Returning to work following COVID-19 closures
The UK Government’s roadmap for re-opening business sets out when various sectors of business can reopen, and employees return. Office workers should continue to work from home on a temporary basis where possible. Businesses and employees will need to follow detailed safety protocols when they reopen after COVID-19 closures.
This article is a summary of the return to work safety protocol published by the HSA, the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Business, Enterprise, &Innovation. The protocol describes the steps that employers and employees should take before a workplace reopens to make sure they can return to work safely. It also covers how businesses should operate after they reopen to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The protocol may change or be updated over time. Please check back as we will continue to add information when more detailed information becomes available.
Both employers and employees should keep up to date with the latest HSE advice and guidance.
Planning for return to work
All employers must prepare and put systems and controls in place before they reopen their business and workplaces. Your employer must:
- Appoint at least one lead worker representative to make sure safety measures are in place and being followed.
- Update business/safety plans, including the business COVID-19 Response Plan, the occupational health and safety risk assessment and the safety statement.
- Include how to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19 in the safety plans and appoint a dedicated manager in charge of dealing with suspected cases.
- Develop, consult on, communicate, and implement workplace changes or policies.
- Send out a pre-return to work form to employees at least 3 days before their return to work.
- The form will ask employees to confirm they have not had symptoms of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been diagnosed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have not been in close contact with someone confirmed or suspected of COVID-19 in the past 14 days and are not self-isolating.
- You can get a return to work form template from the HSA website. Note: Employers should not directly receive any test results from the HSE. Rather, the results should be provided to the person tested, who should then pass on the outcome to his or her employer.
- Provide COVID-19 induction training for all staff.
- Put in place temperature testing in line with public health advice.
Getting to and from work
Ideally and if possible, walk or cycle. However if you need to utilise other options you should travel alone if using your personal car for work or at a maximum travel with one other passenger who should adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Your employer should provide you with hand sanitisers and cleaning equipment for your work vehicle. More information on public transport will be published when it is available.
Staying safe at work
Employers and employees should work together to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Your employer must:
- Have appropriate hygiene facilities in place, display posters of good hand washing practices and have proper ventilation. Give tissues as well as bins or bags for employee’s disposal. Empty bins regularly and provide advice on good respiratory practice.
- Provide for physical distancing across all work activities of at least 2 metres as much as possible. (Staggering breaks, put in place arrangements for meetings and cafe facilities, put in place a no handshaking policy, no sharing of cups or pens, adapt sign in or sign out systems).
- Install physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards between workers were 2 metre distancing is not possible.
- Keep a log of any group work to help with contact tracing.
- Have regular cleaning of the workplace and provide hand sanitisers.
- Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protective clothing where there is an identified COVID-19 exposure risk and in line with public health advice. You can get more information on PPE from the HSA.
- Make sure employees look after their mental health and well-being and are aware of any employee assistance programmes.
If an employee has symptoms of the virus during work hours, your employer must have a designated isolation area for employees and must follow a specific procedure:
- The designated manager must direct the person to a designated isolation area, along a designated route
- Maintain a 2-metre distance
- Arrange for the employee to stay in isolation before arranging for them to be transported home, or to a medical facility, avoiding public transport.
- Carry out a full risk assessment of the incident to see what, if any, further action needs to be taken
As an employee, you should:
- Follow the public health advice and guidance
- Work together with your employer and follow any specific procedures and instructions from your employer to keep safe
- Adopt good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, respiratory etiquette, and physical distancing
- Get professional healthcare advice if you are unwell
- Not go to work if you have any symptoms of COVID-19
- Let your employer know if you believe there are reasons why it is not safe for you to be at work, or if you are concerned that you could be putting a member of your household at risk