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Factories, plants and warehouses – risk considerations for returning to work

Updated: Jul 10

Factories and warehouses face particular challenges when it comes to keeping workplaces and workers safe. As the lockdown measures are slowly eased and businesses start reopening, these challenges have not gone away – they have merely changed and the approach that businesses take to face them must change too.

The government has issued guidance on how to operate work spaces like factories and warehouses so the threat of infection and illness is reduced as far as possible. The aim of the guidance is to ensure that as many people as possible are kept more than two metres apart from those they do not live with.

The risk assessment

Operators of factories, plants and warehouses should start by conducting a COVID-19 risk assessment, which is a requirement under health and safety law.

Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires all employers to make a ‘suitable and sufficient assessment’ of the risks to which their employees will be exposed while at work, and the risks to which people such as visitors,

delivery people and members of the public might be exposed.

If a business employs fewer than five people, the risk assessment does not need to be written down, although it is a good idea to do so.

When conducting a risk assessment, the risks of exposure to COVID-19 that exist in the business must be considered and control measures introduced that, as far as reasonably practicable, reduce the risk to a minimum. The government acknowledges that it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of the virus.

Employee and union involvement

When assessing the risks, the employer must consult with their employees or the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union. The employees often know best how the day-to-day activities in the business are carried out and can make a valuable contribution to the risk assessment.

Vulnerable employees

Risk assessments should take account of any employees who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and the results of the risk assessment should be shared with the workforce. The Government expects employers with over 50 employees to share the risk assessment on the company website. This can show employees and the general public that the company takes risks to their health seriously and will implement the appropriate protective measures.

Preventative measures

The Government advice says that operators of factories, plants and warehouses should take certain preventative measures in order of priority. These are:

  • Increase the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning.

  • Make every reasonable effort to allow employees to work from home where possible. Where this is not possible, make every reasonable effort to follow social distancing guidelines.

  • If face-to-face working for a sustained period of time cannot be avoided, then consider whether the activity can safely go ahead. People cannot be made to work in an unsafe environment, and an employer could face action from regulators and possible court appearances if they try to do so.

  • If social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full for a particular activity, consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate. If it does, then take all possible mitigating actions to reduce the risk of contact between employees.

Such actions include:

  • Increase frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning

  • Keep activity duration as short as possible

  • Use screens or barriers to separate people.

  • Avoid face-to-face working wherever possible. Use back-to-back or side-to-side working instead.

  • Reduce the number of people in regular contact within the business. Consider setting up small, fixed teams to ensure limited contact.

It is important to remember that the guidance does not replace the existing legal obligations of businesses relating to health and safety, employment or equality. Businesses should ensure they take account of agency workers, contractors and members of the public when preparing for a return to work.


Looking for more advice or guidance on this matter, or any other business-related issue?

rradarstation gives you 24/7 access to guidance, videos and on demand webinars answering frequent questions and downloadable templates to use in the day-to-day running of your business, each written and verified by our legal professionals. You will find the answers you are looking for at rradarstation.

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