topics such as emergency response, hazard recognition and mental health awareness will empower employees to maintain a safe working environment. It’s also important to encourage ongoing learning and skill development to enable effective handling of diverse situations and ensure duty of care is a priority for all employees, not just leaders within the organization.

Open communication channels

Foster a culture of open communication where employees feel encouraged to express concerns, report incidents and provide feedback. Establish multiple channels for communication, including anonymous reporting systems and regular team and one-on-one meetings. Listening to employees' feedback and promptly addressing issues demonstrates a commitment to their well-being and fosters a more dynamic workplace.

Employee support programs

Implement support programs aimed at promoting physical and mental health. Counseling services, wellness programs and resources for managing work-related stress contribute to overall well-being and will result in increased productivity among teams and, in turn, will help avoid burnout. Initiatives like flexible scheduling and remote work options also play a role in fostering work-life balance, helping employees feel supported and productive.

Regular audits and compliance checks

Regular audits and compliance checks assess adherence to safety regulations and organizational policies. Promptly addressing non-compliance issues and implementing corrective actions will help to prevent reoccurrence of these issues. Staying updated on regulatory changes and revising plans regularly is imperative and ensures ongoing compliance with industry best practices. Regular audits and compliance checks will also help to best protect organizations amidst the constantly evolving risk landscape.

Continuous improvement in safety practices and procedures is paramount, especially in light of evolving risks such as a pandemic, global security incidents and global and national economic pressures. Encouraging open communication among employees and empowering them to suggest and implement enhancements to existing safety measures is essential for a more dynamic working environment. By soliciting feedback and carefully assessing employees' needs, organizations can develop more effective duty of care plans tailored to their specific needs.

Additionally, prioritizing the duty of care within the workplace goes beyond simply meeting ethical and legal requirements. It involves nurturing a supportive culture that not only ensures the protection of individuals but also enhances the success and development of the organization. Embracing this ethos of safety and responsibility fortifies organizational adaptability in the face of ever-changing challenges and cultivates a positive environment for everyone involved.