Managing risk when returning to work during the pandemic

People walking on a crossing

As restrictions begin to ease and companies plan for their eventual return to work, it’s crucial to consider how you manage the risks posed by the pandemic to ensure the safety of staff.

From large corporate firms, to manufacturing and engineering companies, CEOs and financial directors must all think about how they can lay the foundations for a resilient business and continue to manage risk as the pandemic continues.

The government has set out five steps for returning to work for all businesses[1], and has also issued specific guidance for those working in manufacturing.   

These five practical steps for all businesses to take before reopening include:

STEP 1: Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment


Before restarting work all businesses should ensure the safety of the workplace by carrying out a risk assessment in line with the Health and Safety Executive guidance. They should also consult with their workers and trade unions. When the risk assessment is complete, they should share the results with their workforce and on their website. Many of our corporate clients have been asking for help with these.

STEP 2: Develop cleaning and hygiene procedures


To stop the spread, businesses should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning by encouraging people to follow the guidance on hand washing and hygiene. They are also asked to provide hand sanitiser around the workplace, as well as in washrooms. Objects and surfaces which are often touched should be cleaned frequently. Enhanced cleaning for busy areas is recommended. It’s also crucial to set out clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets and to provide hand drying facilities, whether that’s paper towels or electrical dryers.

STEP 3: Help people to work from home where possible


Employers should take all reasonable steps to help people work from home by discussing home working arrangements, ensuring they have the right equipment to do their jobs effectively, such as remote access to work systems. This will be less relevant for those working in the manufacturing sector, many of whom must be on site to carry out their work. All those who work from home should be included in all necessary communications. They will be distanced from their colleagues who are back at work, so it’s especially important to look after their physical and mental wellbeing as they continue to work from home.

STEP 4: Maintain 2m social distance where possible


Where possible, employers should maintain 2m between people by putting up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance and avoid sharing workstations. They should also use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people to keep to a 2m distance. The Government instructs businesses to arrange one-way traffic through the workplace if possible and to switch to seeing visitors by appointment only where practical.

STEP 5 : Manage transmission risk

Where it’s not achievable for people to be 2m apart, businesses should do everything within their power to manage the transmission risk by considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate. If this activity does need to continue, keep it to as short a time as possible and use screens or barriers to shield people from each other. It also advises to get employees to work back-to-back or side-to-side whenever feasible. Arrival and departure times should be staggered to avoid congestion. And finally, companies should reduce the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’.

Guidance for the manufacturing sector
The Government also sets out specific advice relating to manufacturing which includes factories, plants and warehouses, as well as industrial environments. This could be manufacturing and chemical plants, food and other large processing plants, warehouses, distribution centres and port operations.

This extensive document has eight key considerations for employers to take into account which include:

  • Thinking about risk
  • Who should go to work
  • Social distancing at work
  • Managing your customer visitors and contractors
  • Cleaning your workplace
  • PPE and face coverings
  • Workforce management
  • Inbound and outbound goods

Think about risk


As with the advice for all businesses, companies in this sector must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. It’s an employer’s duty to consult their staff about health and safety. The Government encourages businesses to listen and talk to staff about the work and how to manage risks from COVID-19.

It’s also crucial to understand that the people who do the work are often best placed to understand the risks in the workplace. Involving them in making decisions shows that the business takes their health and safety seriously.

If business leaders make every effort to achieve the full involvement of workers, it will create a culture where relationships between employers and workers are based on trust and collaboration.

Managing Risk


Employers must reduce risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level by taking preventative measures.

The Government advice continues to be: that everyone should work from home, unless they cannot work from home.

So, who should go to work? Before making a decision, take a look at the Government’s key points:

  • Consider who it is essential to have on-site; for example, office staff should work from home if at all possible.
  • Plan for the minimum number of people needed on-site to operate safely and effectively.
  • Monitor the wellbeing of people who are working from home and help them stay connected to the rest of the workforce, especially if the majority of their colleagues are on-site.
  • Keep in touch with off-site workers on their working arrangements including their welfare, mental and physical health and personal security.

The document also offers advice about protecting people who are at higher risk and those who need to self-isolate. For the full and detailed advice on the manufacturing sector visit the Government website. [2]

If you are a client and have any risk management questions relating to returning to work, then please reach out to your usual Howden contact. If you are not a client but would like to discuss your risk management needs, then please contact us on [email protected]