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Bringing Employees Back to Work is NOT Business as Usual

Published on 19 May, 2020
Jean Fisher
Content Manager

Are you ready for the major changes which will be needed to create the new workplace?

A return to work in these times cannot be business as usual because employers have more than ever, have a duty to take steps to safeguard the health and safety of employees.

As more employers are looking at how to safely bring employees back into the workplace, Occupational Health advice is more important than ever. It’s firstly important to consider the wider Occupational Health risk assessment process which will be needed, so that employees with medical conditions are not put at risk.

We are working with many employers to review employee health conditions and advise on workplace infection control processes. An Occupational Health telephone consultation with your employee can provide you with the necessary advice to manage a return.

Health & Safety Law.

Employers have a duty to look after the health and safety of their employees under The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (Section 2(1)). Employers must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all of the work activities carried out by their employees, including homeworkers, to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk.

Before any return to work, an employer should carry out this assessment and take measures to mitigate any risks identified. Whilst employers can undertake a workplace risk assessment, Occupational Health advice will be needed to ensure appropriate return to work risk assessments are carried out for employees where medical conditions are present.

Employers are legally required to provide employees with specific information about health and safety risks and the measures to prevent and protect against those risks. Thought should be given to further steps which could be taken to reassure and communicate with employees, for example by setting up employee-led committees or forums to discuss, practically speaking, what measures can be taken.

Occupational Health.

As a minimum, employers should provide a point of contact for employees so they can discuss any concerns. A referral should be made to Occupational Health where concerns are raised about specific health conditions or where employees have been told they must shield. Employees with underlying health conditions may be likely to be classed as disabled and so are protected under the Equality Act 2010. This requires that reasonable adjustments be considered and Occupational Health can advise what specific adjustments would be needed.

It’s important to remember that the risks to people’s health from this pandemic are psychological as well as physical. Employees may have anxiety about the ongoing health crisis fear of infection and worry about family members and children.

Social isolation due to the lock down has meant that some employees will have experienced challenging domestic situations, such as juggling childcare or caring for a vulnerable relative, as well as financial worries if their partner has had a reduction or a loss of income. Some employees will have experienced illness themselves or suffered a bereavement.

Even if staff have carried on working from home, they will now need to adjust to working in a shared environment with colleagues once again.  Most people will need a period of readjustment when returning to the workplace. Some members of staff may have concerns about travelling and socially distancing on public transport. Many may find that they are still coming to terms with the significant change which society has seen, and the familiar workplace routines could feel hugely different. Again, a referral to Occupational Health may be required to provide support to employees and advice to management.

General Workplace Infection Control.

Infection control principles will need to be introduced into your workplace and this maybe the first time you have needed to look at this. Occupational Health Nurses are on the Public Health part of the Nursing register and so are well placed to advise on what infection control measures you need to put in place in your organisation.

Some adjustments to consider are:-

  • Rearranging desks and workstations to ensure that these are at least two meters apart and/or not facing each other.
  • Ending hot desk arrangements to avoid staff sharing equipment.
  • Limiting the number of people who are in the office at any one time. This could include, for instance, splitting a team in two and requiring each team to attend the office on alternate weeks or swap mid-week.
  • Providing face masks for employees to wear and providing information on how they should be used depending on Government guidance on this.
  • Using floor markings to mark two meters in areas which employees use frequently, including, for instance, the entrance and exit to the building.
  • Allowing employees who travel in on public transport to have more flexible start and finish times to allow them to avoid any rush hour.
  • Restricting employees from attending non-essential meetings or work social events.
  • Asking employees to bring in their own food and using paper towels instead of tea towels in kitchens.
  • Providing access to hand wash and hand sanitizer.
  • Temporarily closing any common areas where social distancing will be difficult to achieve.
  • Increasing deep cleaning of the office, particularly in relation to surfaces that are regularly touched, such as door handles, taps, doors and light switches.
  • Staff should clean their own desk, keyboard and mouse every day.

For further advice on all these aspects. Make a referral to Jean Fisher Occupational Health Nurse.

Refer via the website


Phone: 07864 006850 01443 262219


 World Health Organization

Centre for Evidence Based Medicine Oxford (CEBM)



John Hopkins University USA

NHS England



Health Protection Scotland & NHS Scotland


Public Health Agency Northern Ireland

 Guidance for health and social care professionals – Wales



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