According to the World Health Organization (WHO), travellers are more likely to be killed through accidental injury or violence than by infectious diseases. Worldwide, road traffic accidents are the most frequent cause of death amongst young people aged 15-29 years, however, injuries can occur in other scenarios such as partaking in adventure sports, environmental disasters and acts of violence.
Travellers should take the following precautionary measures to help stay safe abroad:
- Check Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website for travel safety warnings, details of the nearest British Embassy or Consulate and information on local laws and customs.
- Try to find out as much as possible about the availability and standard of medical treatment/facilities in intended areas of travel.
- Ensure travel insurance includes cover for accidents, emergency medical treatment and repatriation. Always declare any underlying medical conditions that you may have and any medications (including over-the-counter) that you take, to your travel insurer. For further information on travel insurance please refer to the Travel Insurance advice sheet.
- Take a photocopy of passport and/or other important documents such as travel tickets and consider storing details online using a secure data storage site.
- Tell a trusted person your intended itinerary; give them your contact details and insurance policy details.
- Carry next of kin details.
Driving in unfamiliar situations may increase a travellers risk of road traffic accidents (RTAs); driving on unknown roads, the opposite side of road, in poorly maintained vehicles, when travel fatigued or under the influence of alcohol can increase risks.
- Low and middle-income countries have the highest rates of RTAs; if possible avoid driving in these countries.
- Always wear a seatbelt and where possible sit in the rear of the vehicle.
- Only ride in marked taxis, hire drivers familiar with the local area and where possible, agree fares in advance.
- Find out the road rules, traffic regulations, vehicle maintenance requirements and the condition of roads of country(s) you intend to drive in.
- Research informal rules of the roads e.g. in some countries drivers may not observe official crossings or traffic signals.
- Remain vigilant; avoid driving after consuming alcohol or when tired or stressed, avoid driving on unlit roads and pay particular attention when driving on the opposite side of the road to your country of residence.
- Before hiring a vehicle check the condition of the tyres (including spare), lights, breaks and seatbelts to try and ensure it is road worthy. Make sure you are appropriately insured and carry your home driving license alongside license required by destination country.
- RTAs involving motorcycles and mopeds are common; avoid using these modes of transport if possible, particularly if you are unaccustomed to driving them. Ensure safety helmets are used if you decide to use these modes of transport. If you do hire a motorcycle or moped, additional insurance may be needed to cover for accidents.
Recreational use of water can have positive effects on health such as exercise and relaxation; however, various hazards are also associated with recreational water use.
Travellers should be aware of the potential risks associated with the recreational use of water; taking sensible precautions will lead to overall risk reduction.
Awareness of Dangers
- Check local warnings about weather conditions and tides.
- Be aware of dangerous rip currents and strong tides.
- Avoid swimming near or diving from rocks, piers, breakwaters or coral.
- Be aware of venomous aquatic animals such as jellyfish, sea anemones and other invertebrate aquatic species.
- Be aware of potential disease vectors such as fresh water snails which harbour the parasite that causes schistosomiasis.
Follow Safety Advice
- Follow the safety advice of lifeguard, coast guard or equivalent.
- Look out for warning flags and signs and adhere to them at all times.
- Avoid swimming alone.
- Children must be supervised by an adult at all times; lack of adult supervision is the most frequent cause of children drowning.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol before swimming.
- Never swim on a full stomach.
- If you see someone in difficulty, tell somebody, preferably a lifeguard, coast guard or equivalent.
- Not all swimming pools have lifeguards; careful supervision of children is essential.
- Check the swimming pool depths before use and follow the pool rules.
- Avoid boisterous behaviour that may inadvertently lead to an accident.
- Do not run around the swimming pool edge, it may be slippery.
- Do not swim immediately after a meal and never swim after consuming drugs or alcohol.
- When jumping or diving into the pool, check water depth first and never dive into water less than 1.5m deep.
- Do not dive or jump from poolside furniture or raised features.
- Avoid using swimming pools after dark or when closed.
- In the event of an emergency, know where to get help.
Medical Advice on Diving Problems
In 2013 DDRC Healthcare Hyperbaric Medical Centre took over the staffing of the British Hyperbaric Association’s National Diving Accident Helpline from the Royal Navy.
This helpline provides a 24 hour emergency advice service and gives information on the location of your nearest recompression facility and on the emergency management of diving related illness.
If you suspect Decompression Illness (DCI) or any other diving related illness call IMMEDIATELY for assistance or advice.
- BHA National Diving Accident Helpline on 07831 151 523
- In Scotland call 0345 408 6008
At sea call the Marine Coastguard Agency on VHF Channel 16, DSC Channel 70 or call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
Raising a travellers awareness of accidents abroad may encourage precautionary behaviour and lead to overall risk reduction.
A significant number of British travellers have suffered serious accidents (some fatal) as a result of dangerous behaviour on balconies, often following consumption of drugs and/or alcohol.
- Balcony injuries may result in permanent disability or death.
- Avoid using balconies when under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Never sit or lean over the balcony railing.
- Avoid passing things over balcony railings, it is easy to lose balance and increases the risk of balcony related injury.
- Never attempt to jump into a swimming pool from a balcony.
- Do not attempt to climb from one balcony to another.
Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has produced information about alcohol-related risk behaviours in young holidaymakers.
Electrical Safety Abroad
Electricity safety standards in the UK are often higher than those in other countries; as such travellers should be educated not to expect the same level of protection abroad as they have at home.
Asides obvious differences such as plug and socket type, travellers should be made aware of the following:
- The normal voltage and frequency of the electricity supply in the UK is 230v and 50Hz.
- Electricity supply voltage varies worldwide, varying between 100v and 240v.
- UK electrical equipment that is rated at a voltage different to the foreign supply may be unsafe to use.
The Electrical Safety Council has published an information guide on how to use electricity safely abroad.
Fire Safety Abroad
Fire safety awareness and standards vary greatly from country to country; fire hazards may be disregarded, fire exits may be non-existent and buildings may be overcrowded making escaping in the event of a fire difficult.
General Fire Safety Awareness
- Smoke and fire can be very disorientating, take time to check the nearest escape route of buildings that you enter.
- Try to ensure stairwells and doors are not blocked.
- Try to avoid situations were overcrowding is likely.
In the Event of a Fire
- Evacuate immediately - don't stop to collect belongings.
- Use the staircase and not the lift.
- Raise the alarm if possible.
- Close doors behind you.
- Go to an assembly point clear of the building.
- If you can't leave your room, close all doors, put wet towels or clothes round the door seals and stay low to the ground if smoke enters the room, if possible shout or call for help.
Remember smoke and fire can cause confusion, ensure you know how to exit the building safely if a fire alarm was raised during the day and night, don't wait until you are disorientated.
- Check escape routes and locate the nearest fire exit to your room.
- Read fire instruction notices if displayed in your room.
- Try to ensure stairwells are not blocked.
- Identify the location of fire alarms.
Adventure sports such as climbing, skydiving, snow sports, scuba-diving and other water sports are popular with travellers. Travellers may be participating in adventure sports for the first time and their lack of experience could put them at risk.
- Adventure sport safety standards in the UK are often higher than those in other countries; as such travellers should not assume the same level of protection abroad as they have at home.
- Do not be over ambitious; ensure you are fully trained in the skills required for the adventure sport you are undertaking.
- Before partaking in any adventure sport check the condition of the equipment; ensure protective equipment is being used as required and that any gear is in a good state of repair.
- Trauma care is poor in many countries, some have no co-ordinated ambulance services and in remote areas medical assistance may be unavailable. Lack of emergency response may increase traveller mortality if serious injuries are sustained.
- Ensure that you have adequate medical insurance in place that covers you for the adventure sport you intend to participate in, check you are covered for both healthcare costs and/or medical repatriation.