Protect vulnerable workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Removal of some coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions

This page is up to date following the removal of some restrictions in England. There are different regulations and guidance to follow for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The latest advice on keeping workplaces safe will help you assess the risks and continue to reduce COVID-19 transmission. This includes links to information on vaccination, as well as on testing, tracking and tracing (including where variants are spreading).

As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect workers from harm. You should make sure you consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19) and put controls in place to reduce that risk.

Some employers may ask workers to undertake regular testing for COVID-19 to identify people who are asymptomatic.

From 19 July 2021, social distancing guidance will not apply in most workplaces in England and the UK government will no longer instruct people to work from home.

Supporting workers in higher-risk groups

There is significant and growing evidence on the groups of people who may be at more risk of being infected and/or an adverse outcome if infected:

The higher-risk groups include those who:

  • are older males
  • have a high body mass index (BMI)
  • have health conditions such as diabetes
  • are from some Black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds

Public Health England, supported by HSE and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, have worked together to consider strategies to lessen workplace risks of COVID-19 for BAME groups. This work has been reflected in the Equalities Minister's report.

There are currently no expectations of additional controls specifically for these groups. However, make sure existing controls identified by your risk assessment, for example adequate ventilation, good hygiene and cleaning, are applied strictly. As an employer, you can support these individuals/groups in your workforce by ensuring:

  • you emphasise the importance of individual and wider workforce engagement, buy-in and cooperation to ensure controls are applied stringently
  • they have individual discussions with their managers around their particular concerns
  • you/they discuss the risk management measures you have put in place to minimise transmission to keep them, and others, safe
  • you explain the controls you will put/already have in place to protect them and other workers

If you work for yourself, you need to follow government guidance on working safely.

Accessing precautions for working safely

Employers should ensure all workers, including those in higher-risk groups, are able to access all the protections that are necessary, for example during night shifts, when working remotely or working alone. This might include access to personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks or cleaning materials.

Clinically extremely vulnerable workers

During the pandemic, the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (previously described as shielded).

These workers are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Since 1 April 2021, the UK government has said that anyone in England who is clinically extremely vulnerable is no longer advised to shield. From 19 July 2021, social distancing guidance no longer applies in England and the UK government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can. Employers are encouraged to talk to any clinically extremely vulnerable workers returning to their workplace, so they can explain the measures being taken to ensure where they are working safely.

More information for clinically extremely vulnerable people, covering travel, socialising, educational settings and vaccination, is available from Public Health England.

You can find information on separate arrangements in Scotland and Wales, and guidance on who is clinically extremely vulnerable and what further support may be available, from Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Wales.

Pregnant workers

There is a long-standing requirement for employers to put in place measures to ensure workplace safety where a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother.

Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

(see Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Wales for any separate arrangements).

Employers will need to take this into account in their risk assessment.

If you cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, you should suspend the pregnant worker on paid leave. This is in line with normal requirements under regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

HSE has specific, non-COVID advice for new and expectant mothers.

We review and update this page regularly to reflect any changes in guidance.

Page last reviewed: 19 July 2021

Next review due: 31 July 2021

Updated 2021-07-14