A Guide to

The New Normal – Preparing for a Safe Return to the Workplace During COVID-19

Health ans safety at work icon (1)Introduction

With government advice continuing to change, it’s important that those who continue to operate from the workplace follow strict social distancing, health, safety, and employee wellbeing measures, in-line with the latest government guidance during COVID-19. This document is intended only as a guide for working safely during coronavirus and is not exhaustive. You should check all aspects of your return to workplace strategy with your own Health & Safety Advisors. 

Remember, Government guidance and directives should take precedence and should always be followed. Please note, government advice is changing frequently, and this guide will follow suit as and when new information is made publicly available. Employees should continue to work from home unless they cannot perform their normal duties from home. 

As guidance is updated, so will this document be, although please note there may be a short delay whilst information is collated. 

Date of last update: 23/04/21

What does this page cover iconWhat Does This Page Cover?


Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • Office menuHow Can Your Business Begin to Plan for a Safe Return to the Workplace?
  • protcols menuDriving Adoption of Coronavirus Protocols
  • desk menuAre Changes Required to Your Working Environment?
  • Best practise menuGeneral Best Practise for Health and Safety During COVID-19

officeHow Can Your Business Begin to Plan for a Safe Return to the Workplace?

As of the 12th of April, many hospitality venues and non-essential retailers may now begin to open their doors once again. With the unpredictability of the coronavirus situation, it is important for organisations to make preparations for any further changes to government advice regarding COVID-19, and to inform and/or consult with staff on any proposed strategies prior to them being implemented.

Similarly to other European Governments, as part of the plan to ease restrictions, employers are being held responsible for ensuring their employees adhere to anti-contagion and anti-spread guidelines, alongside social distancing measures whilst in the workplace. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and other authorities have been tasked with ensuring all measures have been taken and are being followed.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned of risk of harsher measures, including prosecution, should companies flout health and safety rules related to COVID-19.

Employees themselves will expect employers to afford them all reasonable protection from contracting COVID-19 whilst performing work duties. Therefore, it is essential to have well documented policies, procedures and processes that are regularly updated as official guidance changes, or in reaction to incidents of potential contamination or contraction within the workforce.

As of the 12th of April, due to the lifting of some restrictions as part of the government's COVID-19 roadmap, the following rules now apply:

  • Most venues, including non-essential retailers, outdoor hospitality venues, and leisure facilities may now reopen. An extensive list of which can be found here.
  • Employees must continue to work from home, unless they are unable to fulfil their duties effectively. Where people cannot do so – including, but not limited to, critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing – they should continue to travel to their workplace.
  • Social distancing rules, including staying two metres apart from individuals not in your household or support bubble, and the wearing of face coverings, should still be utilised.

For full guidance on restrictions and what they mean for your business, see official government advice, which may still be subject to change.

ProtocolsDriving Adoption of Coronavirus Protocols

Firstly, a very clear policy document that outlines how staff and visitors are required to behave and the measures they should follow need to be drawn up in accordance with official guidelines or new legislation, and must form part of your overall Health & Safety policy. This policy document must be shared with all staff, who in turn should acknowledge they have read, understood, and agree to comply with policy, including any future updates as guidance changes.

“Any instances of staff not adhering to COVID-19 protocols should be considered a disciplinary matter.”

There will be varying and wide-ranging degrees of complacency vs extreme concern across the workforce and flouting of social distance by some will undoubtedly be emotive and cause distress in others.

The policy should be comprehensive and prescriptive, including very clear instructions about steps to follow in the event of self-isolation, reporting incidents relating to onset of symptoms, notification of proximity to anyone else displaying symptoms, confirmation of infection, and any on-site breaches of policy.

DeskAre Changes Required to Your Working Environment?

Social distancing guidelines should be considered when planning workspace prior to any return to work. Proximity of desks, population density in buildings and occupancy of meeting rooms, common areas, stairwells, and corridors should all be adapted to ensure the requisite social distance can be observed at all times.

Protection zones should be marked around table or desks, and in open plan spaces using stickers. Strategically placed signage should be displayed at all key locations to instruct on the use of provided hand sanitisers, along with hand washing guidance in bathrooms and toilets.

Entry and Exit procedures should be established for all buildings, and between floors, and separate departments, including hand sanitisation. In the case of shops or bars, a clear maximum capacity should be set, with a queue system in place if necessary.

“Organisations should consider splitting departments into distinct teams, with alternate attendance in the office. Between each shift rotation a deep clean of the environment should take place, and regular surface cleaning should be standard practice during the day.”

Established processes should be communicated to all managers and supervisors in the event that a member of staff or visitor starts to exhibit symptoms whilst on site, and agreed processes invoked immediately. Anybody who has been on site who subsequently exhibits symptoms, confirms as infected or has been in proximity to an individual affected within the preceding five days, should have a means to report immediately, and in turn other colleagues on the same shift pattern notified.

Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be provided for those working in close proximity, or offered to staff as an option, other than if guidelines or legislation dictates in which case it must be provided. Allocation to staff should be recorded along with further acknowledgement that staff will adhere to the use, lifespan management and disposal guidance. Stock levels should be monitored closely and replenished prior to existing PPE being end of life (EoL).

Employees who need to work should avoid public transport wherever possible. Where public transport is required, a face mask should be worn.

Best practiseGeneral Best Practise for Health and Safety During COVID-19

  • Think about risk; do everything reasonably practical to minimise them, recognising you cannot completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19.
  • Only allow workers in roles critical for business and operational continuity to return to the workplace, if their roles cannot be performed remotely.
  • Focus on personal hygiene: encourage and enable a culture of frequent hand sanitisation through the provision of antibacterial gel dispenser stations.
  • Prohibit car sharing other than for members of the same household.
  • Employees who need to work at the office should avoid public transport wherever possible.
  • Smokers should not share paraphernalia.
  • Kitchens and communal areas should be strictly managed to avoid contact or surface contamination.
  • Consumption of food in the office should be prohibited.
  • Maintaining social distancing at work through fixed teams, marked entrances and exits, and keeping activity time as short as possible.
  • Manage contact with unnecessary visits to the office by encouraging remote meetings, maintaining visitor records, and restricting access.
  • Frequent cleaning of work areas, objects, and surfaces, with handwashing and sanitiser stations.
  • Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) must be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace. Employees wearing PPE should wash their hands thoroughly before putting a face covering on, or after removing it.
  • Employ workforce management to change the way work is organised to create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each employee has.
  • Manage inbound and outbound goods by reducing frequency of deliveries, revising pick-up and drop-off points, and have single workers load or unload vehicles where possible and safe.

All of the above measures should be considered as part of a safe return to the workplace strategy. This guidance is not exhaustive but based on a practical understanding of the current official advice. Whatever measures your organisation decides to put into place to provide a safe and healthy workplace, it is an ISO 45001 requirement to have a suitable system to manage, monitor, report and record, in order to be able to pro-actively improve your OH&S performance.  Having a robust system capable of withstanding an external audit is essential and will help protect an organisation from exposure to avoidable legal and personal risks.

To discover exactly how Safetybank can help your business fulfil vital health and safety compliance during COVID-19, request a demo today.

For a helping hand in understanding how to further promote Health and Safety best practice, download our free of charge comprehensive guide here.


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