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Employee health and safety in the workplace during Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions have now been relaxed or removed throughout the UK, and many workplaces have judged that they no longer need to consider COVID-related health and safety issues. The Government’s guidelines on working safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19) have also changed. 

For some businesses, however, it is still appropriate to thoroughly consider how to best mitigate the risks associated with Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace. The following guidance applies primarily to these businesses.

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As an employer, you’re responsible for the health and safety of your employees. You must assess and manage risks in the workplace when your staff return after business premises have been closed due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes the risk of contracting Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Before asking your employees to return, you should:

  • deep clean the premises 

  • perform a general health and safety risk assessment and/or a Return to work risk assessment to determine what potential risks there are in the physical workplace

  • assess whether any adjustments need to be made before re-opening, for example: 

    • improving ventilation

    • providing guidance on maintaining personal hygiene

    • implementing flexible workforce arrangements

    • introducing measures to accommodate employees and visitors with protected characteristics

  • update your Health and safety policy to include Coronavirus (COVID-19) related safety measures, if these are still necessary for your workplace

  • have provisions for employees who  have Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms (or who have a family member who has Coronavirus (COVID-19)) 

  • communicate and train all workers and contractors on how the business is updating existing safety measures

If you decide to call your employees back to the workplace, consider who is needed on-site and make a plan for how they can work safely and effectively. You may wish to limit the employees you ask to return to work, for instance by first asking  those with roles that are critical for business and operational continuity and those whose work can’t be done remotely. Care should be taken to ensure that the criteria for recall aren’t discriminatory and that asking certain individuals to return to work won’t unjustly negatively impact a particular group. 

Be aware that some workers may be clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable. Extra care should be taken to ensure the safety of such vulnerable workers. This may involve allowing them to work from home as much as possible in their current role or in an alternative role. If this isn’t viable, you should offer them the safest available roles on site. Where this isn’t suitable, you should assess whether their role is necessary for the business and whether you can safeguard their wellbeing by making reasonable adjustments. 

You may consider asking employees to stay home and avoid other people if they have Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

To assess the potential risk of exposure of your employees to Coronavirus (COVID-19), you should consider carrying out a new Risk assessment. When considering the risk of infection, you must take into account which employees may be more vulnerable to contracting the virus (eg those who are pregnant, elderly, or who have an underlying health condition). Consider whether social distancing can be followed in the workplace. When conducting a risk assessment you must consult your employees.

You should share the results of your risk assessment with your employees. If you have 5 or more employees, you need to write down the results of your risk assessments. If you have more than 50 employees, you should publish your Coronavirus (COVID-19) risk assessment results on your website. 

Lastly, you should also be mindful that if an employee reasonably believes that returning to work would pose an imminent threat to their health and safety, they aren’t obliged to return to work. This may be the case for some clinically extremely vulnerable people, for example. 

When identifying ways to minimise the risks of transmission in the workplace, you have a duty to work closely with your employees.  

To reduce the risk of transmission, you can implement measures such as:

  • increasing the frequency of office cleaning including cleaning surfaces, work stations, door handles, keyboards, and telephones

  • reminding employees of the importance of handwashing and asking employees to increase the frequency of washing their hands

  • providing hand sanitiser at entry/exit points

  • recommending that employees wear face coverings

  • implementing staggered work times to prevent overcrowding when entering and exiting the workplace

  • implementing staggered work breaks to ensure communal areas are not overcrowded

  • using screens to separate staff from each other

  • changing seating arrangements so that employees are sitting back-to-back or side-to-side rather than face-to-face

  • grouping workers into fixed teams to reduce the number of people each individual has contact with

  • encouraging employees to bring their own food and cutlery and to use their own drinking containers

  • avoiding hot-desking or, if not possible, cleaning desks frequently between different users

  • conducting frequent testing (eg lateral flow testing) if it is considered necessary and proportionate and features in your risk assessments

  • requesting that staff get vaccinated (where possible). For more information, read Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations in the workplace

Employees are no longer legally required to wear face coverings in offices. However, if employees choose to wear face coverings, you should provide them with information on the best practices to maximise their functionality (eg washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before putting coverings on and after removing them). 

The measures listed above are not exhaustive and you should decide what measures are reasonable for your workplace. You should assess and manage each risk on a case-by-case basis.

For more information, read the government’s guidance on working safely during Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Employers may consider encouraging staff to be vaccinated. Currently, there is no law requiring individuals to have the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and, even if an employer prefers staff to have it, care must be taken not to discriminate (eg some individuals may be advised not to have the vaccine). Employers may wish to adopt an Employee vaccination policy setting out what is required. For more information, read Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations in the workplace.

Employers must also take care to comply with data protection requirements when recording the vaccination status of staff. For more information, read How to record the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination status of staff.

You may wish to minimise the number of visits that customers and others make to your workplace, for example by suggesting the use of remote working tools. Visitor arrangements should be reviewed to ensure Coronavirus (COVID-19) safety measures are upheld (eg hygiene standards). It’s important to provide your employees with the necessary training on how to host visitors and explain their responsibilities. 

Where visits are necessary on-site, you should clearly explain your business’ COVID safety measures to visitors on or before their arrival. Measures can be implemented to limit the number of visitors on-site at one time and to limit their interaction with others. For example, you could allocate specific time slots to visitors and restrict the areas they can access.

If a visit is for carrying out essential services, you may consider if it can be scheduled at a time where there would be minimal interaction and overlap between the contractor and employees.

Employers should give employees training in any relevant Coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation measures before their return to work. You should ensure that all your employees are aware of all Coronavirus (COVID-19) related safety procedures and any updates or changes that have been made to your health and safety policies and risk assessments.

You’re also responsible for looking after your employees’ mental health. For more information, read the NHS’ guidance on looking after mental health during the pandemic.

Make your Return to work risk assessment
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Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest