Assessing risk

Health and safety law requires all employers to assess the risk of returning to work while the coronavirus outbreak is ongoing and to put steps in place to manage that risk. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) material on managing risk can help as a complement to resources available on these pages.   Your trade body will also have helpful templates to guide you through assessing risk. Businesses with food and drink services should also refer to guidance prepared by Food Standards Scotland.

If you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to write anything down, but it might help if you do so. It is acknowledged that in such a diverse sector there are many micro and family run businesses with no staff and for whom this guidance may not appear directly relevant. Risk however is something that must be assessed in all working environments.

As a minimum it is expected that:

  • planning for a restart will be a joint effort between employers and employees with both parties fully contributing as part of an ongoing commitment to work together in ensuring a safe workplace
  • a risk-based approach should be followed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, and ensure the longer-term economic viability of the business

You should make sure that the risk assessment for your business addresses the risks of COVID-19, using this guidance to inform your decisions and control measures. The outcome of the risk assessment is the identification of sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace.

Employers have a duty to consult employees on health and safety. Consultation should occur, where relevant, with full and part-time staff, contractors, shift workers, security staff and facilities and cleaning staff. You can do this by listening and talking to them about their work and how you will manage risks from COVID-19. This should be done in advance of re-opening.  

All businesses must consult and involve their workers in this process, where appropriate. This should be through recognised trade union health and safety representatives, or relevant employee safety representatives.

For workplaces without union representation, union health and safety representatives will be available upon request to support the development of workplace risk assessments. For businesses wishing to use this service, please email

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.   

Key issues

Employers should consider the following key issues:

  • a full risk assessment should be undertaken in consultation with employees, and, where necessary, landlords and or neighbouring premises where common areas may be shared
  • constructively engage with employees when carrying out a risk assessment
  • ensure the result of the risk assessment is visible and communicated to employees
  • ensure that the actions taken as the result of the assessment do not disproportionately impact those with vulnerabilities such as people with disabilities, single parents, younger or older people. Consider how to support those with additional needs to comply with physical distancing
  • the mental health of employees should be factored in to the risk assessment with signposting to employer-led, government and third sector support made available to staff to manage issues such as confrontation, stress and isolation as needed

Implementation timetable

An implementation timetable should be created and structured broadly as follows:

Planning for action

Undertake an analysis to ensure you understand where the risks are to your business being able to restart. This should take into account the challenges of maintaining physical distancing and enabling hand washing, as well as fair work principles. The objective is to enable a restart that allows the business to trade while protecting health and well-being. Training requirements should also be part of this.

Preparation of adaptations

Produce a re-start plan that incorporates your physical distancing and hygiene solutions, and identifies what work is required to be carried out before a restart e. g. screens, one-way systems, 2 metre zones, staff room, PPE provision (if required or advised), hand sanitisers etc. As part of training, provide refresh briefings and inductions into the new ways of working.  

You should also think about customer and community communication, particularly where there are known sensitivities, and what displays and signage will be needed to ensure customers are able to comply with your requirements and that any community concerns are addressed. Your preparation should also include what actions you will take if customers do not comply with requirements.

Where premises have been empty due to lockdown and furlough, thorough safety checks should be conducted on gas and electrical installations, water cooler and ventilation checks, particularly regarding Legionella risks and pest control checks should be conducted to avoid infestation problems.

Risk assessments must also be completed for safe goods processes for food, alcohol, laundry etc.  


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Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

First published: 16 Apr 2021 Last updated: 22 Jun 2021 -