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
Where we are now

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Where we are now

On 23 March 2020, the First Minister announced Scotland would enter into a lockdown. Under law, the restrictions must be reviewed at least every three weeks.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making – Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis was published on 21 May 2020. It set out a phased approach to easing the lockdown. Our movement through each phase of the lockdown will be gradual and incremental. It will be matched with careful monitoring of the virus.

Protection levels

Since midnight 4 January 2021 mainland Scotland entered into Lockdown current restrictions will remain in place across mainland Scotland and some island communities until at least the end of February.

Level 0 (baseline) and Level 1

Within these levels, we would expect to see low incidence of the virus with isolated clusters, and low community transmission. Broadly, these levels are the closest we can get to normality, without a vaccine or effective treatment in place, before conditions will allow us to move to Phase 4 of the Route Map. They would be similar to the measures in place during the summer, once we reached Phase 3. The Baseline and Level 1 are designed to be sustainable for longer periods.

Levels 2-3

Within Levels 2 and 3, we would expect to see increased incidence of the virus, with multiple clusters and increased community transmission. There would be a graduated series of protective measures to tackle the virus, focusing on key areas of risk – broadly, indoor settings where household mixing takes place with less, or less well-observed, physical distancing and mitigations. The measures would be intended to be in place for relatively short periods (2-4 weeks), and only for as long as required to get the virus down to a low, sustainable level.

Level 4

Within this level we would expect to see very high or rapidly increasing incidence, and widespread community transmission which may pose a threat to the NHS to cope. It is likely that this level would see the introduction of measures close to a return to full lockdown. Measures would be designed to be in place for a short period, to provide a short, sharp response to quickly suppress the virus.

Working from home is the Scottish Government’s  default position across all COVID-19 Protection Levels

As we progress through the route map, Scotland's economic recovery and future prosperity is dependent on safe workplaces. Organisations should use this guidance to engage with trade union or workforce representatives to develop workplace specific plans to manage the move away from current restrictions.

Details on which sectors and workplaces can prepare to, or are able to return to work are available at:

Other guidance that should be consulted includes:

  • HPS: COVID-19 Non Healthcare Settings guidance which provides general information on the background to COVID-19, symptoms, general principles of infection prevention and control and health protection measures and what to do if someone becomes unwell on site
  • NHS Inform which has a wide range of useful public facing information including information on symptoms and what to do
  • Test and protect website from Scottish Government that contains information on how to get tested and what you need to do
  • Returning to work safely which has details of current sectoral guidance and further sources of advice for organisations and workers
  • Healthy Working Lives website which provides examples of risk assessment templates and other practical tools for organisations and workers
  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE) COVID-19 guidance as this will be referred to by HSE inspectors to assess compliance

Sector guidance

As each workplace is different, individual organisations should work with trade union or workforce representatives to determine how best to apply this guidance in practice.

Fair work 

To judge whether and when restrictions can be changed we will consider a range of evidence on the progress of the pandemic in Scotland using the principles set out in Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making and our long established commitment to fair work. As Scotland continues to ease lockdown restrictions, organisations including the Institute of Directors (IoD), SCDI, STUC, COSLA and SCVO have signed a fair work statement underlining the collaborative approach needed between employers, unions and workers to ensure workplaces can operate safely.

Working with trade unions or workforce representatives

This guidance is underpinned by a spirit of collaborative working between organisations and workers. Through this document, the term organisations and trade union or workforce representatives is used in that context. Recognising that organisations have a legal responsibility to maintain workplace health and safety and must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union. Or if there is not one, a representative chosen by workers. Organisations cannot decide who the workforce representative will be.

Four nations approach

We are working with the UK Government to align our approach and guidance, where possible, and on the basis of scientific evidence on the levels of infection in Scotland. This guidance is intended to work alongside UK Government guidance and aims to assist organisations, businesses and workers to ensure a safe working environment. Readers will recognise consistent themes within this guidance and the UK Government’s  Working Safely during COVID-19 publications.

Business support

There has been an unprecedented package of support announced from both the Scottish and UK Governments to support businesses.  This support should help many organisations preserve their business, maintain jobs and pay their workers throughout this crisis. Further business support information is available.

About this guidance

The guidance sets out our expectations across five key areas. Organisations need to consider these to ensure workplaces are safe and the transmission of the virus is minimised:

  • training and compliance
  • risk assessment - involving the workforce in a risk based approach to a safer workplace
  • workforce planning and support - supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not
  • operational guide and checklist - changing the workplace environment to protect your workforce
  • deliveries, distribution and visitors -  protecting your workforce and those who come on-site

The guidance emphasises the importance of undertaking robust and regular risk assessments with full input from trade unions or workforce representatives, and to keep all risk mitigation measures under regular review so that workplaces continue to feel, and be, safe.

After a workplace risk assessment has been undertaken and measures to reduce the risk of transmission have been put in place, staff and their managers should use the individual risk assessment tool to identify the individual’s vulnerability level. Staff should be active participants in this risk assessment which uses factors including age, ethnicity, in addition to underlying health conditions to stratify risk.



First published: 16 Dec 2020 Last updated: 8 Feb 2021 -