As the government’s roadmap out of lockdown progresses, businesses are shaping plans to welcome workers back on site. Following a year of disruption, instability and uncertainty, it’s an emotionally charged milestone. Many staff have mixed feelings about their return to work, juggling optimism and relief with fears of heightened infection risks.  

Employers can smooth the way by taking a visibly proactive approach to safety and clearly communicating with their workforce. Despite the steady easing of restrictions, COVID-19 will pose a threat to health and wellbeing for the foreseeable future, so it’s vital to build strict precautions and prevention measures into your reopening programme. 

Here are some top H&S tips to make your team’s transition a happy and healthy experience. 

Review your COVID-19 risk assessment

A safe return begins with a detailed understanding of risk. Even if you’ve already carried out a COVID-19 risk assessment, you must revisit it and take all reasonable steps to protect staff before they head back to work. As part of the process, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises employers to: 

  • identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
  • think about who could be at risk
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
  • act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

Risk assessments need to be reviewed and updated each time legislation or guidance changes, so you must keep pace with local and national restrictions

Train staff on new safety measures 

Once you’ve identified transmission threats within your business, you’ll need to establish or adapt controls to minimise them. These safety measures could range from face coverings and Perspex screens in retail spaces to social distancing, staggered shifts, side-by-side working, sanitisation points and staff bubbles in manufacturing or warehouse environments. 

Ideally, employees should be trained on COVID-19 safety procedures before returning to work, so look into flexible e-learning options to remotely bring teams up to speed. Make sure that your entire workforce understands the necessary steps to take if they or a colleague shows symptoms. 

Remember that some employees may have been away for many months. So in addition to explaining new coronavirus procedures, ensure staff are informed about updated operations, site layouts or emergency protocols. 

The HSE also urges businesses to provide refresher health and safety training if: 

Go beyond the bare minimum  

Your communication with staff should go much further than basic procedural training. Employees are looking to you for reassurance that you’re doing everything possible to keep them safe on the job, particularly if they deal with members of the public.  

Encourage line managers to reach out to their teams via one-to-one phone or video calls, discussing their worries, questions and any personal or health issues that might hinder a confident return to work. It’s important to maintain open dialogue and address individual concerns with personalised return-to-work plans. 

Share details of preventative efforts that make it clear you’re going the extra mile. These could include office deep cleans, upgraded ventilation equipment, more frequent disinfection routines, staff testing services or wellbeing programmes. Taking additional steps to safeguard your workforce demonstrates you’re serious about your duty of care – and helps keep your team focused and productive. 

Provide flexible support for clinically extremely vulnerable staff 

From 1 April 2021, people in England who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) no longer need to shield. Despite the change in guidance, these individuals are still advised to take extra precautions to prevent exposure to coronavirus. You should make every effort to allow them to continue working from home. Guidelines for staff in Scotland and Wales are available from Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Wales.

If it’s imperative for your CEV employees to return to site, talk to them individually to assess further health and safety requirements and highlight the measures you’re taking to keep them protected. These safeguards are likely to require task adaptation to allow for social distancing, reduced interaction with colleagues and customers, and altered work schedules. 

If you’re able to allow CEV workers to continue working remotely, it’s wise to revisit their set-up with a homeworker risk assessment. This detailed review ensures poor habits, unsuitable furniture and display screen equipment (DSE) aren’t contributing to common health hazards such as eyestrain, RSI and musculoskeletal disorders. You should also provide ongoing support to help remote employees manage their workload, wellbeing and motivation levels. 

Get free, expert guidance on your return-to-work programme 

Book a free telephone consultation with a health and safety specialist to review your post-pandemic risks – and look to our range of bespoke assessments to create a workable DSE strategy for remote and hybrid teams. Speak to the team on 0345 257 4015 or email safetyadvice@southalls.com.