20th May, 2020 Read time 4 minutes

Some health and safety considerations for returning to the office

With the government preparing to deliver the roadmap on how the UK will return to work, many workplaces, whether they be office or factory-based are starting to consider the steps they need to take when returning their staff to the workplace. Workplace social distancing is likely to be present well into the near future.

Since the launch of the lockdown on March the 23rd, many workers will have slowly gotten into the groove of their working from home routines. Whilst there are benefits, there are also drawbacks that may affect some industries more than others. Below, you will find some of the health and safety considerations you should make when returning to work, whether it be ensuring the correct social distance is maintained or your staff are happy and well cared for.


1. Maintain social distancing and your staff’s sanity

After weeks of working from home, there is bound to be a ‘readjustment’ period while workers are getting used to the idea of working from the office again. One of the reasons why social distancing is so popular as a means of control is because it has been shown to work (Glass, et al, 2006).

Depending on the size of your office and cohort, you could separate staff members in a way that keeps them safe and keeps you compliant with any new governmental policy changes.

When it comes to implementing workplace social distancing, there are a few different approaches you could take. For smaller offices ensuring that desks and the usable space around them take into account the 2-metre rule. Tape could be your saving grace here as it is a quick and visible solution to show workers where it is safe to walk and operate. Try to go for specified and noticeable flooring tape as this will ensure you don’t have to spend hours re-applying tape to surfaces. Otherwise, there are some social distancing and proximity measurement tools available on the market too.

One method adopted by Talos Energy is the staggering of meal times and working periods. Here Robert Sheninger outlines some of the steps taken on offshore oil rigs which could be put in place by companies in the next phase of the lockdown.

Whilst it may be a simple solution to putting in place workplace social distancing, managing any potential impact on your staff. This is where proper mental health support will need to come in.


2. You should consider how you can support employee mental health

The devastating impact of the virus is going to have an impact on those who return to the workplace. This may come in various forms including grief, or general malaise. Now more than ever employers will have a duty to care for employees from a mental standpoint; this could include team discussions, allocations of mental health first aiders and the allowance for ‘downtime’ at the worker’s discretion. Of course, any measures you implement will have to take into consideration the potential workplace social distancing measures, which is part of the challenge.


3. Look at tech solutions that could help keep your staff safe

Social distancing may be more of a challenge if you are part of a bigger office. It is even more complicated if you operate out of shared offices with a small team but part of a bigger community. In these workspaces, social distancing markings may be impractical or too costly to maintain. This is where some interesting technological solutions have come in. Many safety companies who specialise in wearables are now offering detectable devices that notify workers when they are within breach of the 2-metre rule. These could be a more cost-effective solution to workplace social distancing for larger companies and offices.


4. Could staggered working times help ease the burden?

In addition to some of the solutions provided, some have also put forward the idea of staggered working times as a means of controlling the numbers of people in the workplace. Again, this could be good for larger teams at it reduces the risk of large numbers of people arriving at the same time.


Evaluate your business’s position on the governmental initiative

It is worth stating that although some of the steps outline above may become necessary, they are all subject to change as the situation develops. With that considered, you should do your utmost to try and stay updated with the latest advice and policy set out from the government to make sure your staff are safe, and you are compliant with any new rule changes.



Glass, R. J., Glass, L. M., Beyeler, W. E., & Min, H. J. (2006). Targeted social distancing design for pandemic influenza. Emerging infectious diseases, 12(11), 1671–1681. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid1211.060255


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