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Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people at highest risk

Advice to help people in the Covid highest risk group make informed decisions and access support services.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people at highest risk
Workplace safety advice

Workplace safety advice for people at highest risk 

Advice for people on the highest risk list (previously known as the shielding list) about how to keep yourself safe at work.

This guidance has been updated to reflect our move beyond Level 0 from 9 August. 

Key changes will include lifting legal requirements to physically distance and legal limits on the size of social gatherings.  However, even though the law will not require physical distancing, we continue to advise that - especially indoors - keeping some distance from people in other households and avoiding crowded places will minimise risk. 

Other legal requirements will remain in place after 9 August including that face coverings, subject to existing exemptions, must be worn in all the same indoor settings where this has been required for some time.  This includes public transport, cafes and restaurants when not seated, and indoor public places.  While it is no longer required legally to maintain 1m distancing within the workplace, we continue to advise some distancing where possible.  Where it is not possible to maintain 1m distancing, it will remain a legal requirement to wear face coverings.

Working from Home

Beyond Level 0, we are continuing to advise home working where possible and appropriate for now, to reduce the transmission of the virus. Most businesses are not planning wholesale return to the workplace and are taking a gradual approachWorking from home guidance continues to apply.

However, a return to the workplace will be beneficial for some staff and their employers.  The advice for people at highest risk is that they can go into the workplace along with others if they want to, or if their employer requires this. Employers should not discourage people at highest risk from returning to the workplace, if that is their choice or in their best interests. 

Read our return to office guidance.

Safety measures your employer should take

Workplace risk assessments

Employers have a legal duty to make the workplace a safe working environment for all staff. It is the employer’s responsibility to regularly carry out workplace risk assessments and put in place measures to make the workplace as safe as is reasonably practicable to try and minimise the risk to staff including contracting COVID-19.

It is essential that employers conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment which will help them to identity measures which can be implemented to reduce the risk of transmission in the workplace. Please see link to the Joint statement by the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, Health and Safety Executive and local authorities on safer workplaces

Speak to your employer to ensure all appropriate protections are in place.

If you are concerned, you should ask your employer for copies of the risk assessments for your workplace.

Employees also have a responsibility to follow safe working practices.

There’s guidance for employers about carrying out general workplace risk assessments and making the workplace safe.

Individual risk assessments

We also advise that you carry out an individual risk assessment to look at your individual risk from COVID-19. This can help you to highlight your individual risk to your employer in order to discuss any additional changes that may be needed to make your workplace and duties safe for you, if you cannot work from home. Find advice about individual risk assessments on gov.scot.

If you still feel unsafe after a workplace risk assessment

You should discuss any concerns with your manager or your employer. You can also get further advice from:

  • Occupational Health Services (if your employer offers them)
  • the Health and Safety representative in your workplace
  • HR (your employer’s Human Resources team, if there is one)
  • your trade union or professional body
  • the Citizens Advice website or the free Citizens Advice Helpline on 0800 028 1456, (Monday to Friday, office hours)
  • the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

Follow the public health advice

Everyone can play their part by following the public health advice on

  • wearing face coverings
  • physical distancing
  • washing hands regularly and keeping surfaces clean
  • respiratory hygiene and coughing etiquette
  • good ventilation - keep windows open to let fresh air circulate if you can

This advice applies in workplaces too.

You are still required to wear face coverings in the same places as before, including shops, public transport, cafes and restaurants when not seated, and indoor public places.  This includes workplaces. You  must wear a face covering at work, unless exempt, if you can’t maintain a distance of more than 1m from others and there isn’t a partition.

Physical distancing

Keeping some distance from people from other households and avoiding crowded indoor places - even if no longer legally mandated – are still sensible precautions.

Hand hygiene

Wash your hands regularly using soap and water or sanitising hand gel. It’s important to do this after touching hard surfaces and common touch points (such as hand rails, key pads or door handles). You should also do this after touching your face covering.

Respiratory hygiene

Catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue. Put used tissues into a bin and wash hands immediately. If you do not have tissues to hand, catch coughs and sneezes in the crook of your elbow.

Ventilation

If indoors ask to be near good ventilation such as by an open window and avoid crowded places, especially indoor spaces, or places where there is little natural ventilation. 

Wear a face covering

Face coverings must be worn in any indoor communal area in a workplace where there are no measures in place to keep people separated by either a partition or distance of at least 1 metre.

If employees choose to wear a face covering in the workplace even where there is 1 metre distancing or a partition then they should be supported by employers to do so.

We also advise the use of face coverings outdoors where 1 metre distancing is difficult to maintain, such as at entrances and exits of buildings.

Find more information on face coverings at gov.scot.  You can also look at this video on how to use face coverings properly: a video on best practice.

Face covering exemptions

The vast majority of people can wear a face covering, including most people with a lung condition such as asthma, and everyone who can wear a face covering in the mandated spaces is legally required to do so.

There are situations where some people are unable to, or it would be inappropriate for them, to wear a face covering. The reasons why someone might be exempt are explained on the face covering exemptions page.

People who are exempt from wearing a face covering should not be denied access to the workplace.

Safety steps you can take yourself

We have some advice about additional steps you can take to keep yourself safe in the workplace. This has been developed in conjunction with the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. This advice is on top of the protections your employer should put in place. It does not replace your employer’s workplace risk assessments or your individual risk assessments. These are additional things which you could think about.

This advice may also be useful for your family or household members who are also thinking about how to keep safe for you.

Safety steps on your way to and from work

To help protect yourself while travelling, you could:

  • drive, walk, or cycle alone, if you can. If you walk or cycle make sure you keep some distance away from the closest person
  • avoid car sharing with people outside extended household wherever possible. See our guidance on travel and transport. If you have no other option, do so only with one person from another household. Sit in the diagonally opposite seat from them. Wear a face covering. Windows in the car should be opened as far as possible taking account of weather conditions to improve ventilation in the space.
  • hand sanitise when you enter and exit the vehicle. Use alcohol or disinfectant wipes to wipe down any seats or items that any other person has touched
  • wipe down the door handles of your car after touching or sanitise your hands
  • on public transport, sit some distance away from the closest person to you wherever possible and wear a face covering. If you need to pass someone, keep some distance and do so as quickly as you can. Sanitise your hands before entry and on exit from transport
  • consider how you get from your transport to the front entrance of the workplace. If the entrance is crowded, wait until it’s empty, or clear enough for you to remain some distance away from others.
  • put on a face covering before you enter the building
  • your manager should make reasonable adjustments for you to be able to negotiate the rush hour (while maintaining some distancing). This might mean arriving later or leaving earlier. 

Safety steps in the workplace

To help protect yourself at work, you could:

  • reduce tasks that could lead to contact with others. For example, save up photocopying jobs and do them in a batch rather than doing multiple trips. 
  • clean your phone and mobile phone regularly
  • ask to work in a space that has natural ventilation (e.g. windows that can open)
  • avoid stuffy areas that have no or little fresh air, if other people also use the room. Ceiling and desk fans are safe if there is a fresh air supply, otherwise try to avoid rooms where these are in use as they will just circulate used air. Use blower fan heaters with caution in areas where others also use the room, especially without face coverings 
  • wash or sanitise your hands before and after touching shared equipment
  • if you cannot do this, hand sanitise at regular intervals during the day. You could set an alarm on your phone to remind you of this. For example every 10 minutes if you have touched a lot of things (as you might if you work in retail, hospitality or on a factory line), otherwise every 2 hours is advised.
  • ask your manager if you can have your own equipment where possible, so you do not have to share
  • keep alcohol gel in your pocket or bag for use at work. Your employer could also provide pump-action or automatically dispensed hand gel at all frequently used ‘touch points’ in the workplace according to their risk assessment.
  • work alone if you can, or with as few other people in the room as possible. If there are several people in the room it’s important to try to keep windows open and wear face coverings
  • if you are in a situation where another person at work (be it a service user or a colleague)does not maintain some distance from you, try to step back, ask them to step back and put on a face covering. Think carefully about when at work this might happen, make a list and use this to help you discuss it with your manager. 

Where you should pay extra attention

Changing rooms

  • if it’s not possible to keep some distance from others, point this out to your manager. Wait until the room is empty or quiet, or do not change there
  • change in another area if you can, and clean hands before and after leaving the changing area
  • ask about staggering start times or limiting how many people can be in the room
  • clean hands before touching any lockers and after use

Toilets

  • wear your face covering at all times in the toilet
  • try to use the least frequented facility in the building where possible 
  • if possible flush with the lid down and immediately wash your hands with soap and water. Warm water is not essential, but soap is 
  • raise any issues about toilet supplies and cleanliness with your manager
  • use paper hand towels to dry your hands or an electric hand dryer
  • sanitise your hands after touching the toilet door handles and on exit from the toilets

Staff rooms and break times

  • the most important thing in a break room (or elsewhere) is staying some distance from anyone else and avoiding crowded places
  • people must wear a face covering in hospitality premises such as bars, pubs and cafes and restaurants, and canteens, including workplace canteens, but people are exempt from wearing a face covering to eat or drink.
  • face coverings should be worn in canteens and staff rooms except when seated and eating or drinking, and replaced immediately afterwards. It’s good practice to use your hand sanitiser before you replace your face covering. The virus can spread in canteens and staffrooms because if people are more relaxed, they can tend to stop following public health advice. Particular care should be taken that the measures are followed in these spaces.
  • during smoking or vape breaks keep a careful distance and put on your face covering immediately when you’re finished. Never share a cigarette or vape with others.
  • options include taking a home-made packed lunch and eating it in your car or outside.
  • if you have to use a break room, keep some distance between you and others at all times. Watch carefully before you enter the room if it seems crowded.
  • seats should be spaced out where possible. They should not be placed close to the door, or to shared items such as fridges, kettles, microwaves, sinks or work surfaces. If they are not spaced out as far as possible and it seems too crowded, raise this with your manager or someone who is responsible for this.
  • choose the seat furthest from these shared items if these areas are busier
  • wipe down any shared items before touching. Clean your hands after cleaning and just before eating.
  • bring in your own cutlery and crockery, but if this is not possible, wash these in soapy water before use and dry with a clean paper towel. Do not use a tea towel that has been used by others.
  • never share food with another person (e.g. shared take away/ shared box of chocolates/shared homemade bakery)
  • food prepared in a canteen or dining room is safe to eat if it is not shared with others. Takeaway food or drink should not be handled by any other person before you consume it (unless touch points have been wiped down first).
  • you can safely remove your face covering and enjoy your food and drink, but have a face covering at the ready to put on at any point

Safety steps on your way home

To help protect yourself on the way home, you could:

  • hand sanitise before entering and leaving your vehicle or other transport
  • wash your hands when you get home

Read more advice about the place or sector where you work.

Support with mental health and wellbeing

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, book a GP appointment or contact:

  • Breathing Space - 0800 83 85 87 (Monday-Thursday: 6pm - 2am; Friday-Monday: 6pm - 6am)
  • Samaritans - 116 123 (every day: 24 hours)
  • British Red Cross - 0808 196 3651 (every day: 10am - 6pm)
  • Scottish Association for Mental Health
  • employer’s wellbeing service (if available)

First published: 23 Feb 2021 Last updated: 10 Aug 2021 -