With the easing of lockdown and more people returning to work it’s even more imperative that your employer ensures the workplace is Covid Secure. There are 5 key points to implementing Covid Secure working practices:
  1. Work from home, if you can.
  2. Carry out Covid-19 risk assessment in consultation with trade unions and workers.
  3. Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible.
  4. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk.
  5. Reinforcing cleaning processes.

Here is a link to the latest government guidance to making workplaces safer ‘Covid-19: Working Through This Together’.

Working from Home

Your employer has the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. In a home workplace, potential hazards come from equipment (e.g. your workstation) or the environment – working alone, lack of supervision, inadequate breaks, juggling childcare, etc. Stress, isolation, unmanageable workloads and lack of supervision can all lead to anxiety and poor mental health. The HSENI have produced guidance to help employers and employees understand how to work safety.

The TUC have also produced union rep guidance on this.

The government, in partnership with 15 leading mental and wellbeing health charities and the Healthy Living Centre Alliance, representing 28 local Healthy Living Centres, have developed a virtual wellbeing hub to promote mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Risk Assessment

Every employer irrespective of the size or nature of their business has a statutory obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees as laid down in the Health and Safety at Work Order NI (1978). Also under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations NI (2000) an employer is required to carry out a risk assessment to establish potential risks and ensure that measures are put in place to minimise these risks. Covid-19 presents a risk to everyone but this in no way reduces your employer’s obligation to manage that risk while in the workplace. The HSENI have produced a covid-19 specific risk assessment to help employers.

This should be completed by your employer, and must be carried out in consultation with trade unions and include all measures that your employer will take to limit risks that may occur due to the nature of your work. This document should then be shared with all their employees so that they are aware of all the measures which should be in place.

Social Distancing

All government guidance states that social distancing must be maintained and this includes in the workplace. In order for your employer to manage social distancing they may stagger start and finish times, adopt a rota system, erect screens, introduce side by side working or limit the amount of staff carrying out an activity. If possible employees should work from home and if this is an option then all measures should be taken for staff to do so therefore further limiting direct contact. If the nature of your work makes social distancing difficult then stringent measures need to be adopted to limit exposure. See following guidance Covid-19: Working Through This Together and Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Gov.UK website.

Employers must consider ways of ensuring that all movement around the premises and between sites supports social distancing. Recommended measures include, one person at a time in lifts, and making entrances, corridors, stairways and aisles 'one-way' to prevent the risk of congestion. Employers must, where appropriate, stagger start/finish times, shift patterns, and lunch, tea and smoking breaks to reduce the number of employees in an area or using entrances/corridors at any given time.

Cleaning and Decontamination

While as an employee you will have responsibility for maintaining your own hygiene your employer is required to ensure that the workplace is cleaned on a regular basis. Regular cleaning is essential as the disease can be contracted by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. This should be covered in the risk assessment and should cover things like regular touch points: door handles, desks, office equipment, communal facilities such as break out areas or canteens and toilets.

See guidance.

If a person in the workplace tests positive for Covid -19 this guidance should be followed.

There is also evidence to suggest that flushing the toilet with the lid up creates a cloud of spray that can be breathed in and may spread the coronavirus infection. Ensuring the lid is closed would avoid this. See BBC article.

Heating and Cooling Systems

The risk of air conditioning systems spreading coronavirus in the workplace is extremely low. Most types of air conditioning systems can continue to be used as normal. But if a centralised ventilation system that removes and circulates air to different rooms is used it is recommended that recirculation is turned off and fresh air supply is used.

Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so focus on improving general ventilation, preferably through fresh air or mechanical systems. See guide produced by HSE on ventilation.

CIBSE (the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers) and REHVA (the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning association) have issued guidance relating to the operation and use of building services in helping to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19. The guidance centres on seeking to supply into buildings as much outside air as reasonably possible.

Legionella Risks Because of Water Stagnation

Employers, the self-employed and people in control of premises, such as landlords, have a duty to identify and control risks associated with legionella. If your building has been closed or had reduced occupancy during the coronavirus outbreak, water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of legionnaires’ disease.  

The HSENI website has detailed guidance on managing legionella risks during the outbreak and how to protect people when the water system is reinstated or returned to use.


See also guidance produced by HSE managing legionella risks during the outbreak.

Hot Desking

Hot desking is a high risk activity and must be avoided. Every other method of working should be thoroughly investigated to avoid this type of work. If desk sharing is essential then again stringent measures need to be put in place to avoid contamination. Desks should have all personal items removed they should be thoroughly cleaned between uses, each staff member should have their own keyboard and mouse, hands should be washed thoroughly per guidance before and after use, employers must ensure that they limit the staff who share desks this may be done by putting staff into teams to reduce the number of contacts. This is also covered in the guidance.

Travel Arrangements

Non-essential travel should be avoided. Where travel cannot be avoided, employees should travel alone wherever possible. When employees use a vehicle with others, try to travel with the same person, preferably with one in the front and one in the back of the vehicle and ensure good ventilation. Practice social distancing when using car parks. For employers' own car parks, consideration should be given to leasing additional car parking spaces, where available, to help create space for social distancing. Employers should also consider staggering start/finish times to avoid peak travel periods.

If employees have no alternative but to use to use public transport to travel to work, they should be advised to observe social distancing and wear face masks.
Recruitment to NIPSA

During these difficult times it has never been more important that we all strive to recruit new members into NIPSA to ensure we can protect all members and public sector workers in the new environment in which we live.  In all areas of NIPSA we are engaged in protecting all members and as the lockdown starts to ease there will be challenges for all public sector workers and staff will need a union to protect them. Please use this new recruitment image in whatever manner you need to recruit new members and please ask potential members to visit the Become a Member page on the NIPSA website, where they can download an application form and see the benefits of becoming a member of Northern Ireland's largest trade union.