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
Risk assessment

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Risk assessment

Information about involving the workforce in a risk based approach.

As a minimum we expect:

  • an equality, human rights and risk based approach to be followed to protect the health and safety of workers and ensure the longer-term economic viability of organisations
  • workers to be fully engaged in this process, through trade union or workforce representatives

Organisations must take reasonable steps to identify and mitigate against risks in the workplace. To do this they must think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether they are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm.

This is known as a risk assessment and is something that organisations are required to do by law. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down. Although it may be helpful to do so.

A risk assessment for all pregnant workers and new and breastfeeding mothers should take into account:

  • their job
  • any pre-existing health conditions
  • use of public transport
  • physical distancing guidance relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • whether the workplace risk is greater than in everyday life outside the workplace, including getting to and from work

The Health and Safety Executive’s short guide can help to support employers with what they need to do to comply with the law. 

The Scottish Government’s safer workplaces joint statement with Police Scotland, Health and Safety Executive and local authorities makes clear that it is essential that organisations also carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. These should be developed with trade union health and safety or workforce representatives.

For workplaces without union representation, union health and safety representatives are available upon request by email to to support the development of workplace risk assessments.

Regular risk assessments

Risk assessments and the introduction of mitigation measures should be part of regular, ongoing dialogue between organisations and trade union or workforce representatives. This dialogue should identify what measures are working, where refinements are possible and identify any remaining gaps. Reviews of measures and risks should be frequent. Mitigation measures should be implemented as soon as they are identified. HSE has an example COVID-19 risk assessment which provides a general framework for all business sectors. HPS have provided additional guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings.

Daily assessments of progress may be necessary. Ongoing dialogue will also allow adjustments to be made quickly and smooth at the relevant stage. This may include tightening of workplace restrictions or reducing the number of people on site if risk assessments show this is required.

Using expertise

Organisations should ensure their health and safety professionals and representatives have the skills, training and knowledge to understand the risks associated with COVID-19. Where organisations and their workforce do not have access to these skills in-house, together, they should explore external support options. For example through trade associations, health and safety consultancies or trade union health and safety representatives.

Piloting and implementing

Carrying out a robust risk assessment with full workforce involvement (through recognised trade union safety representatives or relevant worker safety representatives) will identify practical measures that can be put in place to minimise the spread of the virus. Pilots are a valuable way of testing new ways of working.

When piloting and implementing mitigation measures the following should be considered:

Planning and preparation

Plans to re-open a workplace should be developed in consultation with the workforce and updated on an ongoing basis. Organisations should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Planning must be based around risk assessments and safe systems of work, emphasising physical distancing, hand washing and surface cleaning and fair work principles. Plans should aim to allow organisations to restart whilst protecting worker health and wellbeing.

Physical distancing and hygiene measures require work to be carried out before a restart. For example the installation of screens, one-way systems, physical distancing zones, canteen re-arrangement, provision of PPE and hand sanitisers. Training and inductions into new ways of working will also be required. This will take time and require resource and commitment from organisations and workers.

Pilots and continuous reviewing

Implementing new enhanced safety measures may take time to embed. Pilots are a valuable way of testing new ways of working on a small scale. They should be used to:

  • test mitigation measures
  • find strengths and weaknesses
  • make improvements before being rolled out on a larger scale

A risk assessment or adoption of mitigation measures should not be a one off exercise. Rather it should be part of a regular and ongoing dialogue and feedback loop between employers and trade union or workforce representatives to identify what measures are working, where refinements are possible and any gaps remaining. Reviews of measures and risks should be frequent, with daily assessments of progress initially not unusual. The open and ongoing engagement between trade union or workforce representatives should enable adjustments to be made quickly and smoothly at the relevant stage. This includes potentially tightening workplace restrictions or reducing numbers onsite if the dynamic risk assessments indicate this is necessary.

Travel to work and childcare considerations for individual workers should be taken into account by organisations noting the travel, transport and informal and formal childcare sections of the  Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland’s Strategic Framework, and how this can differ between levels.  

Employers should be aware that there is a gender dimension to these considerations, for example, women are more likely to have childcare responsibilities and be dependent upon public transport.  Decisions regarding which workers or involved in pilots and a phased restarts should also be carefully considered. This should be decided jointly with trade unions or workforce representatives. 



First published: 17 Aug 2020 Last updated: 24 Nov 2020 -