Protecting vulnerable workers during COVID-19

Protecting vulnerable workers during COVID-19

As an employer, you have always had a legal duty to protect workers from harm, but COVID-19 now adds a different dimension to that. However, the principle of identifying the hazard and implementing suitable controls remains the same.

You should consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and put measures in place to reduce that risk. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (shielded). Shielded workers are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They cannot return to workplaces before at least 31 July 2020 in Scotland, from 1 August 2020 in England and from 16 August 2020 in Wales when shielding is paused.

You can find guidance on shielding and protecting workers, explaining who is clinically extremely vulnerable, from Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Wales.

Supporting shielded workers returning to work

You should talk to shielded workers about their working arrangements and take every possible step to enable your workers to work from home if it is practical to do so. When shielding is paused, and it is not possible for workers to work from home, you must regularly review your risk assessment, and do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect those workers from harm.

If some of your workers are in the shielded categories, explain what will be done to protect them, for example doing tasks where stringent social distancing guidelines can be followed, changing hours of work or job role to avoid or minimise interaction. Don’t forget that this also applies to workers living with someone in the shielded group.

You can find more advice on shielding and protecting vulnerable people on GOV.UK.

Pregnant workers

During the outbreak, pregnant workers have been advised to follow social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus. 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.

They should have received a shielding letter from the NHS advising them:

  • to stay at home where possible
  • that they are not expected to be in a workplace

You will need to take this into account in their risk assessment. If you can’t put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, you should put the pregnant worker on paid leave in line with regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.


If you need support managing your health and safety through a pandemic, whether it’s revisiting your safety policies, completing a risk assessment or implementing a Safety Management System, Primed can help.

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