The PCS 5 tests for safe working

The PCS tests are:

  1. No wider return until communities are safe
  2. Workplaces must only be for essential work
  3. Workplaces must be safe places
  4. Staff must be individually assessed
  5. Outbreaks must be controlled.

The tests are intended to support both those currently working at open workplaces, and those homeworking and facing a potential return. 

We will be publishing guidance resources to support the tests and online training is being developed. 

Visit our coronavirus question and answer page or submit a question to our response team


Test 1 - No wider return until communities are safe

There must be no return to workplaces until it is safe, with a significant reduction of cases and the ability for widespread testing and tracing.

The majority of PCS members are working at home. PCS believes that it is in the interests of the community for any wider return not to take place until levels of transmission have decreased significantly. Coronavirus is highly contagious. If community transmission rates are high, increasing the numbers on public transport and in workplaces will expose essential workers to greater risks.

The test for community safety will be met if:

  • An effective vaccine has been developed and implemented in the community
  • Or community transmission of coronavirus is being effectively managed;
    • Death rates are consistently low and falling
    • New cases are consistently low and falling
    • There is a comprehensive and effective UK-wide test, track and trace system is in place
    • Personal protective equipment is available on demand.

Test 2 - Workplaces must only be for essential work

Workplaces should only be open for essential work, which cannot be carried out remotely.

To prioritise the safety of key workers, workplaces must only be open for essential work which cannot be carried out remotely. The risk of workplace transmission of coronavirus increases with the numbers of staff who return to workplaces. Minimising the numbers in workplaces will minimise the risk workplace transmission for those who must attend, and eliminate the risk of workplace transmission for anyone not attending a workplace.

This test will be met if:

  • The only work taking place in a workplace is both essential work and work which cannot be carried out remotely.

This means that:

  • All work that can be is carried out remotely
  • Wherever possible technology has been procured and developed to enable remote working
  • That all non- essential work which cannot be carried out remotely is postponed.


Test 3 - Workplaces must be safe places

Open workplaces must have a union agreed risk assessment to include all factors known to affect virus transmission, and an equality impact assessment. Each open workplace must be designed to minimise risk, including the operation of social distancing, and where necessary provide adequate PPE.

The risk of workplace transmission of coronavirus must be minimised so that it is as safe as possible to attend at workplace. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers are required to:

  • Identify what could cause injury or illness (hazards)
  • Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • Take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk.

It is a legal requirement that a competent person should carry out a specific Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with union and safety reps.

Read the detailed PCS guidance. 

The risk assessment must take into account:

  • The “whole building” access to and egress from the workplace, traffic routes through shared spaces, toilets and other facilities.
  • Minimising staff numbers, split shifts, social distancing measures,
  • Ventilation in the office, and hygiene arrangements.
  • Ensuing that travel to work is consistent with social distancing, provision of parking, cycle storage and shower facilities
  • Personal protective equipment – if a risk cannot be eliminated then PPE must be provided.

Read specific guidance covering the majority of PCS members’ working environments on what needs to be considered to manage the risk in offices and contact centres.

The risk assessment must be discussed safety reps, the safety committee. In these circumstances, union reps should make it clear to employers whether they agree with the risk assessment and the action to eliminate or control the risk of coronavirus.

Open workplaces must be safe for all, so an equality impact assessment must take place in consultation with union and equality reps. The equality impact assessment must take into account the impact of the Covid-19 on all employees with protected characteristics. In addition to any discrimination the EIA must take into account the higher proportion of members of BAME communities who have died of coronavirus, and impact on disabled people.

Read detailed guidance about how workers should be consulted and involved in risk assessments.

This test will be met if local union and health and safety reps agree that the risk assessment, the risk elimination and control measures, and the equality impact assessment are adequate and in place.

Test 4 - Staff must be individually assessed

Staff must not be required to work at an open workplace if they are vulnerable, shielding, or cannot travel to work safely.

In addition to the risk assessment and equality impact assessment, individual staff must be confidentially assessed. This individual assessment must take into account the following factors:

  • Those in vulnerable categories, living in the same household as those in vulnerable categories, or have caring responsibilities.
  • Individual travel arrangements, including avoiding public transport.
  • Increased levels of anxiety for those in vulnerable categories or those in ethnic groups with higher death rates.

This test will be met if staff in these categories, who do not wish to, are not required to return to workplaces.

Test 5 - Outbreaks must be controlled

Preventing infection at work is vital, but it is also important to monitor the effectiveness of prevention and have in place a plan to manage any outbreak of infection.

Where there is an outbreak a workplace must be closed and cleaned. The outbreak must be tracked and contacts with the infection traced. The building must only reopened when the cause of the outbreak has been identified, those at risk of infection have been contacted, further risk assessment must take place, and additional remedial measures put in place to reduce the risk of a further outbreak.

The most effective way of controlling the risk of infection is with a comprehensive regular testing programme for all employees in a workplace (including any working for contractors).

Once the government has introduced a test, track and trace system this must be applied to those required to attend work.

This test will be met when employers can show they have an effective outbreak control plan in place.

Need help?

Register for the reps briefing online.

If you are a member read our coronavirus Q+A and you can log an enquiry with our response team by emailing  

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