The UK government has released guidance to help employers get their businesses back up and running, and workplaces operating as safely as possible as the coronavirus lockdown is eased.

The new ‘Covid-19 secure’ guidance was developed with input from firms, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The guidelines cover eight workplace settings that are now allowed to be open, such as outdoor environments, construction sites, factories and takeaways, and aim to set out “best practice on the safest ways of working across the economy, providing people with the confidence they need to return to work,” explained the government.

They set out practical steps for businesses to implement as soon as it’s practical, and are focused on five key points, as below:

  • Work from home, if you can All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. For those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will be open.
  • Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions to establish what guidelines to put in place If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.
  • Maintain two metres social distancing, wherever possible Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain two metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.
  • Where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.
  • Reinforcing cleaning processes Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

The guidance applies to businesses currently open, as well as to shops that may be in a position to begin a phased reopening at the earliest from 1 June, added the government.

“Guidance for other sectors that are not currently open will be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan.”

Director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Carolyn Fairbairn, commented: “Safety is at the heart of business thinking. Unless people feel safe, employees won’t return, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, harming livelihoods and public services.

“This guidance will help. It gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually.

“The guidance builds on the good proactive plans many firms have developed during lockdown. Excellent employee engagement, fast workplace innovation and transparency have helped many companies support livelihoods. It’s right to build on this.

“The UK faces months of change and challenge. These guidelines will need to continue to evolve based on insight from the ground.

“And employers, employee representatives and relevant enforcement agencies must work together, supporting these plans to build public trust and get our economy back on its feet.”