Health and safety
Physical distancing in places of worship
Physical distancing measures are actions taken to reduce how often you interact with others outside your household.
Places of worship must take measures to ensure that all individuals, including worshippers, staff members and volunteers, can keep at least 2 metres apart from other individuals whilst they remain in any part of the place of worship’s grounds or premises. This 2 metre distance does not need to be maintained between others in their household, extended household group or a carer and the person assisted by the carer.
Places of worship must take measures to ensure that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between any person waiting to enter its premises, where this queue is within the grounds or premises of the place of worship.
Places of worship must take measures to only admit people to the premises in sufficiently small numbers to make it possible to maintain that distance. This should be up to a maximum total of 50 people, including children.
Where a place of worship is organising an act of worship outdoors, they may do this with a maximum total of 200 people, in line with outdoor live event guidance.
Places of worship must also take measures to limit close face-to-face interaction and maintain hygiene safeguards.
The measures detailed above will be required unless they are not reasonably practicable.
Good hand and respiratory hygiene (e.g. for coughs or sneezing) should also be maintained at all times.
To help limit close face-to-face interaction and maintain physical distancing and hygiene safeguards, places of worship should additionally consider taking other measures such as:
- changing the layout of premises, including the location of furniture
- setting out floor markings in frequently used spaces and/or removing or cordoning off furniture or fittings, such as seating
- setting out designated areas where worshippers from different households may stand or sit
- installing barriers or screens
- putting in place a safe queue management system to ensure the flow of people in and out of the building can be carefully controlled, including the use of separate entrance and exit points where possible (fire exits should not be used for this purpose)
- communicating clearly information about how to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus and the rules on physical distancing and hygiene safeguards, for example, by using signs
- using one-way systems to help minimise physical contact within corridors, doorways, lifts and stairs
- ensuring that hand washing or sanitisation facilities with soap and water (or alcohol based hand rub if there is no access to soap and water) is available for people to use before entering (see guidance on this for non-healthcare settings)
- controlling or restricting the use of shared facilities, such as toilets/washrooms and kitchens
- reviewing the availability of staff/volunteers to ensure there is enough capacity to prepare settings to reopen for permitted purposes and manage them appropriately once they are open
- where appropriate, the use of personal protective equipment
Whilst they should be avoided wherever possible, very brief interactions within 2 metres such as limited numbers of people passing each other in corridors, are considered to be low risk. Use of floor markings or one-way systems can help to minimise this.
Where interactions within a 2 metre distance are essential for faith-specific requirements, without which practicing or taking up a position within a faith is not possible, these interactions should be brief, kept to a minimum and face-to-face interaction inside 2 metres should be avoided. These interactions should only take place when it is absolutely necessary and maintaining physical distancing in the circumstances would be unreasonable (for example, the laying on of hands in the ordination of new ministers). For any such interactions, face coverings must be worn, including by the individual leading the act of worship.
It is important to note that the above suggestions are high-level descriptions of potential approaches, and not intended to be used as a checklist.
Parents or guardians should ensure children maintain physical distancing and good hand and respiratory hygiene whilst they remain in any part of the place of worship’s grounds or premises. General advice on physical distancing for children in wider settings is available.
Soft play areas, equipment and sensory rooms should remain closed. Soft toys should be removed, where possible, or washed after use by each child or group of children. Any shared facilities for children (play corners, books, toys) which are accessed during indoor activities should be cleaned when groups of children change using standard detergent and disinfectant that are active against viruses and bacteria. Guidance on organised activities for children (unregulated) should be followed. Outdoor play parks can open, but children should not use a play park if it is crowded. Extra care should be taken with hand hygiene immediately before and after using play equipment. Where possible, outdoor play should be encouraged, and should follow the COVID19 Play Scotland Guidelines.
Those responsible for the place of worship should take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of equipment and minimise the risk of transmission through users touching contaminated surfaces, including relevant signs. Guidance on exercise and activity should be followed.
Cleaning and hygiene
If a place of worship has been closed for many weeks, or parts of the building have been out of use for a long period, a health and safety check and cleaning should be carried out before reopening in line with wider health and safety considerations.
Cleaning protocols should be put in place to help reduce COVID-19 transmission in places of worship.
Objects and surfaces touched frequently, such as chairs, door handles, light switches, sinks and toilets, should be particular areas of focus for increased cleaning.
All cleaning should be carried out in line with COVID-19: guidance for non-healthcare settings (Health Protection Scotland).
In deciding what cleaning arrangements to put in place, places of worship should consider:
- how frequently cleaning should take place based on assessment of risk and use of the building
- restricting access to certain parts of the building to reduce cleaning requirements
- removing unnecessary items to reduce the need for cleaning
- removing hard to clean items such as any soft furnishings
- providing disinfectant wipes to enable worshippers to wipe down the chair/surfaces they have used before leaving the building
Places of worship should encourage all staff, volunteers and worshippers to maintain good hand and respiratory hygiene (e.g. for coughs or sneezing), including frequent hand washing/use of alcohol-based hand rub to kill viruses that may be on hands. Regular reminders and signs should be used to help raise awareness of this and closed bins should be made available to ensure that used tissues can be disposed of promptly and safely.
Adequate hand hygiene facilities should be available at key areas such as entrances and exits.
Where possible, open doors and windows to improve ventilation. Fire doors should remain closed.
Read the guidance on the opening of public toilets, including hygiene measures that should be taken.
Further information on actions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is available on NHS Inform.
In line with other public indoor spaces, from 8 August face coverings must be worn within places of worship. For these purposes, a face shield is not considered to be a face covering.
Those who are leading an act of worship in a place of worship, or who are leading a funeral service, marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration, do not always need to wear a face covering provided they can maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from others and/or remain behind a protective screen or barrier. Where this distance cannot be maintained, or they cannot remain behind a screen or barrier, they must also wear a face covering.
This exemption does not apply to those attending the place of worship. Worshippers must wear a face covering at all times while they are within the place of worship.
In all circumstances, those leading acts of worship should consider whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering.
Where possible, those responsible for places of worship should consider using a microphone and sound system to avoid the need for those leading worship to project their voices.
Where essential to the act of worship, briefly removing a face covering to consume food or drink is permissible.
Other exemptions to the wearing of a face covering, including for health reasons, can be found in the guidance on the use of face coverings.
The wearing of face coverings must not be used as an alternative to other precautions including physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene.