Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): public libraries guidance

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 7 Jan 2021 - see all updates

Information and advice to help public libraries re-open safely.

39 page PDF

498.5 kB

39 page PDF

498.5 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): public libraries guidance
Assessing risk

39 page PDF

498.5 kB

Assessing risk

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 health and safety of employees, and ensure the longer-term economic viability of the business
  • employees to be fully engaged in that process, through trade union or workforce representatives

Organisations have a legal responsibility to protect workers and service users from risk to their health and safety. Employers must take reasonable steps to identify, assess and manage the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace.

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.

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

EHRC have also produced guidance for public sector employers about equality impact assessments and having due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and Scottish Specific Duties during the pandemic.

Joint working

This guidance has been developed in collaboration with sector and trade union representatives on the basis that both have essential roles to play in planning for restart. Companies that have successfully been able to maintain or increase production of essential goods during the COVID-19 crisis have highlighted the importance of joint working. Protecting the health of employees has been at the heart of this joint approach which is fundamental to establishing shared confidence around the safety of returning to places of work and supporting a recovery in productivity.

Implementation phases 

Carrying out a robust risk assessment with full workforce involvement (of recognised trade union safety representatives or relevant employee safety representatives) will identify the practical measures that can be put in place to minimise the spread of the virus at a workplace level. The assessment should include a phased implementation timetable, structured broadly as follows:


Plans to re-open a workplace should be developed in consultation with the workforce and updated on an ongoing basis. That planning should be based around risk assessments and safe systems of work, physical distancing, hand washing and surface cleaning, and fair work principles, and be designed to enable a restart that allows the business to trade while protecting employee health and well-being. Workplaces should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home by default, where possible.


Physical distancing and hygiene measures require work to be carried out before a restart – for example screens, one-way systems, 2- metre zones, PPE provision, hand sanitisers, quarantining of library stock etc. This is then followed by briefings and inductions into the new ways of working. These all take time and require resourcing and commitment.


Experience confirms the value of trialling the new way of working before a fuller restart is attempted, so a limited-scale pilot to test systems, find weaknesses and make improvements before a fuller restart is essential.

Public libraries should make sure that the risk assessment for each library venue addresses the risks of COVID-19, using this guidance to inform decisions and control measures. The outcome of the risk assessment is to identify sensible measures to control the risks in workplaces.  

Dynamic assessment

A risk assessment or adoption of mitigation measures should not be a one-off exercise, rather 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, including potentially tightening workplace restrictions or reducing numbers onsite if the dynamic risk assessments indicate this is necessary. This will be particularly important in assessing protective measures needed at levels 2 and 3.

Employers have a duty to consult on health and safety. Consultation should occur with full-time, part-time, contractors, shift workers, security staff, facilities and cleaning staff, and volunteers. You can do this by listening and talking to them about the work and how you will manage risks from COVID-19. This should be done in advance of the facilities re-opening. Your employees and volunteers will have an in-depth knowledge of the risks in the workplace and will have a view on how to work safely. In a small service, you might choose to consult your workers directly. Larger services may consult through a health and safety representative, chosen by your employees or selected by a trade union.  As an employer, you cannot decide who the representative will be. This process should be a continuation of an existing process in involving employees in optimising health and safety outcomes. 

Utilising expertise

Public libraries should ensure their health and safety professionals and representatives have the skills, training and knowledge to understand the risks associated with COVID-19.  Where public libraries and their workforce do not have access to these skills in-house they should together explore external support options to put in place appropriate mitigation measures, for example through their trade association, health and safety consultancies or trade union health and safety representatives. All can help public libraries understand the risks associated with different activities and situations within individual branches and offer the support managers and workers may require. 

Building confidence, supporting wellbeing

Some workers may be apprehensive about returning to work and may need reassured that measures have been put in place to ensure safety. 

Employers should recognise the need to have clear and regular communications with employees and volunteers, using multiple channels to reinforce key messages. Visual signage has proven to be beneficial in demonstrating changes that have or are being made, especially where language barriers exist. 

A clear message from employers and trade unions is that building and maintaining employee confidence is vitally important and a challenge that should not be underestimated.



First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 7 Jan 2021 -