Coronavirus: Getting back to business and working safely
The government has announced a three-stage approach to getting people in England back to work. From 13 May, certain restrictions have been lifted to allow those who cannot work from home to return to work if it is safe to do so. The government has published a series of guidance papers to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic. However, we know business leaders don’t have hours to sift through government documents so below is a neat summary that should let you access the parts you want to fast.
If you’d like to access one of the eight government guides covering a range of different types of work, here they are listed. Further below we have gathered the information relevant to all businesses within these sectors and provided links to specific guidance depending on the sector you work in.
• Construction and other outdoor work
• Factories, plants and warehouses
• Labs and research facilities
• Offices and contact centres
• Other people’s homes
• Restaurants offering takeaway and delivery
• Shops and branches
Guidance for businesses
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety. This means employers need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them.
- All employers should carry out a coronavirus risk assessment
- If you have fewer than five workers, or are self-employed, you don’t need to write anything down as part of your risk assessment
- There are interactive tools available to support you from the Health and Safety Executive
Employers also have a duty to consult employees on health and safety. You must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by workers. An employer cannot decide who that representative will be
The Health and Safety Executive or a local authority can take action to force an employer to improve control of workplace risks
Employers have a duty to reduce workplace risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures. In the context of coronavirus, this means working through these steps in order:
- Increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning in the workplace
- Make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Where this is not possible, workplaces should make every reasonable effort to comply with social distancing guidelines
- Where social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full, in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff
- Further mitigating actions include:
o Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
o Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
o Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
o Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams or partnering
- If people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then an employer must assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. Employees are not obliged to work in an unsafe environment
During an assessment, an employer should consider whether the people doing the work are especially vulnerable to coronavirus.
Additional guidance has been published for those working in homes and can be accessed on the government’s website.
Employers should carry out a risk assessment as soon as possible. Employers who have already conducted a risk assessment should use the government guidance to identify any further improvements that can be made.
The government has said that results of a risk assessment should be shared with the workforce, and, where a business has over 50 workers, the government expects the results to be published on the company website.
A notice, which can be displayed in a workplace to show that a risk assessment has been conducted, has been produced by the government.
Staff should work from home if at all possible. Consider who is needed to be on-site, for example:
- Workers in roles critical for business and operational continuity, customer facing, facility management and safety or regulatory requirements which cannot be performed remotely
- Workers in critical roles which might be performed remotely but who are unable to do so due to home circumstances or the unavailability of specialist equipment.
Businesses within the leisure industry cannot revert to normal opening practices but pubs, restaurants and takeaways can continue to provide takeaway and delivery services, providing social distancing is maintained wherever possible (see next section).
It is recognised that for providers of in-home services or people who work in or from vehicles, for example, couriers, mobile workers, lorry drivers will find it very difficult to work remotely or from home. Additional guidance for providers of in-home services and for people working from vehicles is available on the government’s website.
Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals have been strongly advised not to work outside the home. Clinically vulnerable individuals, who are at higher risk of severe illness, have been asked to take extra care in observing social distancing and should be helped to work from home, either in their current role or an alternative role.
- If clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable) employees cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on-site role, enabling them to stay two metres away from the others
- Particular attention should also be paid to people who live clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
Individuals who are self-isolating, either because they have symptoms of coronavirus or live in a household with someone who has symptoms, should not come into work.
Employers must take into account specific duties to those with protected characteristics such as expectant mothers who are entitled to suspension on full pay if suitable roles cannot be found. It is breaking the law to discriminate, directly or indirectly, against anyone because of a protected characteristic such as age, sex or disability. Employers should:
- Consider whether they need to put in place any particular measures or adjustments to take account of their duties under the equalities legislation
- Make sure that the steps they take to not have an unjustifiable negative impact on some groups compared to others, for example, those with caring responsibilities
- Involve and communicate with workers whose protected characteristics might expose them to a different degree of risk or might make any measures you are considering implementing inappropriate
- Make reasonable adjustments to avoid disabled workers being put at a disadvantage
There is no requirement to provide additional PPE beyond what employees would usually wear, outside of clinical settings, and employers should not encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against coronavirus.
The government has been clear that PPE cannot be used as an alternative to key safety measures such as social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering.
The guidance recognises that some employees may wish to wear face coverings, although this is optional and not required by law. The current evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect the wearer, but it may protect others if the wearer is infected but has not developed symptoms, and therefore employers must not rely on face coverings and ensure that other measures remain in place.
If employees do choose to use face coverings, employers must tell employees to wear face coverings safely by:
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it
- When wearing a face covering, avoid touching the face or face covering, as germs can travel from the hands
- Change a face covering if it becomes damp or if you touch
- Continue to wash hands regularly
- Change and wash face coverings daily
- If the material is washable, wash in line with manufacturer’s instructions. If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in usual waste
Employers are asked to take steps to ensure that social distancing is maintained and surface transmission avoided when goods enter and leave a site.
The government has outlined seven steps that employers should take to help ensure goods are moved safely:
- Revising pick-up and drop-off collection points, procedures, signage and markings
- Minimising unnecessary contact, for example through non-contact deliveries
- Considering methods to reduce the frequency of deliveries
- Where possible and safe, having single workers load or unload vehicles
- Where possible, using the same pairs of people where more than one is needed
- Enabling drivers to access welfare facilities when required
- Encouraging drivers to stay in their vehicles where this does not compromise their safety
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risks to their health and safety. This means employers need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, including workers’ journey to and from the office. This is an important aspect to consider as part of any return to work risk assessment.
Before asking employees to return to work, it is important to consider whether they need to be in the office to carry out this work. The government continues to urge those who are able to work from home to continue to do so, and to plan for the minimum number of people on any site to operate safely and effectively. Employers are therefore encouraged to limit those in the office to solely those who undertake:
- Roles critical for business and operational continuity, safe facility management, or regulatory requirements and which cannot be performed remotely
- Critical roles which might be performed remotely, but who are unable to work remotely due to home circumstances or the unavailability of safe enabling equipment
For employees who must travel to the place of work
For those employees who fall into the above categories, and therefore must be physically present in the office or place of work, the government has issued guidance with the overarching aim of “maintaining social distancing wherever possible, on arrival and departure, and to ensure hand-washing upon arrival.” This guidance advises employers to:
- Stagger arrival and departure times to reduce crowding in and out of the workplace
- Work to reduce congestion by opening more entry and exit points in the workplace, and introducing spacing markings and one-way systems at these points
- Define process alternatives where social distancing measures may be difficult to implement. An example of this is showing a security pass to security personnel at a distance, rather than physically swiping a card
- Provide additional parking or bike racks to encourage employees to walk, run, cycle, or drive to work where possible
- Limit passengers in corporate vehicles, for example by leaving seats vacant, in order to adhere to social distancing
- Encourage employees to avoid public transport where possible. If walking, cycling or driving to the place of work is not feasible and public transport must be used, social distancing measures must be observed, together with the use of a non-medical face covering. The government has issued further guidance on the use of public transport
- Providing hand-washing facilities at entry/exit points, and not using touch-based security appliances where possible
Social distancing is a key element of the government’s response to coronavirus and the government guidance is that social distancing must be maintained in the workplace wherever possible. This means ensuring a two-metre distance from others while arriving at and departing from work, while in work, and when travelling between sites.
Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not only the places where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and similar settings.
Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff/ customers.
Mitigating actions are:
- Further increasing the frequency of hand-washing and surface cleaning
- Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
- Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
- Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
- Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams or partnering
Employers should ensure that social distancing is maintained wherever possible, including on arrival and departure and ensure hand-washing upon arrival.
Steps that will usually be needed:
- Staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics
- Providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible
- Limiting passengers in corporate vehicles, for example, work minibuses. This could include leaving seats empty
- Reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points to the workplace
- Using markings and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points
- Providing hand-washing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points
- Providing alternatives to touch-based security devices such as keypads
- Defining process alternatives for entry and exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating pass readers at turnstiles in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance.
If employees are usually required to move around their place of work or site, employers should:
- Reduce movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites, for example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging use of radios or telephones, where permitted, and cleaning them between use
- Reduce job and equipment rotation
- Introduce more one-way flow through buildings
- Reduce the maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts, and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible
- Make sure that people with disabilities are able to access lifts
- Reduce the occupancy of vehicles used for onsite travel, for example, shuttle buses
- Regulate the use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain social distancing.
Where possible, employers should set up workstations so that social distancing between individuals can be followed when employees are at their workstations and workstations should be assigned to a sole individual as much as possible. If this is not possible, they should be shared by the smallest possible number of people.
If it is not possible to keep workstations 2m apart, then extra attention needs to be paid to equipment, cleaning and hygiene to reduce risk. Employers should:
- Review layouts, line set-ups or processes to allow people to work further apart from each other
- Use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help workers keep a two-metre distance
- Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, arranging people to work side-by-side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face
- Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, installing screens to separate people from one another
- Using a consistent pairing system if people have to work in close proximity, for example, during two-person working, lifting or maintenance activities that cannot be redesigned
To reduce transmission due to face-to-face meetings and maintain social distancing in meetings, employers should:
- Use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings
- Only participants who are vitally necessary should attend meetings and should maintain a two-metre separation throughout
- Avoid transmission during meetings, for example, from sharing pens and other objects
- Provide hand sanitiser in meeting rooms
- Hold meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms whenever possible
- For areas where regular meetings take place, use floor signage to help people maintain social distancing
Social distancing must be adhered to in common areas. Employers should consider:
- Staggering break times to reduce pressure on break rooms or places to eat
- Using safe outside areas for breaks
- Creating additional space by using other parts of the worksite or building that have been freed up by remote working
- Using protective screening for staff in receptions or similar areas
- Providing packaged meals or similar, to avoid opening staff canteens, where possible
- Reconfiguring seating and tables to maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions
- Encouraging staff to stay on-site during working hours
- Considering use of social distance marking for other common areas such as toilets, showers, lockers and changing rooms and in any other areas where queues typically form
In an emergency, for example, an accident, fire, or break-in, people do not have to stay two metres apart if it would be unsafe. People involved in the provision of assistance to others should pay particular attention to sanitation measures immediately afterwards, including washing hands.
To ensure the safety of employees and customers, businesses should ensure that sites or locations have been properly cleaned prior to reopening. This will include carrying out an initial risk assessment where a site or part of a site has been closed and following the cleaning procedures outlined below.
Keeping the workplace clean
To keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission by touching contaminated surfaces:
- Frequently clean work areas and equipment between uses, using the usual cleaning products
- Frequently clean objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, such as buckets, site equipment and control panels, and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements
- Clear workspaces and remove waste and belongings from the work area at the end of each shift
- Sanitise hand tools, controls, machinery and equipment after use
- If cleaning after a known or suspected case of coronavirus, employers should refer to specific guidance
To help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day, employers should:
- Provide additional hand-washing facilities, for example, pop-ups, particularly on a large site or where there are significant numbers of personnel on site
- Use signs and posters to build awareness of good hand-washing technique, the need to increase hand-washing frequency and avoid touching your face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available
- Provide regular reminders and signage around the workplace to maintain hygiene standards
- Provide hand sanitisers in multiple locations in addition to washrooms
- Set clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible
- Enhance cleaning for busy areas
- Special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets
- Provide more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection
- Where possible, provide paper towels as an alternative to hand dryers in hand-washing facilities
To reduce transmission through contact with objects that come into the workplace, employers need to:
- Ensure cleaning procedures are in place and adhered to for goods and merchandise entering the site
- Ensure shared equipment is cleaned after each use
- Encourage increased hand-washing and introduce more hand-washing facilities for workers handling goods and merchandise or provide hand sanitiser where this is not practical
- Regular cleaning of vehicles that workers may take home
- Enhance handling procedures of laundry to prevent potential contamination of surrounding surfaces, to prevent raising dust or dispersing the virus
The government has outlined specific guidance for businesses that operate customer fitting rooms which asks those businesses to carefully consider whether fitting rooms should be open, given the challenges in operating them safely. Full guidance can be found on the government’s website.
To minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers, employers should:
- Set clear use and cleaning guidance for showers, lockers and changing rooms where they are required, to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items and that social distancing is achieved as much as possible
- Introduce enhanced cleaning of all facilities regularly during the day and at the end of the day
If for any reason work will be undertaken in someone else’s home such as cleaning or construction, there are a few additional points to consider:
- Ensure social distancing and hygiene measures are followed when supplies or tools need to be delivered to a home, for example building supplies
- Collect materials in bulk to reduce the frequency of needing to visit shops to buy or collect materials
- Removing waste in bulk if possible
- Arranging methods of safely disposing waste with the householder
Other helpful resources
Visit other parts of our coronavirus business support hub
Making the right decisions about bringing staff back to work
A pulse survey is a good source of insight, one that helps you manage the transition more smoothly, collaboratively and sensitively. Here's how you might put one together.