Returning to the office

Whether your business has continued with home working or been on hold, as you consider returning to the office, there are some things you need to think about. Health and Safety being one of them.

The latest government advice can be found here

The latest HSE advice can be found here

Emergency Equipment

During your time away from the office, have you passed an inspection date for your fire-fighting equipment such as extinguishers, emergency lighting and alarm systems? These need to be checked by specialists, so check the dates from your last inspections to see if these are due.

Check the dates on items in your first aid kits, there’s nothing worse than a plaster that won’t stick because it is too old.


Consider how your staff are going to return to the office, don’t forget that current advice is that if employees can continue working from home, then they should do so. Think about staggered working hours and break times to help with social distancing.

Limit the use of shared equipment. If you are dealing with customers look at installing protective screens and restricting how many customers are in the premises at one time.
Employees might want to think about bringing in packed lunches.  This will be safer than going out to buy food and drink during the day.

The Government is not advising using PPE in the work setting as regards COVID-19, unless you are operating in a health & social care setting or responding to a possible COVID-19 case. However, if employees have chosen to wear a face mask at work then consideration must be given to any risks involved e.g. the material becoming snagged in a piece of machinery.

Office Layout

Are you moving your office furniture around to achieve 2 metre social distancing? Desks and other furniture can be heavy, so don’t be tempted to try and move these alone. It is so easy to rush in and attempt to move heavy items on your own and of course the inevitable happens and you injure yourself. Use a mechanical device such as a lifting trolley or if necessary two people. If you must use two people, work out the best way to do this, minimising contact between them while they are moving the furniture.

If there isn’t room for all staff to be two metres apart then look at working side by side or facing away from each other rather than face to face. Avoid hot-desking or implement a strict cleaning system, so that desks are cleaned between users.

You may find yourself working at a different desk; is this a different height to the one you are used to? Check your DSE assessment (Display Screen Equipment) and try to get the set up as you had it previously. Taking your own chair with you to your new desk will help as this will already be set up for you. If you have to have a new chair then remember to adjust it to your own requirements. A guide to the DSE Regulations can be found here

Don’t forget to consider your Emergency Evacuation Routes when moving the furniture around.  You may need to update your Fire Risk Assessment.

Have you implemented a one-way system for entering and exiting your offices? Consider if any barriers placed for this are going to affect your Emergency Evacuation Routes in the event of a fire in the building.

Think about propping doors open, so that employees are not all having to touch them to go through. This does not apply to fire doors, which should be kept shut.

Risk Assessments

You need to review all your risk assessments and consider how these will be affected by COVID-19. These then need to be shared with all employees. If possible, the results then need to be published on the company website. The Government has made it clear that it expects businesses with over 50 workers to do this.


This advice is aimed at employers or those in control of places of work. You need to continue managing legionella control to avoid the potential for legionnaires disease.

This disease can be fatal and hospitalisation is generally required to treat symptoms.  It is vital that employers take appropriate action to maintain and operate their water systems, so far as is reasonably practicable.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of potential sources of aerosols, which may contain legionella bacteria.

  • Wet cooling systems, cooling towers and evaporative condensers
  • Showers taps and toilets
  • Machine cooling systems for example in lathes and other machines
  • Spray booths
  • Humidifiers in food cabinets
  • Ornamental fountains and water features
  • Dust suppression systems such as those used in construction
  • Horticultural misting systems, lawn sprinklers.

Guidance on Legionella can be found in the HSE publication

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