What process should employers follow to control coronavirus risks when returning to work from the lockdown?
Where an employer asks employees to return to work, the employer must ensure that it puts in place measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission as far as is reasonably practicable.
The UK Government has published a number of Working safely during coronavirus guides, setting out measures to keep the risk of infection as low as possible in different types of workplace. As public health is a devolved matter, employers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales should consult the UK Government guidance alongside guidance on the public health and safety requirements applicable to their location.
Central to each of the "Working safely" guides is the need for employers to carry out their own risk assessment and put control measures in place, based on factors specific to their workplaces and employees, using the government guidance to inform their decisions. They must consult employee representatives on the measures to be implemented.
Employers must put in place measures to enable staff to comply with the social distancing guidelines, by keeping at least 2m apart, or 1m with risk mitigation measures in place, wherever 2m is not viable. This could involve, for example, limiting the number of people on the premises at any time, marking out 2m spacings on the floor and implementing one-way systems around the building.
Where it is not possible to maintain social distancing at all times in relation to a particular activity, the guidance recommends that the employer considers whether it is necessary for that activity to be carried out at all. If it is, the employer must put in place mitigating measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission between staff as far as possible. Such measures could include using screens or barriers to separate people from each other and reducing the number of people each individual potentially has contact with by using "fixed teams or partnering". All employers should put in place facilities and procedures to increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning.
The Working safely during coronavirus guidance includes recommendations on other areas including cleaning the workplace, the use of personal protective equipment and face coverings, and managing the workforce. Employers should consult the guides that are relevant to the types of workplace they operate.