May 20, 2020

SMEs: Keeping Employees Safe When Returning to Work

Insights UK Regional Division
Risk Management

This article is for businesses looking for useful tips on how to get their staff safely back to work. Guidance includes social distancing, safe workspaces, clean offices and what measures to take.

This article is supported by our risk management partners, Health & Safety Click. For more information on SMEs returning to work, please visit This is available to most Arch Online Policyholders, to see if your client has membership or to sign up to the website, contact your local Arch branch manager. This article is intended for use by licensed insurance brokers and should be considered for general information purposes only.

While businesses may be keen to return to their workplaces as soon as possible, their workforce may have serious concerns about doing so. Reassurance to staff is therefore key if businesses are to successfully encourage them back to work and get the business up and running again.

Maintaining Social Distancing

In an office environment, many organisations may not have sufficient space to seat people two metres apart. There may be a need to rearrange furniture or install partition walls. It may also be possible to maintain a distance between desks by alternating the days or times that different groups occupy the workplace, minimising the number of people present at any one time. Other restrictions may be needed, such as governing how many people can use a lift, share a lunch area or be in a meeting room. In order to comply with required social distancing rules you may need to limit the number of staff in the workplace at any one time.

Useful Tips

  • Staggering work times / altering shift patterns.
  • Arranging continued / part-time home or remote working.
  • Restricting access to work areas / departments / buildings on site, other than their own.
  • Have one way routes around the office.
  • Signposting routes and exclusion areas.
  • Or, in you have sufficient space in your workplace, rearranging desks so individuals are able to keep the required distance apart.

Work Stations

  • If practical, you may consider that removing desks or changing work station arrangements, to enable staff to maintain the required distance from their colleagues.
  • Alternatively you might turn desks around so people face away from each other and / or install partitions between the desks, such as Perspex or glass screens.
  • If available you could offer staff protective face masks / gloves etc. (but leave to their choice to wear or not).
  • Provide hand sanitiser for each desk and encourage staff to use it frequently, at minimum every time they occupy or leave their workstation.
  • Staff should use their own equipment e.g. PC, stapler etc. and not loan to colleagues. If any equipment is shared such as a photocopier, office protocols should allow only one person to use at a time (no waiting). Sanitiser wipes should be provided so that any part of the kit that is touched can be wiped down – again, both before and after use.
  • Phones should never be shared. Where a change of personnel is required on that phone e.g. on reception, the mouth piece should be thoroughly disinfected before (and after) further use.

Welfare Facilities

This includes toilets, wash facilities, water fountains and vending machines, rest areas and canteens – in fact anywhere that staff, or others, would normally congregate.

  • Discourage people from waiting or, if they are, that floor markings enable them to maintain a safe distance. Wipes should be made available to sanitise any touch screens, handles etc. Canteens should provide only pre-wrapped food.
  • Furniture in any eating or rest area should be minimised to enable social distancing. Special attention should be given to regular and thorough cleaning for these and wash / toilet facilities to ensure high levels of hygiene are maintained at all times.
  • If businesses receives visitors, such as customers or delivery drivers, businesses will need to make toilet / wash facilities available to them. They may also wish to offer them face masks and gloves to wear whilst on the premises.

Air Conditioning / Water Systems

  • Businesses should consult with their air-con provider regarding what provision has, or can be, made to ensure air cannot be contaminated should any member of staff have COVID-19.
  • Adjust timings so the system comes on at least an hour before, and an hour after, the workplace is occupied.
  • If a business has windows that can be opened encourage staff to do so – and let fresh air blow through.
  • Water systems that have remained unused for the weeks of lockdown may be susceptible to a build-up of bacterial contamination such as Legionella. It is essential therefore that the required checks are carried out before opening the premises for occupation.

Making Alterations

Should the plan for businesses’ premises include making alterations to their premises, for example, removing partition walls or adding an extension, they need to ensure they have completed the necessary checks /sought relevant permissions where required such as;

  • If premises were built before 2000, the Asbestos record to ensure avoidance of damage to any areas where it is present.
  • The businesses responsibility as a duty holder with regard to CDM regulations.
  • Planning permission – see the HSE’s Land Use Planning Methodology for information.

Making Premises Visitor Ready

If an essential element of a business involves people other than staff coming to their premises, for example attending appointments or making deliveries / collections, consideration will need to be given to how they can achieve the required social distancing for these visitors. This may include contractors, suppliers and customers, and will include accommodating the vehicles they drive.

Measures to Take

Precautionary measures to be taken in common areas such as entrances/exits, reception areas, lobbies, lifts, staircases, delivery bays etc. will include those below;

  • Provide clear instruction signage throughout your premises.
  • Reduce the number of entrances i.e. restrict “in” and “out” to particular doorways / routes throughout the premises, if at all possible.
  • Mark floors in waiting areas to separate people at required distances and clearly signpost queuing areas.
  • Provide glass screens between visitors and reception staff, safe interaction training to all staff receiving visitors. Consider providing PPE to visitors.
  • Remove reception furniture to reduce public touchpoints.
  • Lifts can be a particular challenge when it comes to social distancing. Safer use protocols may include encouraging the use of stairways as an alternative / restricting the number of users at any one time.
  • Block off alternate car-parking spaces. Designate clear time-slots for deliveries to avoid vehicles queueing.
  • Review alternative ways of signing for deliveries other than signing a touch pad.