This toolkit provides step-by-step guidance for re-opening the workplace after the COVID-19 restrictions. It provides links to key information and templates on the website. The information is checked and updated.

Returning to the workplace

Re-opening the workplace brings a new set of health and safety challenges in terms of assessing business operations and ensuring the workplace is safe and Covid-19 secure.

Employer duties

Employers should remember that they have a duty of care towards their employees and should take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their workforce, preventing them from exposing themselves to unnecessary risk.

Planning the return to the workplace

1. Inspect the premises

If the property has been left completely unattended, you may find unexpected pests, damage or breakages — all of which need to be addressed before employees return.

Tests to run before the premises is reoccupied might include:

See the features Protecting empty property and How to mothball your building for keeping premises ready for re-opening.

2. Undertake the necessary risk assessments

These will help you identify the additional control measures and adjustments that will need to be implemented. Use the Coronavirus Return to Work Risk Assessment — Completed Example and Coronavirus Staff at Risk — Risk Assessment Template as a starting point. These assessments should be carried out in consultation with employees or trade unions and should be continually reviewed and adjusted. See also the features Risk management for COVID-19: the new normal and Coronavirus and risk assessing vulnerable employees.

The Government has said that: “If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.”

3. Decide who will return

The priority will be those employees who can’t do their job fully from home. Are there others who could continue working from home for the foreseeable future? Don’t forget to continue to support homeworkers. See Your home DSE workstation check and Temporary Homeworking Policy during the coronavirus emergency. There is also a feature on 10 ways to optimise homeworking.

4. Redesign the workplace to be Covid secure

Review workplaces, procedures and work patterns. For example, you could consider the following.

  • Can you adjust work patterns and arrival/departure times to reduce the number of employees in the premises at the same time?

  • How can you reduce bottlenecks at access points and lifts?

  • Do you need screens or barriers for employees?

  • Would investing in equipment for card payments prevent contact through handing over cash?

  • What actions should be taken to mitigate the risks of shared equipment or hot-desking?

  • How will you maintain distancing and hygiene with regards to bathroom use? See How to make your toilet facilities coronavirus-safe.

  • Can you improve ventilation? See Safer ventilation at work — airborne transmission of the virus.

  • Could you implement one-way corridors?

  • To what degree do employees need to change how they use break times, and access kitchens, canteens and refreshments on-site?

  • What will be the procedure for visitors and contractors?

  • Would signs or other visual aids assist in changing behaviour? See Coronavirus — how to change behaviour

  • How will the organisation evacuate for a fire or other emergency? What changes need to be made for first aid provision?

See Re-opening the workplace after lockdown — part 1. We also have a variety of Covid Secure features summarising the government advice for certain sectors.

5. Establish your cleaning and hygiene needs

The risk assessment should show whether a deep clean is required before the premises reopen. See Deep cleaning the workplace in the time of coronavirus. Until a vaccine is available, the organisation will need to maintain a high level of hygiene. Government guidance says employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points. It might be useful to circulate this Employee Factsheet: Hygiene at Work.

Identify your cleaning needs (eg more frequent cleaning, regular disinfecting of surfaces, handles, keyboards, bannisters, lift buttons, photocopiers, etc) and confirm whether your existing cleaning contractor can fulfil them. Do you need to bring in additional help or order supplies? The Cleaning topic has some detailed advice regarding Cleaning and COVID-19, including how to dispose of cleaning waste.

6. Consider issues around work equipment

Plant and machinery will need to be inspected for deterioration, etc. If employees have taken IT equipment, office furniture or other assets home with them you will need a plan to get them back to the workplace, sanitised and checked. If the risk assessment identifies the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent COVID-19 infection, ensure you purchase appropriate PPE that will not deplete NHS and care workers supplies. See the feature Using PPE effectively against coronavirus.

7. Amend your HS and HR policies accordingly

Obviously there are lots of variables depending on the organisation, its size and activities. Issues to look at might include the following.

8. Devise a communications strategy

It is worth involving staff and unions in the planning process and you should keep communications channels open with staff, unions, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Once you have a plan, it needs to be communicated carefully to all employees on the understanding that it will likely need to be adjusted as you go. Aim to give employees reasonable notice of a return to the workplace so that they can arrange childcare, investigate commuting options, etc. Your employees must be confident that you are not putting them at risk by asking them to return to work, so let them know the measures you are taking to keep them safe.

Useful feature articles

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Last reviewed 30 November 2020