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 being continually checked and will be updated and restructured as the Government releases more details.

Returning to the workplace

As the lockdown restrictions are lifted, the timeline for when employees can start returning to the workplace will depend on the industry your organisation is in. However, it is worth starting the planning process now, as re-opening will bring a new set of health and safety challenges in terms of assessing business operations and ensuring the workplace is safe.

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 begin to 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

  • ensuring any asbestos-containing materials have not deteriorated or been damaged

  • ensuring outdoor areas and equipment are free from broken items, litter and other hazards, including overgrown and poisonous plants.

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 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 feature Risk management for COVID-19: the new normal.

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

Will you stagger the return to work? 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 the Coronavirus Emergency Policy.

4. Redesign the workplace for social distancing

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?

  • In childcare settings, as far as possible parents and carers should not enter early years premises and should be discouraged from gathering at setting entrances.

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

  • How will you minimise contact and mixing when caring for and teaching children? Small groups with the same member of staff are recommended, with playing and learning taking place in a separate space from others. This will involve adjusting meal times to be staggered and managing the use of outdoor spaces to provide play in better ventilated areas.

  • Young children and those with special educational needs may find social distancing difficult to understand and are likely to seek close contact with their carers and peers. Risk assessments are essential around managing groups of children and limiting numbers in each group can contribute towards finding more space in which to learn. Groups should remain as consistent as possible throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, including staff consistency.

  • 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?

  • Can you improve ventilation?

  • 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?

  • How will the organisation evacuate for a fire or other emergency?

See Re-opening the workplace after lockdown — part 1.

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 in Early Years Provisions topic has some detailed advice regarding Cleaning and COVID-19, including how to dispose of cleaning waste.

Cleaning needs in childcare and education settings emphasise the cleaning of surfaces which are frequently touched. This includes door handles, hand rails, table tops, play equipment, toys and electronic devices such as phones, for example. Careful consideration will need to be given to the learning environment so that items that can be easily cleaned are used. The use of soft toys and toys with intricate parts or are otherwise hard to clean should be avoided. Read guidance on cleaning for non-healthcare settings.

Childcare and education settings are urged to use hygiene measures as key to reducing transmission and infection, with the main focus on frequently cleaning hands thoroughly as outlined and respiratory hygiene. (Catch it, Bin it, Kill it.)

  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissues when you cough or sneeze. If one is not available, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not into your hand. Dispose of tissues into a disposable rubbish bag and immediately clean your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser.

  • Clean your hands more often than usual, particularly after arriving at your setting, touching your face, blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, and before eating or handling food.

  • To clean your hands you should wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them thoroughly, or use alcohol hand rub/sanitiser ensuring that all parts of the hands are covered.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in childcare and education settings should only be used for those whose care already routinely involves the use of PPE for intimate care needs, such as gloves and aprons for nappy changing. If a child is displaying COVID-19 symptoms, then PPE should be worn only if a 2 metre social distance measure cannot be maintained, for example, due to the age of the child. A child with symptoms should not attend a childcare setting and should be at home.

Where PPE is required, the correct use of it is essential in order for it to be effective and staff should follow these guidelines.

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.

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? See, for example, the Temporary Homeworking During the Coronavirus Emergency Policy.

  • How will you reintegrate furloughed employees?

  • Will work processes change, eg should all meetings be video calls?

  • What training is needed to adjust to the new procedures?

  • What symptoms will you require employees to report? What will be your procedures if there is a suspected case of coronavirus?

  • How will you manage high-risk employees (including those who are pregnant)?

  • What will be the procedure if a nervous employee refuses to return to work when the Government allows it?

  • Does your supply chain or procurement process need support or adjustments?

  • How will you recruit for temporary or cover bank staff following safer recruitment procedures?

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.

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Last reviewed 1 June 2020