Need help? Call 0345 838 4074 Register Login

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Health and safety and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the law on health and safety.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

General responsibilities

The UK Government has lifted all social distancing restrictions in England. The position in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is similar, although some restrictions remain. Despite this, as an employer, you have a legal duty under health and safety laws to keep your staff safe, as well as those who come into contact with them during their working day.

There are specific government guidelines for businesses and self-employed people in:

You are expected to follow these guidelines and you may be held liable should your workers or members of the public entering your business, such as customers or contract-workers, contract COVID-19 and it can be traced to your workplace (which is possible if, for example, you experience an outbreak). This could happen if you've:

  • Not properly complied with health and safety infection control measures; or,
  • Been negligent by doing or failing to do something which was reasonably foreseeably able to cause them to become infected.

You could even be held liable for further infections in their household.

You could also be investigated and prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – and that applies even where there's no infection if you're found not to be following safe guidelines. They've said that they are continuing to do spot checks to ensure that businesses have implemented and are following COVID-secure measures.

Coronavirus risk assessments

Complying with the government guidance will not absolve you of liability – you'll need to show that you've carried out a risk assessment that adequately considers the impact of staff returning, and that you've carried out all of the actions arising from it.

Advice is available on the steps to follow when doing a COVID-19 risk assessment. In general, you'll need 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; and,
  • act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn't possible, control the risk.

Examples of what to include in your risk assessment are available from:

Although you only have to record your risk assessment in writing if you have 5 or more employees, creating supporting documentary evidence of how you've conducted the assessment will be useful if you're investigated by the HSE or subject to any claim.

Sharing coronavirus risk assessments

The risk assessment should be shared and discussed directly with your staff unless you recognise any trade unions, in which case it should be shared and discussed with them instead.

There are 2 sets of regulations that set out how you must consult with your staff and any trade union. Which one you need to comply with depends on whether you recognise a trade union and have appointed trade union representatives.

You can find out which law applies to you by using the HSE flowchart. Once you know which applies, you can read the HSE guidance on how to consult and involve your employees and their representatives on health and safety matters in a way that complies with these regulations.

Failing to follow the regulations is a criminal offence and HSE inspectors may take enforcement action where you can't show that you've complied with it.

A possible agenda for the discussion of the COVID-19 risk assessment with your staff or the trade union could look like this:

  • The specific steps you're taking to remove the risk of catching the virus or, if that's not possible, controlling it
  • Safety measures being applied to the workplace building (particularly if it's shared with other businesses)
  • When these will be completed (if not done already)
  • When you intend to open (if not already open)
  • How you intend to decide (or have decided) who will return and how it will be implemented
  • Changes to working patterns and/or other changes they can expect on returning
  • How outbreaks of the virus in the workplace (including any shared building) will be handled
  • Changes the trade union/staff believe should be made
  • How agreed changes can or will be implemented

Other safety considerations

Take care not to let COVID-19 distract you from other safety considerations. In particular, don't implement unsafe coronavirus solutions – e.g. redistributing work in ways that could lead to stress or physical injury from overwork; or having staff work alone at unsafe locations or times of day.

All employers with over 50 members of staff are expected to publish the risk assessment on their website.

Use a building plan of your workplace to help you if you can't carry out the assessment in person.

Homeworking

Homeworking remains a key method of controlling the spread of coronavirus.

You have the same health and safety duties to staff when they're at home as you do when they are in the workplace, though they must take reasonable care of their own health and safety. Remind them to take breaks and not overwork or do anything that may risk their health and safety.

It's particularly important at this time to consider and monitor their mental health.

If working from home is jeopardising their health or safety in some way (e.g. it's having a serious impact on their mental wellbeing), you could give them the option of returning to the workplace if it will help – provided you've followed the government guidance (see above).

See our Homeworking section for more.

Homeworking risk assessments

Don't forget that homeworking staff also need risk assessments. Ordinarily, you'd visit them at home to do this, but that's not practical in the current situation. You could ask them to assess themselves by sending them a questionnaire about their workplace – look at their answers and tell them what action to take (if any).

These should be reviewed if their circumstances change (e.g. if they move home, change the room they work in, or you give them new equipment).

Face coverings

Except in England, in many places and environments, including in different workplace business premises throughout the rest of the UK, face coverings are mandatory and enforced by law. In England, it is recommended that face coverings be used where people are in close contact indoors, but this is not mandatory.

A face covering is a protective fabric that covers your nose and mouth. The type of covering isn't set by law and therefore it can be a scarf, religious face covering or any other type of fabric, as long as it is positioned securely to cover the nose and mouth. A three-layer face covering is recommended by the World Health Organization.

The exact rules differ depending on which part of the UK you're in. As an employer, you should take note of these rules, in case your business is one of those requiring the mandatory wearing of face coverings. In these cases, you'll have to ensure that your staff comply and that you inform the general public entering your workplace.

Staff who are exempt from wearing a face covering (e.g. for health reasons) don't have to wear one, but you should consider alternative safety measures in these cases.

England

You should assess whether there is a need to wear face coverings in your workplace. If there is, then you should encourage staff and customers to do so. You can read the advice on when you should wear one.

Wales

Face coverings are only mandatory in certain environments – broadly, these are any indoor public space, although there are some exceptions. See the information from the Welsh Government.

Scotland

In Scotland, staff must wear face coverings in all public spaces where social distancing can't always be adhered to. Indoor places where face coverings are required are listed in this guidance.

Northern Ireland

Face coverings are mandatory by law in all indoor settings.

Washing facilities

Remember, you're legally required to provide adequate toilet and washing facilities. This includes:

  • Enough toilets and washbasins for those expected to use them
  • Hot and cold running water
  • Enough soap or other washing agents
  • Hand towels (preferably disposable) or a hand-dryer
  • Toilet paper
  • Drinking water

Individuals with disabilities must be able to easily access the facilities.

If possible, provide extra handwashing stations around the workplace.

Reporting of COVID-19

You must make a report under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations when:

  • An unintended incident at work has led to a member of staff possibly or actually being exposed to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • A member of staff has been diagnosed as having coronavirus and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
  • A member of staff dies as a result of workplace exposure to coronavirus.

See RIDDOR reporting of COVID-19 for more.

Mental health

Acas have published guidance to help employers and employees manage mental health during the pandemic. It covers issues related to homeworking, anxiety around attending the workplace and being furloughed.

It suggests that employers may want to consider appointing a mental health champion or setting up a mental health support group. Workplace counselling and 'wellness action plans' are other suggestions.

You should keep in regular contact with your staff and try to create an environment where individuals feel able to be open and honest about how they are feeling.

Employee concerns

See our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Employment section to find out about handling staff who refuse to return to work for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Coronavirus action plans

It's a good idea to create a coronavirus action plan around health and safety for your workplace.

1. Select someone to be responsible for monitoring the situation and reporting to management with regular updates. Consider signing up to receive updates by email or RSS feeds.

2. Conduct a risk assessment and monitor the risks posed by COVID-19 to anyone. For example, if situations can't be avoided where staff may be in close proximity (less than 2 metres) to others, ensure that additional protection is used such as face coverings. Remember that individuals at particular risk include those:

  • with compromised immune systems;
  • over 70;
  • with certain pre-existing health conditions, e.g. cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions or diabetes;
  • who are pregnant.

3. Ensure any control measures identified by the risk assessment comply with government advice (particularly around social distancing). Take steps to reduce the risk to vulnerable staff identified by the risk assessment.

4. Regularly pass on updates to staff and give them guidance on issues like:

  • What the symptoms are and what they should do if they have them;
  • When and how you should be notified if they've tested positive for COVID-19 or in contact with someone who has;
  • What you require them to do after being notified.

5. Minimise all non-essential business travel.

6. Ensure managers know how to spot possible symptoms of COVID-19 and are clear on any relevant processes, such as sickness reporting and sick pay.

7. Decide what steps you'll take if staff members infected with COVID-19 attend the workplace. You should:

  • Immediately communicate this to all staff (if possible, don't name the person for data protection reasons)
  • Confirm if the workplace will close (consider doing this to protect staff).
  • Instruct staff to take work home with them (if possible)
  • Contact your local public health authority in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. They'll conduct a risk assessment and tell you what to do next.

8. Increase the frequency and extent of cleaning in the workplace. Focus on shared areas and areas that may not often be cleaned, like doors and chair handles, light switches, keyboards and mice, telephones, desks and worktops, photocopiers and bannisters.

9. Try to maintain supplies of soap, cleaning products, disinfectants and cleaning materials.

10. Give staff access to tissues and hand sanitiser gel, wipes or sprays containing more than 60% alcohol. Try to maintain supplies.

11. Keep records of the number of staff who have:

  • been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed
  • shown potential COVID-19 symptoms, but haven't been diagnosed

For data protection reasons, don't collect more data than you need and use appropriate measures to safeguard it.

12. Ensure staff contact and emergency contact details are up to date.

13. Display COVID-19 information in the workplace and visitor areas.

14. Advise visitors to follow your guidance on preventative measures.

What is the law guide

The Desktop Lawyer law guide aims to present the law to you in a comprehensive yet jargon-free and easy-to-read format. Our law guide is constantly kept up to date with changes in business and family law by our team of in house solicitors, and includes information across all the legal jurisdictions in the UK.

Our law guide is free to use. Where we provide documents related to this area of law, or where they may help you with any legal issue in this area, they will be listed to the right of this message.