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.
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:
checking the fire alarm systems, extinguishers and escape routes
making sure your water systems avoid legionella risks (see Legionella risks during the pandemic)
ensuring any asbestos-containing materials have not deteriorated or been damaged.
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?
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?
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.
What working hours, shift patterns, and locations need to change?
Will you be making use of the extra month of furlough or the Job Support Scheme? See Extended Job Retention Scheme (Furlough) FAQs (November 2020 onwards) and Job Support Scheme — FAQs.
Will work processes change, eg should all meetings be video calls? Is there outside space you could use?
What training is needed to adjust to the new procedures? Can you do it remotely before the return to the workplace? See Getting the most out of virtual learning
What symptoms will you require employees to report? What will be your procedures if there is a suspected case of coronavirus? See our Employer Factsheet: Managing a Suspected or Confirmed Covid-19 Outbreak.
How will you manage high-risk employees? See Coronavirus and risk assessing vulnerable employees.
Will you require work-related travel? How will this be managed? See Getting back on the road: driving safely during COVID-19
What will be the procedure if a nervous employee refuses to return to work now that the Government is encouraging it?
Does your supply chain or procurement process need support or adjustments?
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
Re-opening the workplace after lockdown — part 1: hygiene, cleaning and social distancing
Re-opening the workplace after lockdown — part 2: working methods, employee training and absence management
Useful news items
Business guidance and support, GOV.UK
Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19, Food Standards Agency
Return to work guidance, British Occupational Hygiene Society.
Last reviewed 30 November 2020