As the country’s workplace health and safety regulator, the HSE has supported the government’s response to COVID-19 with a focus on protecting workers and others from the risk of infection.

Initially, with the UK put into lockdown and much of the nation’s workforce required to work remotely, the HSE was forced to adapt its regulatory approach. Now, as the government moves into a new phase of supporting a safe return to work, the HSE is adjusting the focus of its activities and ramping up site visits and inspections – but it’s not just employers’ COVID-19 control measures that stand to be scrutinised.

Following the annual release of its work-related fatal injury statistics, the HSE has stressed that while the management of COVID-19 remains the clear focus, employers must not become complacent to ‘basic’ workplace risks.

As such, while the regulator will continue to check that businesses are taking all necessary steps to protect workers and others from COVID-19, it will also:

  • Resume targeted proactive inspection work of high-risk industries; and
  • Continue to investigate work-related deaths across all industry sectors, the most serious major injuries and dangerous occurrences and reported concerns.

In a statement on its website regarding the regulation of occupational health and safety during the coronavirus outbreak, the HSE stresses that it will continue to secure compliance with the law, serving as a timely reminder that infection control is just one aspect of employers’ wider health and safety responsibilities.

Don’t forget the basics

The message is simple: although the return to work has seen employers implement new COVID-19 safety procedures and protective measures, it’s important that this does not compromise existing arrangements or cause other health and safety issues and requirements to be overlooked. 

COVID-19 does not remove other statutory health and safety obligations, and employers are still legally obliged to protect the safety of employees and others. This means continuing to identify all hazards within your workplace and taking steps to control the risks arising from those hazards.

Key risk areas that must continue to be managed effectively during the pandemic include:

Slips and trips

Slips and trips are the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces. While they may appear relatively minor incidents, the HSE reports that 95% of slips and trips result in broken bones and they can also be the initial cause of more serious accidents, such as a fall from height.

Employers have a legal duty to assess the risk from slips and trips and take reasonable precautions, such as ensuring adequate lighting, providing slip-resistant footwear, and checking floors regularly to make sure they are in good condition. Most of these measures are extremely simple and inexpensive to implement and will prevent costly absences and injury claims resulting from inaction.

Fire safety

Fire is still one of the biggest threats to a business and the need to consider fire safety hasn’t gone away because of COVID-19. In fact, employers should review their fire risk assessment now to make sure it reflects any recent changes made in response to COVID-19. For example, if you have reduced staffing levels or made changes to working patterns, this may mean you have fewer Fire Marshals available. Fire awareness training is also a legal requirement and refresher training is likely to be needed on return to the workplace.


The law requires that premises are safe for use both by employees and visitors. Electrical equipment, gas appliances, flues and pipework must be maintained in a safe condition and should be inspected by a competent person.

The HSE has also released guidance on Legionella risks during the coronavirus outbreak as water in systems that haven’t been used in months can become stagnant, increasing the chances of Legionella bacteria. This could affect offices, hotels, restaurants, schools and any other business that has closed or partly closed as a result of lockdown.

More generally, it is a good idea to conduct regular walk-through checks of your premises so that any unsafe conditions or acts can be identified and corrective measures taken.

Musculoskeletal disorders

Back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders are the most common type of occupational ill health. Repetitive work such as lifting, moving and carrying items can lead to muscle strain directly or over time. Employers must take steps to prevent or minimise such ill health by:

• Training staff in proper lifting techniques;
• Using mechanical aids such as hand trolleys; and
• Organising work areas in ways that reduce the need for lifting, moving and carrying.


Employers must provide instruction, information and training to ensure workers are aware of workplace risks and understand how to perform tasks safely. In addition to training around your COVID-19 arrangements, consider appending refresher training on other important health and safety topics, such as your emergency arrangements, accident reporting procedure, and the safe use of equipment.

Special care should be taken to ensure vulnerable young workers receive adequate training and supervision.


A significant number of safety incidents happen during deliveries and collections when people are at risk from moving vehicles, particularly where HGVs are reversing and lack space. To ensure good workplace transport safety, make sure your site is well lit, with sufficient signs and pedestrian segregation in place. If possible, design traffic routes that avoid or reduce the need for reversing.

Display screen equipment

Display screen equipment (DSE) training is legally required for DSE users – those who use computers, laptops, tablets and similar devices as part of their normal work, continuously for an hour or more. In addition, while a workstation assessment is normally conducted when a new workstation is set up or a new user starts work, it is a good idea to carry out DSE assessments for staff who have been away from work for a prolonged period, especially if you have made changes to the workspace in light of COVID-19.

Specialist support with your safety arrangements

Managing all aspects of health and safety, especially with the added pressure of COVID-19, can feel like a large undertaking. At Ellis Whittam, we give employers confidence in their compliance by working with you to address areas where you might be exposed, put robust systems and procedures in place, and offering unlimited advice and guidance from a dedicated, professionally-qualified consultant.

For discuss your needs, call 0345 226 8393 or visit our Coronavirus Advice Hub for completely free resources designed to support your COVID compliance.

Find what you were looking for?

Our FREE resources library contains over 200 searchable blogs, guides and templates focused around Employment Law and Health & Safety issues that employers face on a day-to-day basis.

Get your FREE download

We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

Call us on 0345 226 8393.

Get your FREE download

We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

Call us on 0345 226 8393.

Need some help?

Call our team now on:

0345 226 8393

Request a Callback

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.

Request a Callback

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch. Or call us on 0345 226 8393.
Hi, how can we help?
Click the button below to chat to an expert.

Is Your Business Based in Scotland?

Go straight to our free sector-specific Risk Assessment Templates for Scottish organisations…
Click to explore what’s available.

Get your FREE consultation

Submit your details and one of our team will be in touch.