Business travel: does Airbnb pose a WHS risk?

Business travel: does Airbnb pose a WHS risk?

By Gaby Grammeno on 14 August 2018

What are our WHS obligations if we use Airbnb for business accommodation?

This question was recently sent to our Ask an Expert service.

Q Our global organisation requires employees to travel overseas and we'd like to include Airbnb as an accommodation option. Are there WHS or security requirements we need to comply with to mitigate any risk? 

A An employer has a duty of care for an employee’s health, safety and wellbeing even if the employee is travelling out of Australia for business. 

Consideration must be given to the risks of each location where an employee will be. Some of these risks may be present at the employee’s workplace or at their place of accommodation, or at both. 

For example, if an employee will be in a location where malaria, dengue fever or other mosquito-borne diseases are endemic, an employee may be at risk of illness from a mosquito bite. In this case, enquiries should be made in advance as to the timing of wet seasons and whether the Airbnb option for accommodation features insect screens or bed nets. An employee should also be briefed on risks and risk control methods, such as using suitable insect repellent. Vaccination against vaccine-preventable diseases is also advisable, depending on what diseases are prevalent at the employee’s destination.

Similarly, the security situation at both the workplace and the accommodation should be investigated beforehand, and suitable precautions taken, particularly in relation to any risks relating to transport, safety of the streets, the possibility of violence, and so on. 

In some countries drinking water may be unsafe, exposing staff to the risk of illness and infections, including ear infections from getting water in their ears while washing. This kind of information can be obtained in advance from sources such as the Smartraveller website of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Under work health and safety laws, if a person is engaged in work that is isolated from the assistance of other persons because of location, time or the nature of the work, it must be possible for that person to call for assistance (eg rescue, medical assistance or the attendance of emergency service workers), if they need it. This means the person working away from the office – including employees who are travelling out of the country – must have a reliable means of communication, so they can call for help if need be. 

The means of communication must of course be backed up with a system to ensure assistance can be provided and promptly dispatched in the event of an emergency. Training in emergency procedures could also be vital, if an employee is in the position of dealing with a crisis of one kind or another. Where geographical remoteness is an issue, location and tracking of an employee’s whereabouts will be important considerations, as well as the provision of appropriate first aid or other emergency supplies.

There is also a legal obligation to have a contingency plan in place, in the event that your employee needs to leave the host country at very short notice and without delay, whether for medical or other reasons. The availability of local support and assistance if needed is another essential element of an emergency plan. 

Whether the employee’s accommodation is found through Airbnb or some other means, all the reasonably foreseeable risks to which the travelling employee may be exposed should be identified, and all reasonably practicable measures should be taken to eliminate or minimise the risks.


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