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.
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
inspecting lifts or pressure systems
making sure your water systems avoid legionella risks (see Employer Factsheet: Legionella Control 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 During Coronavirus Emergency Policy. There is also our Working from Home Toolkit.
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?
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 updated guidance on ventilation from the HSE and 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?
What is your policy on face coverings in the workplace?
We have a variety of Covid-secure features summarising the Government advice for certain sectors and a library of useful Q&As. See also the Coronavirus Toolkit.
5. Establish your cleaning and hygiene needs
The risk assessment should help you identify the optimal cleaning regime. See Deep cleaning the workplace in the time of coronavirus. 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. You will need to source personal protective equipment if the risk assessment identifies the need for it to prevent Covid-19 infection. 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?
Are you making use of the furlough scheme? See Extended Job Retention Scheme (Furlough) FAQs (November 2020 onwards).
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 and Keeping home-based vulnerable workers safe.
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 when permitted?
Does your supply chain or procurement process need support or adjustments?
What will be your policy on the Covid vaccine? See the template Coronavirus Vaccine Policy.
Will you instigate a workplace testing regime?
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. See Employee consultation and collaboration during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Useful feature articles
Covid-19 and the benefits of video surveillance
Covid Secure: working safely for labs and research facilities
Covid Secure: working safely for construction and outdoor workers
Covid Secure: working safely for food businesses including restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services
Getting back on the road: driving safely during Covid-19
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
Coronavirus and risk assessing vulnerable employees
Using PPE effectively against coronavirus
Supporting mental health in the pandemic
Employer Factsheet: Legionella Control During the Pandemic
Employer Factsheet: Coronavirus (Covid-19) and Provision of First Aid
Employer Factsheet: Covid-19
Employee Factsheet: Coronavirus (Covid-19) and First Aiders
Coronavirus: Return to Work Risk Assessment — Completed Example
Coronavirus: Premises-based Workers Risk Assessment — Completed Example
Coronavirus: Mobile Workers Risk Assessment — Completed Example
Coronavirus: Construction Workers Risk Assessment — Completed Example
Contractor and Visitor Covid-19 Guidance
Useful news items
Covid-19 vaccine uptake in minority ethnic groups triples
HSE issues updated guidance on ventilation as control measure to reduce Covid-19 aerosol transmission
Re-opening the premises? Check your water supply
Caution called for with regard to digital vaccine passports
Feedback updates community face coverings standard
Latest coronavirus Site Operating Procedures
Viruses and job design for cold work
First aid during the coronavirus pandemic
Examination and testing of equipment during the pandemic
Apprentices and close proximity activity
Coronavirus (Covid-19): disposing of waste
Restarting pressure systems at work
HSE updates guidance on health and medical surveillance during coronavirus
Reminder on duty of care to drivers
Risks to and from unvaccinated staff
Cleaning the premises after a Covid case
Covid mist disinfection
Employee refusing to come to work due to Covid
Better communication when wearing masks
Reviewing security management in the pandemic
Coronavirus risk assessment for pregnant employee
Right of delivery drivers to access facilities
Mental Health at Work
Occupational Health: Principles
Risk Assessment: Principles and Techniques
Display Screen Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment: Principles of Use
Risk Assessment in Construction
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 10 May 2021