Does Duty of Care on the Part of NGOs Include Emotional Well Being?

Does Duty of Care on the Part of NGOs Include Emotional Well Being?

According to a recent conference in London on the hot topic of Duty of care and the protection of workers overseas, “a recent survey pointed to an alarming lack of awareness among employers of their responsibilities towards staff on foreign assignment, with many employers displaying a distinct lack of awareness as to whether they had legal requirements for a duty of care provision. Amongst employers of course, one finds the NGO community operating in complex and dangerous environments around the world.

Today, it has become an obligation, ethical but also legal, for humanitarian agencies to have an organizational safety and security infrastructure, with a series of measures to mitigate risks. They also offer in many cases a pre-deployment training on the basic skills on security awareness, emergency first response and in-house protocols, hopefully adapted to each context.

However, all these measures will only be efficient and successful if field staff is in good health, physically but also emotionally and mentally. It is well known now, though not always accepted, that stressed out and traumatized personnel cannot focus and do their job properly. Consequently, they are at higher risk of taking the wrong decision in case of a critical incident.

No Efficient Security Without Emotional Wellness

This means for agencies to recruit resilient personnel to start with, to give pre-deployment training to everyone that goes to insecure places, have support mechanisms in the field to avoid developing burnout and addictive behaviors, a psychosocial field protocol in case of crisis and systematic psychological debriefing upon return.

The support an agency can give in the field depends primarily on the field managers not only being trained on the basics of stress management, their own and their team. They also need to know how to detect and evaluate the dysfunctional behaviors of their colleagues and what to do about them.  Another important point to mitigate risks for their international as well as national staff, is to know how to protect their team in case of a critical incident, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Supporting National Staff’s Resilience

According to OCHA, “there is a continued bias towards international staff: attention to national aid workers’ security needs has improved with new training, security policies and procedures. However, resources continue to be biased towards internationals’ rather than nationals’ security risk, stress and trauma mitigation (as entitlements are linked to lower salaries)”. This comment from OCHA refers of course essentially to the bigger agencies and not to the myriads of smaller ones all over the world, with shoe string budgets.

In other words, in the face of growing violence against humanitarian staff in the world, it has become inescapable for NGOs to build a comprehensive approach to its security, not only taking into account the organizational security and safety hardware, but including also the human factor – aid workers’ vulnerability.


Author: Claire Colliard is the Executive Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Psychology. She has also been training humaniarian staff for the last 20 years.

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