Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): general guidance for safer workplaces

Guidance on safer working during the coronavirus pandemic for those businesses / organisations not covered by sectoral guidance, for example general offices.

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): general guidance for safer workplaces
Operational guide and checklist

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Operational guide and checklist

Information about changing the workplace environment (this includes where work may take place in a home) to protect your workforce and customers.

As a minimum we expect:

  • enhanced health and safety measures to be in place before staff are asked to return to work, including physical distancing guidance and enhanced hygiene and cleaning measures, generally and at bottleneck situations
  • safe travel to work arrangements to be considered as part of a risk assessment, with any relevant adjustments adopted

Safe workplace planning and communications

Regular and ongoing engagement between organisations and trade union or workforce representatives is vital to ensure a safe working environment and related workforce confidence. This engagement must start well before a planned restart, or ramping up of activity, to allow completion of the necessary risk assessment and then identification and implementation of the relevant mitigation measures.

It is important everyone understands the measures taken to establish the safe working environment, to improve workforce confidence and support a recovery in productivity levels.

Enhanced hygiene

Enhanced hygiene measures are key workplace-specific measures to create a safe working environment. These include, for example:

  • sanitiser and hand-washing facilities at touch points, including on entry and exit points
  • sanitiser and handwash facilities also in communal areas
  • regular cleaning of work equipment, chairs and work stations including considering how often and where deep cleans may be required (especially where work stations are shared facilities)
  • regular cleaning and sanitising of break out areas, including chairs and tables and other welfare facilities and touchpoints e.g. fridges, kettles, vending machines etc. The frequency of cleaning and disinfection should be based on risk assessment depending on the usage of the area.  
  • composition of chairs in staff breakout areas should be reviewed to ensure they can be effectively cleaned
  • identification of likely touchpoints
  • minimising the use of touchpoints throughout buildings, including exploring where possible how digital processes or systems may replace the need for face-to-face discussion 

Hygiene – handwashing, sanitation facilities and toilets

To help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day ensure you are:

  • providing regular reminders and signage to uphold hygiene standards
  • providing hand sanitiser at multiple points, in addition to washrooms.
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and physical distancing is achieved where possible
  • enhancing cleaning of touch points in busy areas
  • taking special care cleaning portable toilets
  • providing more waste facilities and frequent rubbish collection
  • providing either paper towels or electrical driers for drying hands

Cleaning and disinfecting the workplace before reopening

To ensure workplaces which were closed or partially operated are clean and ready to restart, including:

  • an assessment for all sites, or parts of sites, that have been closed, before restarting work
  • cleaning procedures and providing hand sanitiser, before restarting work, in line with any requirements for reopening after prolonged closure
  • checking whether you need to service or adjust ventilation systems. Advice can be sought from your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers. See HSE guidance on Air conditioning and ventilation during the coronavirus outbreak and the most recent CIBSE COVID-19 ventilation guidance for more details
  • opening windows and doors frequently to encourage ventilation, where possible. This does not apply to fire doors

Legionella testing

Water systems may become stagnant when not in use, increasing the risk of legionella within water supplies. To mitigate this risk ahead of re-opening public buildings or offices that may have been closed for an extended period during lockdown:

Keeping the workplace clean and disinfecting

To keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission:

  • frequent, for example at least twice a day, cleaning and sanitising (with appropriate products) work areas and equipment between uses. Ensure regular detergent cleaning schedules and procedures are in place using a product which is active against bacteria and viruses
  • frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly (touchpoints) and making sure there are adequate disposal arrangements
  • clearing workspaces and removing waste and belongings from the work area at the end of a shift or between use of desk/area
  • wedging doors open, where appropriate, to reduce touchpoints. This does not apply to fire doors.
  • good ventilation e.g. through fresh air or mechanical systems
  • if you are cleaning and disinfecting after a known or suspected case of COVID-19 then refer to the guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings, this includes guidance on when PPE might be appropriate and how to dispose of waste

Changing facilities

To minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers:

  • set clear use and cleaning guidance for showers, lockers and changing rooms to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items and that physical distancing is achieved as much as possible
  • restrict number of people within the changing areas at any time
  • enhance cleaning and sanitising of facilities regularly throughout the day

Handling goods, merchandise and other materials, and onsite vehicles

To reduce transmission from objects and vehicles at the workplace:

  • implement cleaning and sanitising procedures for goods and merchandise entering the site
  • implement cleaning and sanitising procedures for vehicles
  • regularly cleaning and sanitise reusable delivery boxes
  • introduce handwashing facilities/sanitiser for workers handling goods and merchandise
  • restrict non-business deliveries
  • ensure physical distancing and hygiene measures are followed when supplies etc. are delivered
  • collect items in bulk to reduce the frequency of collections
  • remove waste in bulk if possible
  • implement enhanced handling procedures of laundry to prevent contamination of surrounding surfaces (do not shake linen on removal, do not place used linen on the floor or any other surfaces)

Physical distancing

The 2 metre physical distancing must be applied to all parts of a workplace  Measures that organisations will want to consider, beyond those already listed, include:

  • providing facility layout guidance and signage with clear marking of physical distancing boundaries around the workplace and workstations and signage which reinforces expectations of workers at relevant points
  • limiting access to parts of the workplace required by an individual to do their job as this will limit chances for interaction with others
  • staggering break times and adjusting canteen arrangements to reduce larger numbers of staff and to ensure at least 2-metre distancing between those interacting on a face to face basis
  • splitting the workforce into teams to avoid cross-team contamination and provide a level of operational resilience in case someone in one team develops COVID-19 symptoms
  • considering opportunities to introduce technology and systems to aid safe working practices and in particular physical distancing
  • communicating with customers prior to arrival and on arrival to ensure customers understand physical distancing and hygiene measures


Where the physical distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue. If so, they should take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission. A risk assessment should be conducted and documented.

Moving around buildings and workplaces

Physical distancing should be maintained where possible whilst moving around buildings and workplaces. The following measures should be considered:

  • discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites
  • reducing job rotation, equipment rotation and location rotation
  • implementing one-way systems on walkways
  • reducing maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs
  • making sure that people who are disabled are able to access lifts whilst maintaining physical distancing measures
  • regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain physical distancing
  • advice on wearing face coverings

Workplaces and workstations

Workstations should be assigned to an individual where possible. If they need to be shared, they should be shared by the smallest possible number of people and workstations should be cleaned between each user.

If it is not possible to physically distance workstations, and those workstations are business critical, then extra attention needs to be paid to equipment, cleaning and hygiene to reduce risk:

  • reviewing layouts to allow workers to work further apart
  • using floor tape or paint to mark areas to aid physical distancing
  • using screens to create a physical barrier between people allowing staff to work safely and communicate with colleagues at adjoining workstations
  • using a consistent pairing system if people have to work in close proximity

Common areas

It is important to maintain physical distancing in common areas by:

  • staggering break times to reduce pressure on break/eating areas
  • using safe outside areas for breaks
  • encouraging workers to bring their own food
  • providing packaged meals to avoid opening staff canteens
  • using workplace areas that have been freed up by home working
  • reconfiguring seating and tables to maintain spacing
  • using protective screening for staff in public facing areas
  • regulating use of locker rooms, changing areas and other facility areas to reduce concurrent usage
  • encouraging storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example lockers, during working hours
  • considering use of physical distance marking for areas such as toilets, showers, lockers and changing rooms and in any other areas where queues typically form
  • minimizing measures in congested areas in your premises such as narrow corridors, staircases, doorways and storage areas


To reduce or eliminate transmission due to face-to-face meetings:

  • use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings
  • only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain physical distancing throughout
  • avoid sharing pens or other objects
  • provide hand sanitiser in meeting rooms
  • hold meetings outdoors or in well ventilated rooms
  • use floor signage to help people maintain physical distancing

Further mitigating actions which complement but do not substitute physical distancing include: 

  • increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
  • maximising the distance between people as much as possible
  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other while ensuring they do not become touchpoints
  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others)
  • if people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then you will need to assess whether the activity can safely go ahead. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment
  • those who are deemed high risk should not be asked to work in areas where mitigation measures identified in the risk assessment are compromised

Physical distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms, smoking areas, canteens and similar settings. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain physical distancing in and may require clear communication and supervision to ensure mitigation measures are followed. 

Following the physical distancing guidance will mitigate against the risk of staff  being identified as a ‘close contact’ of a colleague who tests positive for coronavirus, and would have to self-isolate at home.

Travel to work and work-related travel

Public Health Scotland has provided COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings stating people should not travel if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. The PHS  advice and any subsequent safe travelling advice should be factored into company decisions on planned returns to work.

Transport Scotland have produced guidance to assist the public to travel safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is important that the latest version is read.

The advice is to avoid unnecessary work-related travel with an emphasis on keeping people safe when they do need to travel between locations:

  • minimise non-essential travel – consider remote options first
  • minimise the number of people travelling together in any one vehicle, using fixed travel partners, increasing ventilation when possible and avoiding sitting face-to-face
  • ensure drivers and passengers maintain good hygiene and wash their hands regularly
  • clean shared vehicles between shifts or on handover
  • where workers are required to stay away from home, centrally logging the stay and making sure any overnight accommodation meets physical distancing guidelines

The Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland’s Strategic Framework includes travel and transport arrangements. Employers and employees should note what applies to their areas, including any differentiation across different relevant areas.

Please refer to  COVID-19 Protection Levels for up to date guidance in your area.

Coming to work and leaving work

The following measures should be considered: 

  • if you are travelling in a vehicle (or other forms of transport) as part of your job or business, safe operation of workplaces applies, therefore please refer to advice on how to travel safely and your employer. For employers, you may wish to refer to guidance for safer workplaces.
  • staggering arrival and departure times to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of impacts on those with protected characteristics and caring responsibilities for example noting the staggered school and nursery start and finishing times
  • defining process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating pass readers or keypads at turnstiles in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance
  • reducing congestion, for example, by increasing entry/exit points
  • providing handwashing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points
  • using markings and introducing one-way flow at entrances/exits
  • providing additional parking or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work where possible
  • limiting passengers in corporate vehicles
  • providing more storage for workers’ clothes and bags

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE protects users against health or safety risks at work. It can include items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear and safety harnesses. It also includes face masks and respiratory protective equipment, such as Respirators.

HPS guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings offers advice on the use of PPE, confirming organisations should continue to use any PPE required as per local policies (business as usual) and in line with measures justified by a risk assessment. Both the Scottish Government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommend a risk based approach focused on a hierarchy of control which seeks to eliminate risks, combat risks at source, adapt workplaces to individual needs, ensure adequate staff training around processes to manage the risk and then use PPE where required. Where PPE is deemed necessary, an adequate supply and quality must be maintained which is provided free of charge to workers and which must fit properly. Note that face coverings are not considered PPE.

Face coverings

Following the First Minister's statement to Parliament regulations are being laid 15 October to bring the rules on wearing face coverings in workplace canteens into line with rules in restaurants and cafes.

From 16 October, anybody in a workplace canteen will have to wear a face covering when they are not seated at a table - for example if they are queueing, or are entering or leaving the canteen or going to the bathroom.

A further change will take effect on Monday 19 October. This will require face coverings to be worn in other communal workplace areas such as corridors.

The responsibility for complying with these measures rests with individuals. But employers are urged to take steps in their workplaces to explain and promote the new regulations. The new rules are a proportionate additional step, which will help employees to keep themselves and their colleagues that bit safer.

It is important to note the difference between face masks and face coverings. Face coverings are not classified as PPE such as surgical masks which are used in some settings such as hospitals to protect wearers against hazards and risks. Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

We have issued guidance on the personal use of face coverings.

The guidance relates to use of face coverings by members of the public in specific circumstances. This advice is not intended as an infection prevention and control measure for the workplace where there are other health and safety considerations and measures in place such as physical distancing and hygiene controls. Physical distancing, environmental cleaning along with good hand washing and respiratory hygiene, are the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of facial coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions. The Scottish Government also encourages use of re-usable, washable face coverings, rather than single use masks to minimise plastic waste.

You are legally obliged to wear a face covering in indoor communal areas (other than an early learning or school setting), except where an exemption applies (as defined in the legislation), or where there is a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering such as exercising/ undertaking a physical activity or eating and drinking in certain hospitality premises with table service such as cafes and restaurants. (This would apply to workplace canteens). A face covering must be worn whenever you move away from a seated position.

Consult the up to date advice on wearing face coverings which includes  exemption cards. This may change with each review stage.

Face coverings are only one of the measures to suppress COVID-19 and these should not be used to substitute the other measures needed to contain the virus. Therefore, when wearing a face covering, good hand and respiratory hygiene and physical distancing should still be enforced. These measures together are extremely effective in supressing COVID-19

Temperature checks 

We do not recommend the use of temperature checking employees as a means of testing for COVID-19 due to the low efficacy rate of this method.  

Further information about the reliability of temperature checking as a test for COVID-19 can be found on the MHRA website.

COVID-19 symptoms in the workplace

Workers have a responsibility to ensure they adhere to overall COVID-19 advice which says people with symptoms should remain at home and self-isolate or if members of their household has symptoms then follow the household isolation guidance (stay at home). Organisations, workers and those identified through other means as having contact or being a COVID case (even if asymptomatic) should remain in regular communication throughout any period of self-isolation. Organisations are encouraged to work with trade union or workforce representatives to enable individuals to work from home while self-isolating if appropriate.

If an individual develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19, you should help them arrange to be tested by directing them to NHS Inform or having them call 0800 028 2816.

As part of risk assessments organisations should explore with trade union or workforce representatives how to respond should anyone develop symptoms while at work, including whether it is possible to identify any particular parts of the site the individual may have accessed or equipment used while symptomatic. Consideration should be given to how best to monitor health of all individuals in a workplace.

Shift patterns

Organisations may develop plans to change shift patterns to protect the workforce and optimise productivity. This could include reducing the need for travel at peak times and opportunities for flexible working patterns. This will require negotiation with trade union or workforce representatives if it involves a change in terms and conditions.   

Dealing with emergencies

Emergency, evacuation and accident response processes need to be considered to ensure effective arrangements, which meet physical distancing requirements, are in place. Everyone onsite should be familiar with new processes.


The interpretation and use of guidance should be considered in line with normal protective security operations and practices. Organisations should involve their security departments in the interpretation and implementation of the guidance. In particular, security should be considered in any revised risk assessment.

Under no circumstances do we advise the removal or alteration of, or reduction in, existing protective security measures without providing clear recommendations (e.g. from the National Technical Authority/police CT specialists) on how to maintain effective protective security. 

This should extend to measures not primarily intended to provide a protective security benefit, but nonetheless doing so. For example removal of street furniture that could make moving or queueing pedestrians more at risk of vehicle-as-a-weapon attacks. Security staff should remain focused on security duties. Where COVID-19 creates additional staffing requirements, e.g. for queue management, organisations should ensure additional suitable staff resource is made available. Organisations should ensure security staff feel safe, e.g. having access to appropriate PPE and hand-washing facilities, and that they are able and confident to raise any concerns.

Read further detailed CPNI and UK Government guidance on security.


We have produced a checklist to support organisations to implement this guidance. The checklist reflects the minimum expectations outlined in this guidance document.

Organisations who wish to increase workforce or public confidence are encouraged to display the checklist to help to communicate actions being implemented or undertaken.



First published: 16 Dec 2020 Last updated: 15 Jan 2021 -