Key Takeaways You Need To Know About The Return To Work Safely Protocol

Do you know how to adapt your workplace procedures and practices to fully comply with public health protection measures? Professor John Gallagher, Managing Director of Cognate Health, outlines his key takeaways about the Return to Work Safely Protocol.

As businesses across the country re-open on a phased basis over the coming weeks and months, so too come regulations and guidelines on how they can do this safely. The Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Here are some of my key takeaways from the protocol. 


Do you know where and how your workers, customers and the general public might be exposed to COVID-19 in your business? This is one of the questions that must be answered by employers in their COVID-19 Response Plan. The plan also asks people to:

  • Take into account workers’ individual risk factors 
  • Include a response plan to deal with a suspected case of COVID-19
  • Include the controls necessary to address the risks identified
  • Include contingency measures to address situations like increased rates of worker absenteeism. 


A key part of the return to work planning is a requirement for companies to ensure staff are free of COVID-19 symptoms. Employers are required to assess all staff returning to the office workplace three days prior to their return. Cognate Health, with our dedicated remote case management service Dayone+, can help manage this process, assisting in the provision of a questionnaire to staff and, most importantly, in assessing the questionnaire once it is completed.  


Prompt identification and isolation of potentially infectious individuals is a crucial. This means that employers will need to keep a log of contact/group work to facilitate contact tracing and instruction for workers to follow if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 during work. Workers also have the responsibility to monitor their own wellbeing. 


Some key elements outlined include the need for appropriate hygiene facilities. In addition, good respiratory hygiene and etiquette is also necessary and tissues, as well as bins/bags for their disposal, need to be provided in workplaces. The bins must also be emptied  at regular intervals. Physical distancing of two metres is to be maintained between people to minimise risk of transmission. Other key points include no handshaking policies, identification of small teams who consistently work and take breaks together, and staggering of canteen use. 


Non-essential office work should continue to be carried out at home where practicable. I recently wrote a blog on tips for managing a remote workforce, which you can find HERE.  


Business trips and face-to-face interactions should be reduced to the absolute minimum and technological alternatives, like video conferencing, should be made available. For necessary work-related trips, the use of the same vehicles by multiple workers is not encouraged. 


Substantial work is required by employers to eliminate physical interaction between workers and customers. Physical barriers, clear markings, provision of hand sanitisers at entry/exit points, implementation of cleaning regimes and displaying of advice on the COVID-19 measures are all mentioned. 


While we continue to adapt to this new way of life we cannot forget about the mental health of employees. Employers are being asked to put in place support for workers who may be suffering from anxiety or stress. 

As a leading occupational health provider, Cognate Health can assist businesses in building out COVID-19 Response Plans including advice on policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of workers identified as cases or contacts; assistance with sickness absence management; and addressing any worker concerns including issues relating to home working as well as return to work and all COVID-19 related queries. We can also access and advise you on the requirements for high risk and vulnerable staff or those with individual health requirements. Please contact Denis Weir or Sharon Cleary for more information.

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