Coronavirus: Workplace safety guidelines and social distancing

News article

Workplace guidelines and measures prevent the transmission of coronavirus

As an employer, you must protect the safety and health of everyone in your workplace. This applies to businesses who continue to operate under current the impact of coronavirus.

Health and safety law requires employers to do ‘what is reasonably practicable’ to protect their staff and members of the public.

Employers are advised to follow some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff. Best practice workplace measures include:

  • businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible
  • if someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home
  • employees should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues
  • frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products
  • employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible

See welfare facilities at work for information on the handwashing facilities you must provide.

You should ensure that you follow the latest advice from the Public Health Agency and incorporate this information into your risk assessment.

Review your risk assessment

As an employer, you must complete a risk assessment to spot potential hazards and to make any changes possible to reduce the risk of accidents. You should regularly review your risk assessment to make sure it still meets all requirements and complies with health and safety law.

See assess the health and safety risks in your business.

The Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) provides an example risk assessment template for businesses when carrying out a risk assessment for coronavirus - see COVID-19 risk assessment template.

Follow social distancing rules

Businesses should review their risk assessments and include measures to follow social distancing guidelines.

HSENI advises that workplace social distancing measures should be implemented and those rules closely followed by staff and strictly monitored by management. The success of any social distancing regime will depend on high levels of collaboration between staff and management.

It is important to ensure that social distancing is observed between employees both at their workstations and in other areas of their premises - eg workplace canteens.

Workplace canteens may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food.

Where social distancing cannot be achieved within the normal working environment, businesses should consider additional means of protection.

Other protective measures may include:

  • reducing the number of workers on-site at any one time
  • relocating workers to other tasks
  • redesigning processes to allow social distancing in place
  • put in place temporary barriers between staff
  • use technology such as teleconferencing instead of face to face meetings
  • adjust workflow or production line speeds

You must consult with all your employees on health and safety. This does not need to be complicated. You can do this by simply listening and talking to them. Your employees are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace. See consult your employees on health and safety.

Using personal protective equipment

Employers must continue to provide PPE as required by their risk assessments.

Public Health guidance is available on the use of PPE for health and social care settings involving possible cases of COVID-19. In all other settings, individuals are asked to observe social distancing measures and practice good hand hygiene behaviours.

Report a health and safety issue

If you see something in a workplace that you think is breaking health and safety law and is likely to cause serious harm, you can report it.

HSENI is responsible for enforcing health and safety at workplaces including, factories; farms; building sites; mines; schools and colleges; fairgrounds; gas, electricity and water systems; hospitals and nursing homes; central and local government premises.

To report an unsafe or unhealthy work activity in workplace premises that HSENI enforces health and safety - email or use HSENI's online form.

To make a complaint about retail premises such as shops, food takeaways, garages or hairdressers, barbers or beauty salons, you should contact the environmental health department of the local council where the business is based.

Further information

For additional guidance and practical steps on how local employers and employees can keep themselves and their workplaces safe, see:

First published 29 March 2020