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HSE Guidance on safely returning to work

Updated: Feb 16

As the lockdown restrictions are gradually relaxed and businesses start to reopen, new guidance has been issued by the government and HSE on how to manage a safe return to work. This guidance should be looked at closely by all employers who are considering either a full or partial reopening of their workplaces. Those whose workplaces remained open throughout the crisis should also assess whether they need to make any further arrangements to improve safety and ensure compliance.

The guidance issued is described as ‘non-statutory’ and should therefore be read alongside existing health and safety legislation.

What to consider

Employers need to think about whether they are doing all that is reasonably practicable to ensure employees are protected from the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. To comply with existing health and safety obligations, employers will need to show that they have considered everything that an employee does during their working day, including how they enter and leave the premises, move through the workplace, use their workstations, meet others, take breaks and use rest rooms.

The Guidance

Government guidance sets out four main areas for employers to consider when thinking about opening up their workplaces again:

1. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

This is a legal requirement and needs to be carried out so that employers can reduce the risk of breaches of health and safety legislation.

The risk assessment looks at the things that could cause injury or illness in the business, the likelihood that someone could be harmed and how serious this might be, and what actions can be taken to eliminate the identified hazards or - at the very least - control the risk.

There are several steps to be taken when carrying out a risk assessment:

  • Identify hazards

  • Assess the risks

  • Control the risks

  • Record the findings

  • Review the controls

It is important for employers to remember when carrying out the risk assessment that they should consult with workers or trade unions and share the results of the risk assessment with the workforce.

Government advice is that all businesses with more than 50 employees should publish the risk assessment on their company website. If the regulators become aware that employees are being required to return before a risk assessment has been completed, this is likely to result in an investigation and possible enforcement action.

2. Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures

Employers 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 – paper towels are recommended

3. Maintain 2-metre social distancing, where possible

Where possible, the 2-metre distance between people should be maintained 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 2-metre distance

  • arranging one-way traffic through the workplace if possible

  • switching to seeing visitors by appointment only if possible

  • spacing desks and workspaces two metres apart.

4. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk

Where it is not possible for people to be 2 metres apart, everything practicable should be done 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’


Following these steps will help an employer if they need to show that they have discharged their statutory duty in terms of health and safety.

If employers do not comply with health and safety legislation, they may face a range of possible actions. The HSE has confirmed that it will take steps to issue enforcement notices where necessary. Specific offences created by Public Health legislation and existing health and safety legislation breaches will be met with enforcement action in the usual way.


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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