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Safe workplaces

Creating a Covid secure workplace

Some workplaces needed to remain open during global, national and local lockdowns. Sectors included but were not limited to healthcare, communications and production and distribution of food, drink and essential goods. Their remaining open was made possible by creating Covid secure workplaces and following sector specific guidance. The following steps provide a logical approach to creating a Covid secure environment for workers, visitors and contractors.

Steps to creating a Covid Secure workplace

Step 1 – Review all local guidance and determine whether you may legally open and what rules need to be followed

Step 2 - Complete a Covid-19 risk assessment to identify the hazards and necessary controls

Step 3 – Use the risk assessment to create a Covid secure health and safety plan

Step 4 - Implement the plan and controls to prevent transmission in the workplace

Step 5 – Communicate your risk assessment findings, identified controls and expectations to the workers and others who have access to your premises

Step 6 – Continue to monitor – workers need to be monitored as they adapt to new rules at work, and the Covid risk assessment will need to be reviewed as the pandemic evolves.


Covid secure controls

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus in your workplace, it is necessary to create a Covid secure workplace based on the following additional controls:

  • Social distancing – measures applied to keep people 2m apart where possible
  • Workplace cleaning – keeping the workplace clean and sanitised
  • Personal hygiene – providing hand washing and sanitising stations
  • Ventilation – natural or mechanical ventilation
  • Use of face coverings and masks
  • Communication to workers of Covid secure expectations
  • Addressing the needs of vulnerable workers – assessment of fitness to work, suitability to return to current job description
  • Lateral flow testing for workers and test and trace.

Opening the workplace after prolonged closure 

Although some workplaces have remained open throughout the Covid-19 crisis, there are many that will re-open following lengthy periods of closure. However, Covid-19 remains a threat as the virus continues to circulate in communities and given that new variants are being discovered. Organisations have a responsibility to prevent and limit the spread of the coronavirus within the workplace.

Reasonable adjustments will need to be made to the workplace, including changes that allow workers to work safely and productively. Workers need to be made clear, however, that if they have any coronavirus symptoms, such as a cough or fever, they must stay at home and not go to work.

Organisations should first consider the Covid-19 risks and determine whether people can work from home. Encouraging them to do so where practicable eliminates a risk. For many workers who cannot work from home, organisations must then consider ways of making the workplace safe, including how to minimise the spread of the coronavirus.

The physical workplace environment can be made safer to return to by following the above guidance. In addition to this guidance, there are specific facility or building requirements that will need to be considered when re-opening after a prolonged closure.

Facility/Building considerations when opening after prolonged closure: 

  • Evaluate the building and its mechanical services to ensure it is ready for occupancy.
  • Assess for issues associated with prolonged shut down (eg pests, rodents, mould growth and stagnant water)
  • Ensure ventilation systems operate properly and are effective - especially heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems
  • Consider taking steps to improve mechanical ventilation based on local transmission of coronavirus and environmental conditions
  • Increase natural ventilation where possible by opening windows and doors
  • Special precautions may be necessary for escalators and elevators
  • Common areas (kitchens, restrooms, changing facilities, reception etc) will need special consideration to maintain social distancing rules, particularly at arrival and leaving times
  • Manage occupancy levels to accommodate social distancing rules.

Risk assessments 

Make changes using a ‘risk-based approach’. Revisit pre-Covid 19 workplace risk assessments and ensure that any additional controls necessary to make the workplace Covid secure are identified. Check that additional controls do not make existing risks more dangerous. Any additional controls should be aligned to local guidance and legislation, and communicated to workers.

Covid secure control measures

Put into place controls that follow the Hierarchy of Control. This means that any risks identified should be controlled by elimination, substitution, and engineering control measures before relying on administrative or PPE controls. Below are some examples of the methods of control.

Examples of controls based on the Hierarchy of Control

Engineering controls Administrative controls  Personal protective equipment 
  • space furniture and equipment
  • physical barriers
  • create one-way routes
  • use disposable items in high-touch communal areas
  • use natural ventilation as much as possible
  • effective mechanical ventilation based on site needs
  • preventing entry of sick workers
  • rapid lateral flow testing
  • daily symptom monitoring
  • test and trace
  • increase signage and posters to reflect expectations
  • hygiene and PPE training for staff
  • staggered shifts
  • restricting staff gatherings
  • work from home/ flexible working hours
  • vaccination
  • increase facility cleaning and disinfection
  • provide additional hand washing/ sanitising facilities
  • correct face coverings/ masks/respirators
  • eye protection
  • gloves
  • special clothing (ie aprons, visors)

The reopening of business premises will not happen overnight. Once organisations have made their premises safe, consideration will need to be given to the way that staff and the organisational cultures can adapt to the returning to work. Webinar recordings of how sectors and specific companies managed this process can be viewed on our website.

Returning safely to schools and centres of learning

This guidance for educational decision-makers and educators covers what to consider when deciding if and how to reopen centres of learning in the context of Covid-19. These decisions have important implications for educators and other staff, children, parents or carers, communities and society at large.


Additional Resources

IOSH offers free e-learning modules on returning to work:

COVID-19: Back to the workplace - Adapting workplaces and protecting workers at OSH Wiki

The CDC COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings provides guidance for opening workplaces safely.

The UK.Gov and Back to Work Safely websites provide sector specific guidelines

Keeping workplaces safe as coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are eased – sources of advice from the HSE

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Returning safely to schools

This guidance for school decision-makers and educators covers what to consider when deciding if and how to reopen schools in the context of Covid-19. These decisions have important implications for teachers and other staff, children, parents or carers, communities and society at large.

Find out more