COVID-19: How to ensure everyone's safety in the workplace

As part of the government’s updated guidance on social distancing, advice has been published to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely in their workplaces and help those preparing for a return to their workplaces.

Businesses will be looking to prepare for the ‘new normal’ once they begin their first steps of returning to their workplaces.

There will be things to do, and possibly to purchase, to ensure a safe environment for employees, customers, visitors and delivery people.

Please note: You must not reopen if your business is closed under current government rules. Check if your business or venue can open.

Five steps before reopening

The government has outlined five main steps businesses should take before reopening to ensure it is safe for everyone involved:

  1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
  2. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
  3. Help people to work from home
  4. Maintain 2m social distancing, where possible
  5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk

Read detailed guidance for the five steps here.

Government guidance on safe working

The government has produced guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

There are eight guides that cover a range of different types of work:

Read this guidance here >

Webinars to help you make your workplace COVID-secure

A series of free webinars, hosted by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will explain how to make your workplace COVID-secure.

There are webinars specifically for each of the above types of workplaces. See the full list of webinars here.

What employers need to think about for their workplaces

Each type of work will have unique characteristics and things to do and check, but the following headings are covered in each, with the government’s objective included where stated:

  • Thinking about risk (managing risk and sharing your risk assessment with employees). Government objectives: that all employers carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment; to reduce risk to the lowest practicable level.
  • Who should go to work (protecting people at high risk, people who need to self-isolate, equality in the workplace). Government objectives: that everyone should work from home unless they cannot work from home; to protect vulnerable individuals.
  • Social distancing at work (coming to work and leaving work, moving around buildings and worksites, social distancing with workstations, conducting meetings, common areas, accidents, and security). Government objectives: To maintain 2 metre social distancing wherever possible, including while arriving at and departing from work, while at work, and when travelling between sites.
  • Managing customers, visitors and contractors (explaining guidance, encouraging remote working/connection). Government objectives: minimising unnecessary visits to workplaces; ensuring people understand what they need to do to maintain safety.
  • Cleaning the workplace (before reopening, keeping the workplace clear, handwashing and sanitation facilities, changing rooms and showers, handling goods and other materials). Government objectives: to ensure workplaces are clean and remain clean to prevent transmission; to reduce transmission through contact with objects that come into the workplace.
  • PPE and face coverings (see below for further information)
  • Workforce management (shift patterns and working groups, work-related travel, communications and training). Government objectives: to reduce the number of contacts each employee has; to avoid unnecessary work travel; to help workers delivering to other sites/premises to maintain social distancing and hygiene practices.
  • Inbound and outbound goods. Government objectives: to maintain social distancing; to avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave the site.

In addition to the above, guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people's homes includes:

  • Social distancing at work (moving around when working in a home, appointments in the home). Government objectives: to maintain 2 metre social distancing wherever possible; to ensure handwashing where possible.
  • Interacting with householders. Government objective: ensure people understand what they need to do to maintain safety by communicating with households prior to arrival.
  • Cleaning the work area (hygiene, handling goods). Government objective: to keep work areas clean and prevent transmission through contact with objects that come into or are removed from the home, or by touching contaminated surfaces.
  • Deliveries to the home. Government objective: to maintain social distancing; to avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave a home.

Workplace guidance for NHS Test and Trace service

From May 28th 2020, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus in England will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and will need to share information about their recent interactions. This could include household members, and people with whom they have been in direct contact or within 2 metres of for more than 15 minutes.

There is specific guidance on the NHS Test and Trace service for employers, businesses, workers and the self-employed, which can be found here.

People identified as having been in close contact with someone who has a positive test must stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, to stop unknowingly spreading the virus.

If those in isolation develop symptoms, they can book a test at or by calling 119. If they test positive, they must continue to stay at home for 7 days or until their symptoms have passed. If they test negative, they must complete the 14-day isolation period.

You can find further guidance on the service here.

Who is allowed to work in their workplaces as of May 13th 2020?

You must not reopen if your business is closed under current government rules. Check if your business or venue can open.

The government states: "In the first instance, employers should make every effort to support working from home, including by providing suitable IT and equipment as they have been already.

"Where work can only be done in the workplace, we have set out tailored guidelines for employers to help protect their workforce and customers from coronavirus, while still continuing to trade or getting their business back up and running.

"These ‘back to work’ guidelines apply to those in essential retail like supermarkets; those in construction and manufacturing; those working in labs and research facilities; those administering takeaways and deliveries at restaurants and cafes; tradesmen, cleaners and others who work in people’s homes; and those who are facilitating trade or transport goods."

Read more guidance on who the government advises can go back to work in workplaces.

Government sets out a timeline for retail to reopen in June

The government has announced that:

  • Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1st June 2020, as soon as they are able to meet the COVID-19 secure guidelines to protect shoppers and workers.
  • All other non-essential retail including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios and indoor markets, will be expected to be able to reopen from 15th June 2020 if the Government’s five tests are met and they follow the COVID-19 secure guidelines.

Businesses will only be able to open from these dates once they have completed a risk assessment, in consultation with trade union representatives or workers, and are confident they are managing the risks. They must have taken the necessary steps to become COVID-19 secure in line with the current Health and Safety legislation.

Updated guidance for the retail sector has been published, detailing the measures retailers should take to meet the necessary social distancing and hygiene standards. Read this guidance here.

The government says that:

"Measures that shops should consider include placing a poster in their windows to demonstrate awareness of the guidance and commitment to safety measures, storing returned items for 72 hours before putting them back out on the shop floor, placing protective coverings on large items touched by the public such as beds or sofas, and frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, including self-checkouts, trolleys, coffee machines and betting terminals, for example."

Risk assessments and putting safety plans in place

Carrying out a risk assessment is one of the five steps that a business must take before being allowed to repoen, as per government guidance.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has compiled guidance for employers and those who are self-employed and work with or near other people. This guidance is designed to help you work safely and control the risks associated with running your business at this time.

The guidance explains measures you can take to help you carry on working safely during the coronavirus outbreak, for example by putting in place social distancing measures, staggering shifts, providing additional handwashing facilities, and talking with workers to help them stay safe.

Read this guidance here >

The HSE also has resources to help businesses conduct risk assessments of their workplaces.

Protecting homeworkers

Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for homeworkers as for any other workers.

Read HSE guidance on your responsibilities towards homeworkers.

PPE and face coverings

Government guidance regarding the use and wearing of PPE and face coverings is as follows:

"Where you are already using PPE in your work activity to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, you should continue to do so. When managing the risk of COVID-19, additional PPE beyond what you usually wear is not beneficial.

"Wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. A face covering can be very simple and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. It just needs to cover your mouth and nose. It is not the same as a face mask, such as the surgical masks or respirators used by health and care workers. Similarly, face coverings are not the same as the PPE used to manage risks like dust and spray in an industrial context.

"Supplies of PPE, including face masks, must continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards."

Cleaning workplaces

Government guidance covers the cleaning of environments, including:

  • workplaces
  • offices
  • waiting rooms
  • hotel rooms
  • student accommodation
  • boarding schools

The guidance outlines the cleaning required, the appropriate disposal of materials, the cleaning of equipment and hard surfaces, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) that should be worn. Read the guidance here.

How to reassure your employees that your workplace is safe to work in

How do you bring employees back to work safely and compassionately given all they have been through and reassure them they are being looked after and the environment is safe to work in?

To ease the process, Ashridge Group has produced an essential 9-point guide to help you give compassionate support to employees so that they are fully confident about their return to the workplace and the new working normal they will encounter.

Read this guide here.

Products and support to help you back to work safely

Local businesses are able to offer advice, practical support and products to help your business plan for a safe return to work. These include:

  • Protective/social distancing screens, free site survey, information stands. See offer here >
  • Office space review for those thinking of reducing space after returning to the workplace. See offer here >
  • Free consultation on what kind of face masks/coverings businesses might need on return to work. See offer here >
  • Disposable face shields. See offer here >
  • Printing services for things like information posters, floor graphics, roll-up displays and anything related to COVID-19. See offer here >
  • Deep clean of offices and other workplaces. See offer here >
  • Business recovery twelve-point checklist. See offer here >

These are just a small fraction of all the offers that local businesses have made.

Visit our Offers page for the full list (search by keyword to find what you are looking for).

Preparing office workplaces for reopening

Read a checklist produced by OpenSensors to help you start preparing for a return to an office work environment.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme extended until October 2020

Under the Job Retention Scheme, employers can claim cash grants worth up to 80% of wages, capped at £2,500 a month per worker. You will receive the funds six working days after you claim, provided your claim matches records that HMRC hold for your PAYE scheme.

All of the details can be found here.

The scheme has been extended until October. From the start of August, furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time, with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff. Read more information on this update here.

Regarding the extension to the Job Retention Scheme, James Simpson, head of employment at Blaser Mills Law, said: “The Chancellor’s announcement that the furlough scheme is to be extended until the end of October will be welcome news to businesses and employees across the country as they try to get back on their feet. 

“The rules will allow for furloughed employees to be brought back part-time. This flexible approach will aid employers in implementing a gradual return to work for employees, although it looks like some employers will be asked to make a contribution to the costs of the scheme. We will have to wait for the details of this contribution. 

“Employers will still need to ensure the working environment is safe and measures are in place to limit the risk of infection. Employers should follow the new ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines published on the government website to help them get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely. They include carrying out COVID-19 risk assessments, maintaining social distancing where possible and reinforcing cleaning processes.

“Employers should also take a flexible approach to working patterns, staggering shifts as necessary and adjusting start and finish times to help staff avoid rush hours and the number of people they come into contact with.”

Stay informed of the latest business support re: COVID-19

Remember to visit our COVID-19 business support hub for the latest support and information from the government, business support organisations and other avenues of support. Bookmark so you can easily find it in the future.

Business community ambassadors