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15.7 min read   ·   June 26th, 2020
Blog Articles   ·   Health & Safety eLearning

7 Steps for a Returning to Work Health & Safety Plan

Written by IBIS Training

You’re probably busy planning your return to work, or at least it’s nagging away at the back of your mind...

You’ll have changes to make and things to consider, and you’ll need to be sure that you’ve communicated your safe working practices to all staff. Being able to evidence you’ve provided that information and that it’s been read and understood is going to be a priority.

Let’s look at some of the issues that you’ll want to address with this easy 7 Step health and safety guide for Returning to Work:

How to Solve the Problem

1. Discussion ☕
2. “TEAM”  🤓
3. Plan A  😎
4. Write it down!  💻
5. Create a Buzz 🤠
6. Feedback 🧐
7. Review, Reflect, React. 🤔

1. Discussion

Arguably the most important part is to plan your arrangements together, not in isolation. But, why is this so important? 

More than ever a Return to Work after a pandemic lockdown really hits home for most people about their own health and safety but also the health and safety of their loved ones.

Inviting input from others will help to generate fresh ideas, highlight problems you may not have thought of and encourage new thinking among everyone. After all, every person in your team will be aware of the day-to-day pitfalls and obstacles they are likely to come across, that you may not have considered.

It’s a great idea to invite input from your team, ask for their thoughts and ideas about working safely moving forward with a return to work as COVID-19 lockdown eases in 2020.

How to gather info about return to work concerns?

Depending on the size of your organisation, you may be able to talk to people individually, or for large numbers of people, consider gathering information quickly and easily using an online form tool. 

Another option depending on your organisation may be to delegate.. ask Team Leaders to consult with their teams and report back with collective feedback.

A great tool to quickly put together a form and have the responses go straight into a spreadsheet is Google Forms, it's free and easy to use.

The extra bonus, gathering extra valuable intel from getting everyone involved at some level with the conversation, is that you’ll also be helping your staff to feel more valued and genuinely listened too, by asking for their opinions and concerns about returning to work after COVID-19.

It helps show that you recognise and trust their experience too when it comes to health and safety, the final icing on the cake is that people will be much more likely to follow guidelines that they have had a hand in making!

For more info on creating a great environment and culture around practical health and safety at work we have a great course called Cake & Safety, (it’s free!).

2. “TEAM”

So it turns out that there is an “I” in team after all - well at least when it comes to the personal safety of staff when returning to work during coronavirus times. 

Step 2 of this free returning to work guide begins with a meeting.


After talking to your team in Step 1, have a group meeting to talk over the feedback and hone in on ideas for your plan, which we’ll put together in Step 3. 

Productive collaboration, helps generate ideas and solutions which only come about as a result of team thinking - some people call it a Think Tank, others call it a scrum, we just call it good health and safety management.

Loads of people have already become more comfortable with remote meetings using methods such as Google Meet, and Zoom during the lockdown period. Why not take advantage of the trend by having your Return To Work “TEAM” meetings online too? 

The more social distancing you can create, the safer everyone, including businesses, will be in the long run!

3. Plan A

Top 9 Ideas to Consider for a Great COVID Return to Work Plan

Top of the agenda is likely to be social distancing and how to achieve it in the New Normal at work and here’s a few ideas to get started with.

Staggering Shifts

Staggered arrival and departure times are a great thing to start with. You can have small teams or groups of people arrive and leave work at different times, limiting the rush-hour contact at the front door, but also on a potentially very busy commute to work... 

For example, one group could arrive between 8:00 - 8.30am, then the next group at 8:30 9:00, and then the next group at 9:00-9.30 with home leaving times to match etc. 

But who wants to get up early? There will always be the early risers who may just want to be home earlier for the kids, and the ‘grab every last moment in bed’ people who will be only too pleased to commit to an earlier or later arrival and departure time. 

Finding out who would be comfortable with what could be a part of your Discussion in Step 1.

Another great starting point is to take inspiration from everyday examples; such as how supermarkets are handling the crisis by staggering entrance and exit traffic through different doors, and floor arrows and markings so people are reminded to keep at 2 meter distances and use a one-way system etc. 

If you have to manage a dedicated building for work, and have multiple door access, you might want to consider using one for entrance and one for exit only - the start of a simple one-way one-flow system - this is a basic move which can help avoid unexpected oncoming traffic in tight corridors. 

Even if you use shared offices, you could use floor markings, or printed-and-pinned signs, in your workforces office space. Make it easy and obvious for people to remember how much distance they should keep between them at work. 

Floor markings are an instant reminder when it’s easy to get caught up with your day and forget about social distancing. You can also buy pre-made signs - just use tape or even paint where appropriate like concrete floors in warehouses -  but make sure not to create any trip hazards while you’re at it! 

More on trip hazards in the workplace in our health and safety managers course.  

Proximity screens - Physical Barriers for Germs!

Proximity screens are another popular method - again, you’ve probably seen the clear screens which were swiftly introduced to supermarket checkouts and cafes to protect the checkout staff from close contact with customers. Proximity screens can be implemented at checkouts, around desks and machinery etc too. 

Embrace Digital for Meetings

One of the key social distancing measures implemented since lockdown, is new ways of meeting face-to-face with much more focus on phone or online/virtual meetings using apps and services like Google Meet, and Zoom meetings. 

Video Chat is a great tool for Health & Safety Management too.

We’ve all become much more comfortable now with online meetings, and we’re saving the planet from fossil fuels in the process to boot! Win-win! 🌳

If you must meet up in-person, consider making those meetings only for a short duration in fixed groups of people - then go home! 

It might be that most of your work is carried out from home, via computer, phone and virtual meetings, and then when the team really needs to meet, just travel in for that purpose, have the meeting, find inspiration, re-energise your relationships with your colleagues, then go home again to continue working. 

You’ll have received that real life face-to-face boost, and addressed the key issues that were required, while keeping risk to a minimum. 


Another high priority for returning to work will most likely be cleaning. Don’t just leave it to any cleaning staff, get involved with their plans too!

Consider a serious deep clean prior to returning to work - a deep clean will be more than just a standard routine daily clean, it will involve ensuring that all surfaces are cleaned to ensure you’re starting from a zero when it comes to risk of spreading the virus.

Planning for a good day-to-day cleaning schedule of the things that often get forgotten such as keyboards, mouse and other DSE computer equipment will be super important during the return to work. 

Even though your people will not be sharing equipment, they are still going to be touching and handling items throughout the day and then returning to their keyboards, for instance, touching door handles, lights and toilet handles. 

Don’t forget your people are likely to go out at lunchtime or for breaks, even just for some fresh air, or to pick up lunch and perhaps a fancy coffee where they are potentially going to be exposed to people or surfaces which may have come into contact with COVID-19, and then may return to spread that infection onto their DSE computer equipment or other surfaces. 

Have you thought about water?

Cleaning considerations should also include water management. When returning to a property which has been left vacant for several months, one of the risks is from Legionella bacteria in the water system. 

What’s Legionella? When water sprays from a tap or shower or other water outlet, droplets of legionella bacteria may become airborne, then anyone who breathes it in may suffer severe flu-like symptoms, which can lead to death within a very short space of time, for example, within weeks.  

Legionella is simple to manage with water maintenance procedures, as long as the bacteria hasn’t been given the opportunity to get a grip, such as during a period of stagnation, whilst a property is left vacant. 

You can learn more about Legionella Management from our course dedicated course on the matter, perfect for hotels and companies with building management needs.

Bubble Buddying 

Buddying (sometimes known as Consistent Pairing or Bubbling) is a great idea made popular by the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic, it means that rather than people working and mixing in large groups collectively, workers could be paired so that only a few people work together consistently, separated from others, so that if a person either be diagnosed with COVID-19 or begins to show symptoms, only those few workers in that group need isolate, rather than the whole team. 

Where only a few people working together is not practical for the work activity, numbers might be carefully increased, maintaining as few people as possible in the working group, mixing with other groups as little as possible. These groups are sometimes known as a ‘bubble’ and the aim is still to limit cross-contamination to as fewer people as possible within your team.

Thermal Monitoring - for the big guys!

Thermal Monitoring Access Control is an adaptation of security cameras that actively monitors their body temperature and raises an alert so the individual can be isolated as quickly and effectively as possible. 

It might be useful for schools and colleges where large quantities of people will be gathering and moving through halls and corridors, other commercial environments might include retail environments, shops and shopping centres where there will be large volumes of people moving through. 

It works by assessing the volume of people and can identify those that have a higher than normal body temperature (an early indicator of COVID-19), and can highlight that person, so that individuals can be quickly identified and isolated from the rest of the population for further screening.

For smaller groups of people, where temperature testing is still important, you could use a hand-held infrared temperature measurement device that can be used to take the temperature of an expected visitor before they come in.

Examples of where this might be useful include dental surgeries, where there will be close contact with a patient (subject to the expected PPE), so it’s especially important to know whether they have early symptoms of COVID-19 such as a temperature. 

Your safe system of work might include arrangements for the patient to stay in the car park and contact the reception desk by phone, and when the receptionist gives permission for the patient to enter they are instructed to wait at the entrance door, while the receptionist uses the hand-held infrared temperature device to check for a high temperature. 

Transport & Commuting

Part of the Discussions in Step 1 should be considering your teams transport for their commute to work. How are your workers going to get into and away from work? 

It’s likely their arrangements may need to change, to avoid crowded public transport or shared cars.


Planning how to deliver Plan A, is also super important.

Once you’ve decided on your safe systems of work (SSW), it's important that employers tell their staff how to work safely, and that the staff have understood... otherwise all your hard work in putting together a plan for a safe return to work will just go to waste, and your team will have an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.

You’ll also want to avoid getting everyone together in a classroom environment or big meeting, to help maximize social distancing, and minimise the time spent coordinating and managing a face to face training process - not to mention the cost of classroom based training can skyrocket when you factor in everyone's schedule and travelling.

You could send them an email about your return to work plans, but could you be sure that they have read it, and how can you be sure they have understood such an important plan? 

And quite importantly for Health & Safety law... how can you prove it on a per-person basis.

One of the simplest options for delivering information in an easily accessible way, is to use online training or eLearning to deliver your return-to-work plan before everyone comes in. 

We use our online training, which has learning verification techniques such as quiz questions or workbook style question and answer features, to verify that the person has understood. Features such as a Learning Management System, which allows Account Managers to monitor and review progress by every user, and access training certificates to evidence each member of staff's successful completion in bulk too. 

If you need help or have any questions about this part, online training is our speciality at IBIS Training, and we’d be happy to guide you through this process specific to your needs.

4. Write it Down!

Even if there’s only a few in your team, write down Plan A for your safe return to work!

Although you may have the best intentions - you’ve already put a lot of work and effort into planning a safe return to work, so make sure it gets used and followed! 

The best way for everyone to stay on the same page is to write it down, then you can also tweak the plan weeks later and evidence your planning and solutions if you ever get challenged. 

Challenged? Returning to Work after a pandemic affects the Health & Safety of your team so you’ll need to be able to show that you’ve considered the risks and put in place suitable solutions to control the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

For more information, see our Health & Safety for Managers course which goes over a mangers health and safety responsibilities.

Government guidelines state that businesses may only reopen their business following lockdown, once they have completed a Risk Assessment too.

“Businesses will only be able to open from these dates once they have completed a risk assessment, in consultation with trade union representatives or workers, and are confident they are managing the risks. They must have taken the necessary steps to become COVID-19 secure in line with the current Health and Safety legislation.” 

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-sets-out-timeline-for-retail-to-reopen-in-june 


How do you write a risk assessment? 

There are 5 Steps and the full-details are outlined in our Risk Assessment online learning course.

Whilst step 4 says that you should record your findings ‘if you employ 5 or more’, given the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, we suggest writing down your COVID-19 Return to Work Risk Assessment in any case.

If you’ve got any questions about this part - health and safety is at our core so give us a call and we’d be happy to help! 

5. Create a Buzz

Ensure that everyone is aware and onboard with the plan, and make sure they understand that the plan is subject to change based on reviews too!

Depending on both the size of your company and the culture within your business, there’s a bunch of different ways to create a buzz about your return to work health and safety plan. 

Consider these ideas:

  • Send an email. (Will it get lost among hundreds of other emails?)
  • Send a newsletter. (Will they read it?)
  • Give a webinar. (Requires coordination, scheduling and time out of the business for everyone at the same time.)
  • Provide a copy of the Risk Assessment to everyone. (Will they read it? Difficult to evidence that they have read and understood.)
  • Meetings (virtual hopefully!) Inform Team Leaders and expect them to transfer the knowledge to their teams. (This could be effective, but doesn’t provide evidence of understanding.)

One way to do this is to provide a copy of the Risk Assessment document to everyone, although maybe not everyone would be as excited about reading a risk assessment document as you? 

If you have a sizeable team and very specific plans for your organisation, or you’re all super spread out, you may want to consider creating a custom online training course to deliver key messages to your staff. This way instructions are tailored to your own work place specifically and you can even include document downloads too.

It’s possible to create a specific online course for individuals or groups of departments, or even for separate divisions which deliver very specific instructions on how they should be returning to work safely, outlining the measures you’re taking and the methods you expect them to keep to, in order to keep everyone safe during this time.

This allows your staff to access the information at a time to suit them, on a device that’s accessible to them (even their mobile phone or at home), and provides the employer with a record that the information has been accessed and successfully completed, with a certificate to demonstrate understanding. 

Our custom online learning courses are accessible for an entire year even after they complete the course, so it’s easy for staff to check back in to refresh their memory about a particular safe system of work, at any time.

If you would like to discuss the IBIS Training bespoke e-learning course options please contact our support team and we'd be happy to talk through your requirements.

6. Feedback

The true test of a good plan is to see it in practice, and if there are issues or obstacles they’ll soon reveal themselves if you keep an eye-out!

So take time to observe and monitor how things are panning out. 

Talk to your teams and invite feedback. You might also want to try online feedback tools and surveys like in Step 1, or you might get more in-depth engagement and feedback, using an online meeting facility like Google Meet or Zoom

Video-chats might feel a little alien to start with for some people, but it’s amazing how quickly it starts to feel normal to have a quick video chat with a colleague! 

Once the first few video chats are under your belt, you’ll stop thinking about ‘what you look like’ on-screen and start focusing on the reason for the call. It becomes just like a normal face to face conversation in the end or just the same as a phone call.

7.  Review, Reflect, React

Is your safe return to work plan going well? If not, improve it by going through step 1 & 2 again, then change the plan where necessary.

Every plan, no matter how big or small, can usually benefit from revision and improvements.

Think of your Plan A, as a rolling plan, a living document! 

Google Docs is free and a great tool for this - it’s a quick-to-use online collaboration tool - a bunch of people can jump in and edit the same document at the same time.


How are your return to work plans actually working out? It will soon become apparent if social distancing measures are not being stuck to.

Are the staggered arrival and departure times working or just causing friction?

How are people actually travelling to and from work?


Are your proximity screens restricting practice to such an extent that your staff are simply taking them down or moving them so that they are no longer providing an effective barrier?

Do your arrival and departure times need to be extended to create wider windows of timeslots?

Is the real-world commuting to and from work still allowing people the safe distances required for social distancing?


For example, if staff are struggling with proximity screens, discuss the proximity screens with those that use them. They may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but turned out to be impractical. This might mean that a complete re-think may be needed, or maybe just some adjustments.

Maybe your arrival and departure times need to be extended to hourly slots rather than half-hourly, 7-8am, 9-10am, 11-12pm? Consult with your teams to identify the best arrangements for your workforce.

Consider alternative options, depending on your staff numbers and geographic distribution of your workforce. 

You may have enough experience and expertise within your own organisation to work through these issues, but if you feel you’d like additional external support feel free to contact us.

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, if your organisation cannot work online, a proper risk assessment, solid communication channels and communicating the knowledge and plans though an appropriate training plan is the best way to go when it comes to the health and safety of real people - as people are always the biggest asset in any organisation.

We're always here and happy to help with matters of health and safety - please do get in-touch if you have any questions! :)

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IBIS Training is London's premier health and safety online training or e-learning course provider for over 10 years. Specialising in distance learning for groups and businesses world-wide. We have a range of health and safety courses and industry specific training for compliance, career development CPD and regulatory needs. Our experienced team of UK-based health and safety specialists are freely available on the phone for a requirements review. Talk to us today or call 020 3870 2599 to learn how our years of experience designing bespoke safety courses can help you. Learn more about IBIS Training.