How to make your workplace coronavirus (COVID-19) secure

Before people return to their workplaces, employers are legally required to assess the risks of returning to work during the COVID-19 outbreak and put steps in place to manage that risk.

To support employers in creating COVID-19 secure workplaces, we have included guidance on our COVID-19 page. Each guide is designed for different types of work environments to help employers, employees and self-employed people stay safe when returning to work.

Following this guidance and keeping employees safe at work is hugely important for the success of your business during these difficult times, and it’s also a legal requirement. Boris Johnson has said the HSE will be performing spot inspections to make sure employers are keeping their employees safe.

In this article, we’ve summarised government advice to help you return to work safely and create a COVID-19 secure workplace.

What Is a COVID Secure Workplace?

Unfortunately, as long as the coronavirus outbreak lasts, every workplace will face the risk of COVID-19 transmission. However, creating a COVID secure workplace is about making work environments as safe as possible for people returning to work, customers and site visitors. Risks of COVID-19 transmission need to be identified, assessed and avoided or reduced.

How to Make Your Workplace COVID-19 Secure

The recent government guidance outlines a number of steps employers should take to make workplaces safe for employees, contractors, customers and members of the public. How you manage transmission risk will depend on your specific workplace, but here are some steps outlined in government guidance that can apply to all businesses.

Carry Out a COVID-19 Risk Assessment

The government has said employers must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment of workplaces as soon as possible. You will still need to follow the five steps of risk assessments to identify hazards, assess risks and take action to prevent them, but this assessment will focus solely on risks of coronavirus transmission.

You should take into account which staff will be returning to work, and which activities or tasks will be carried out on site. This information may differ from usual practices as you may be working on a phased return to work or running a reduced service.

You should use the findings of your COVID-19 risk assessment to reduce risk to the lowest possible levels by identifying and implementing effective control measures. The Institution of Occupational Health and Safety (IOSH) has outlined the hierarchy of COVID control measures. They noted that while elimination and substitution are usually the most effective forms of risk mitigation, it’s not going to be possible to eliminate or substitute coronavirus risks completely. So there are three main types of control measures that can be implemented:

  • Engineering Control Measures: These are the most effective coronavirus control measures. They involve making physical changes to the workplace to place a barrier between the person and the hazard. Engineering controls may include physical barriers such as screens between people.
  • Administrative Control Measures: This type of action involves keeping the workplace and equipment clean, adjusting workplace tasks and activities, and potentially redesigning the workplace to make it safer. Administrative controls can include social distancing training, distance markings, signage and increased hygiene practices. You may also decide to limit the number of employees returning to work, or the number of customers or visitors permitted on-site at any one time.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: PPE such as gloves, masks and respirators is the least effective form of coronavirus risk mitigation so it should be a last resort. For PPE to be necessary, workers will still be coming into contact with transmission risks. Personal protective equipment is also only effective if workers use it correctly.

Control measures that should be implemented will vary from business to business, but you’ll find some of the most applicable and important measures explained throughout this article.

After identifying the actions to take to mitigate transmission risks, you will need to record and write up the findings of the risk assessment, so that this information can be easily shared with workers.

Share the Results of Your COVID Risk Assessment

Employers are asked to share the results of their risk assessment with their workforce. All employers with over 50 employees are also expected to publish the results of their risk assessment on their website. Organisations of all sizes are urged to consider publishing the results if they can. Organisations with fewer than five employees aren’t usually expected to produce written risk assessments, but the HSE says it might help if you do.

Sharing the results of your COVID risk assessment can make employees feel safe at work and encourage them to take an active role in managing transmission risks. While workplace health and safety is primarily the responsibility of employers, employees also have a role to play in making sure workplaces are safe and COVID secure. Employers have also been urged by the government to work with any other employers or contractors sharing the workplace to ensure everybody’s health and safety is protected.

Communicating risk assessment findings can be done via email, training, meetings or site inductions. The government has also produced a poster for employers to display in their workplace to show they have followed government guidance on managing COVID-19 transmission risks.

Maintain Social Distancing Measures Where Possible

Social distancing plays an important role in the government’s plans to get people back to work. By making sure workers and customers stay two metres apart from each other, the risk of airborne transmission of the virus can be drastically reduced.

Businesses may put social distancing markers in place or limit the number of employees and customers in the workplace. Signage can also remind people to maintain a safe distance from each other.

While there will be certain work tasks that can’t be completed while social distancing, you will need to review whether an activity needs to take place if social distancing isn’t possible. If tasks are essential, you will need to consider how to make these activities as safe as possible (this may involve workers using PPE).

Decide Who Needs to Return to the Workplace

Returning to work should be a gradual process so you can ensure that health and safety measures are effective and it is safe for a large workforce to return to the workplace. At first, only essential staff should be encouraged back to work. Anyone who can work from home should still do so.

Limiting the number of employees returning to work is particularly important for businesses that require workers to work in confined spaces. For example, construction teams completing a project in someone’s home should reduce the number of workers if there is limited space.

Manage Customers, Visitors and Contractors

As well as managing employees as they return to work, it’s also important to minimise the number of unnecessary visits to the workplace. Customers and site visitors should be made aware of social distancing measures, and you may decide to limit the number of people allowed on-site at any given time.

Contractors too, should be made aware of the control measures in place with an induction before they start work. You should also try to reduce interaction between people by introducing one-way flow routes through buildings, staggering worker arrival and departure times and planning work schedules so that, where possible, there’s no overlap between contractor visits.

Implement Additional Hygiene Measures around the Workplace

Hygiene in the workplace has never been more important. The frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning should increase, sanitising hand rub dispensers should be filled and placed around the workplace, and you may want to ask workers to wear masks. Waste also needs to be considered — if employees use tissues or disposable PPE, these need to be discarded into closed bins once used and disposed of hygienically.

You can encourage workers to carry out additional hygiene measures by using posters, meetings and training sessions to promote good hygiene in the workplace.

Follow Industry-Specific Advice

Above are just some of the control measures that can help you create a COVID-19 secure workplace. It’s important to consider any advice specifically produced for your sector, such as the sector-specific government guidance or advice from trade associations or trade unions.

For example, the Construction Leadership Council has created a set of COVID-19 site operating procedures specifically for the construction industry.

Summary of 5 steps to working safely

1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

Before restarting work you should ensure the safety of the workplace by:

  • carrying out a risk assessment in line with the HSE guidance
  • consulting with your workers or trade unions
  • sharing the results of the risk assessment with your workforce and on your website

2. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures

You should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning by:

  • encouraging people to follow the guidance on hand washing and hygiene
  • providing hand sanitiser around the workplace, in addition to washrooms
  • frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly
  • enhancing cleaning for busy areas
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets
  • providing hand drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical dryers

3. Help people to work from home

You should take all reasonable steps to help people work from home by:

  • discussing home working arrangements
  • ensuring they have the right equipment, for example remote access to work systems
  • including them in all necessary communications
  • looking after their physical and mental wellbeing

4. Maintain 2m social distancing, where possible

Where possible, you should maintain 2m between people by:

  • putting up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance
  • avoiding sharing workstations
  • using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep to a 2m distance
  • arranging one-way traffic through the workplace if possible
  • switching to seeing visitors by appointment only if possible

5. Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk

Where it’s not possible for people to be 2m apart, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by:

  • considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate
  • keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • using back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible
  • staggering arrival and departure times
  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’