Working safely and returning to the office during COVID-19

The Government has issued guidance on creating a Covid-19 secure workplace across several industries. For each industry, the guidance on returning to work falls under the same sections and general headings, with the same objectives. Each separate guidance document contains slightly varied steps to take in each area, depending on the requirements for that industry, but the overall intention and advice remains the same across all industries.

We have given a summary here of all the sections covered, and given our interpretation of what this means for workplaces.  The Government guidance on ensuring that your workplace is Covid-19 secure covers the following areas;

Please note: The advice and guidance in this site represents Baker Stuart’s opinion only. Each user assumes full responsibility for the usage of any information published on this site. Please see our detailed disclaimer here.

Creating a Covid-19 Risk Assessment

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

Before bringing employees back into the workplace, there is a lot that needs to be done. The first and most important stage is to create and carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment across the environment to identify any potential hazards or areas of concern. The Government have provided a risk assessment template and also a template for a poster that can be displayed in the workplace to demonstrate that this has been done.

Government Guidance on undertaking a Covid-19 Risk Assessment

  • Objective: That all employers carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment and to reduce risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures, in order of priority.
  • A Risk assessment template can be found here.
  • You should share the results of your risk assessment with your workforce. If possible, you should consider publishing the results on your website (and we would expect all employers with over 50 workers to do so).

Deciding which Employees should Return to Work

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

The Government’s over-riding message is that anyone who can work from home should do so. But this is not always possible, and organisations need to decide who needs to return to work, and who can continue to work from home.  This is key to ensuring that the workplace can be Covid-19 secure, and can accommodate the right staff. We recommend that employers are very robust in deciding whether someone really needs to be back in the office – start with a default that staff should continue to work from home if possible unless there is an overriding business need for them to be in the office.

If staff need to return to the office, then there are considerations that need to be made for certain groups of people. It is also going to be key to note that anyone showing any symptoms should immediately return home and self-isolate.  Further, although not specifically mentioned in the government guidance, we recommend that you eliminate as much as possible any cross-team physical interaction and limit teams to just their areas of the office to restrict the spread of possible outbreaks. 

Government Guidance on who should return to work

  • Objective: That everyone should work from home, unless they cannot work from home.
  • Protecting people who are at higher risk
  • People who need to self-isolate
  • Equality in the workplace

How to Socially Distance when Commuting and in the Workplace

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

How to socially distance in your own workplace is likely to cause the greatest complexity in the return to work process. The Government does acknowledge that keeping 2M apart is not always possible or practical, but the guidance is designed to help employers do everything possible to comply, in order to keep staff safe. In order to create a Covid-19 secure workplace, an organisation needs to consider how to socially distance in communal areas, arriving safely at work, handwashing or sanitising stations in the workplace, and how to maintain social distancing during meetings or other face to face gatherings. One suggestion is to limit teams to meeting among small groups, so as to limit the exposure. It is going to be vital that all workplaces provide sufficient protective equipment for relevant employees and sanitising products for all employees at all times.

Government Guidance on social distancing at work

  • Objective: To maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible, including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work and when travelling between sites.
  • Coming to work and leaving work, including staggered arrival times, additional parking and bike racks and limiting passengers in shared transport, increasing entry and exit points and adding one way flows into buildings and considering alternatives to touch-based door entry.
  • Moving around buildings and worksites, including one-way circulation routes, restricting movement, reducing lift occupancy, ensuring disabled have priority access to lifts and regulating high traffic areas. 
  • Workplaces and workstations, including keeping workers 2m apart, actively managing & monitoring occupancy levels, avoiding hot desks and where not possible sanitizing between use and where 2m distancing isn’t possible consider sitting people side by side not face to face and installing screens. 
  • Reducing and managing physical meetings, including using remote working and remote document transfer tools, limiting attendees to those absolutely necessary, maintaining 2m separation when in meetings, avoid shared use of pens etc, supplying hand sanitizer, holding meetings outdoors and using floor markings/signage to maintain 2m distancing. 
  • Common areas including working with landlords and other tenants, staggering break/lunch times, creating additional break/lunch areas, providing packages meals and encouraging staff to bring their own meals, regulating the use of locker / changing rooms, encouraging staff to put away all personal items and installing screens to protect reception and catering staff.
  • Accidents, security and other incidents are the one area specifically that overrides the guidance, in the event of an accident or fire people to not have to maintain 2m if it is unsafe to do so or is required to respond to the incident. 

How to Engage with your Customers, Visitors and Contractors in a Covid-19 Secure Workplace

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

Companies will need to decide whether or not they need to engage with people face to face when they return to work in a Covid-19 secure way that safeguards their employees. While some of the visitors to our workplaces are going to be beyond our control, companies can take some steps to limit the risk from customers and visitors to the office. For example, deliveries can be left in a designated area, with no contact. Where contractors need to attend a workplace, the same arrival and social distancing measures can be applied to them, as to the employees. For shops or other customer facing environments, the Government guidelines set out other measures that can be taken in those environments to assist in maintaining social distancing, and keeping both the staff and the customers safe.

Government Guidance on managing your customers, visitors and contractors

  • Objective: To minimise the number of unnecessary visits to offices and to make sure people understand what they need to do to maintain safety
  • Manage contacts by encouraging remote/electronic interaction, limiting the number of visitors, staggering schedules, maintaining accurate visitor records, ensuring social distancing and hygiene in visitor areas (eg. reception) 
  • Providing and explaining available guidance before and on arrival, providing training for hosts, reviewing visitor entry and exit routes, and coordinating with other tenants and landlords.

Making sure the Workplace is Clean

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

Before returning to work, a thorough cleaning process needs to take place, to ensure there is no chance of a lingering infection and to ensure that the workplace is Covid-19 secure. Once people return to work, care needs to be taken to ensure that all staff have access to handwashing and sanitising stations, and that there are procedures in place for using communal areas, such as bathrooms and changing rooms. Some suggestions have been to ensure that there should be only one person using facilities at any one time, and that regular cleaning and sanitising should be carried out during the day.

Government Guidance on ensuring that the workplace is clean

  • Objective: To keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission
  • Before reopening, measures such as servicing ventilation systems and frequent opening off doors and windows, 
  • Keeping the workplace clean, upping the frequency of cleaning of work areas and equipment and restricting use of high-touch items (e.g whiteboards and printers)
  • Hygiene – building awareness of good hygiene & handwashing techniques, providing sanitisation facilities, establishing guidelines for use and cleaning of toilets, enhancing cleaning of high use areas and providing more waste facilities and more frequent collections
  • Changing rooms and showers – implementing social distancing, enhanced cleaning and clear guidance/signage for use 
  • Handling goods, merchandise and other materials, and onsite vehicles – cleaning procedures for goods and vehicles and restricting handling and use.

Providing PPE and Face Coverings when returning to work

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

A Covid-19 secure workplace will need to consider having PPE available when employees return to work. PPE covers everything from high-vis jackets, specialist footwear, hard hats and other job-specific requirements, to the current need for face coverings and gloves. Existing PPE used for the job should still be used and the cross-contamination and hygiene of these items should be considered carefully. The government official guidance states that additional PPE is not beneficial and risk should be managed through other measures such as increased hygiene and social distancing. However, it has been indicated that face coverings may not actually protect you from the virus, but that it can protect other people, in the case that you may have the virus but be asymptomatic. Gloves can be useful when handling products but care should be taken to change them or dispose of them regularly to prevent cross-contamination.

Government Guidance on PPE

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – the official guidance is that additional PPE is not required and is not beneficial
  • Face coverings – the guidance acknowledges there are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure and may be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.

Managing Employees and Staff as they Return to Work

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

Employees and staff need to be managed upon a return to work to ensure that they understand, and are updated with any changes to the Government guidance and steps being taken to protect them. By looking at the way the shifts are arranged, and whether people need to move between locations, decisions can be made to change the way that we work in order to reduce contact where it is not absolutely necessary.

Government Guidance on managing your workforce

  • Objective: To change the way work is organised to create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each employee has. To avoid unnecessary work travel and keep people safe. To make sure all workers understand COVID-19 related safety procedures.
  • Shift patterns and working groups – to limit contact (and possible infection) to a small group and removing direct contact
  • Work- related travel – minimising non-essential travel and site visits, the number of people travelling together, having fixed travel partners, increasing ventilation and cleaning
  • Communications and Training – using multiple channels/means to provide clear, consistent and regular communication in advance of a return to work and ongoing communication, training and appropriate signage afterwards. 

Avoiding transfer of Covid-19 with Inbound and Outbound Deliveries

Baker Stuart's Interpretation:

For many people, contactless deliveries have become commonplace. Upon a return to work, some organisations will need to receive and send out deliveries within their Covid-19 secure framework. For example, when deliveries are being made to a shop or factory, they still require people to unload them or receive them. In these cases, adequate thought should be given to ways in which the contact can be minimised and precautions taken to avoid any spread of the virus at this point.

Government Guidance on dealing with inbound and outbound goods

  • Objective: To maintain social distancing and avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave the site.
  • Steps to consider include signage and markings at drop off points, minimising contact, reducing the frequency of deliveries, using solo workers or where not possible having the same pairs working together, keeping drivers in their cabs and making access to welfare and hygiene easy and safe for delivery drivers.  

Read the official UK Government Covid-19 Secure Guidance here

Additional Resources and Further Reading

For further information please see our Covid-19 resource centre here.

For additional help and advice, please contact us on 020 3743 8400 or at office@bakerstuart.com

Important Information About This Site and The Information Contained Within

The content contained in this site is intended to be general in nature and should not be considered to be professional advice. Further, Government and medical advice regarding the pandemic is regularly changing and evolving. In all cases you should consult with a professional relevant to your particular situation before making any decisions. BakerStuart Limited is not liable and does not accept any responsibility or liability with regard to any action or abstention from action related to information published on this site.

Each user assumes full responsibility for the usage of information published on this site. You must review the official government guidance and be sure that it is properly understood and that any actions or decisions you take are relevant and appropriate for your particular circumstances before any changes are made. A full and detailed risk assessment is vital.

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