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Setting up a routine Antigen PCR workplace testing programme

We know that many businesses are looking to set up workplace testing before winter sets in and whether you're an SME or a FTSE 250, this guide is designed to help you to think through and structure your initial planning*.  


*Programmes can take anything from a week to a month to implement. If you're looking to set up virus testing for the winter period, we advise you to book lab capacity as soon as possible.

Understand the landscape


Familiarise yourself with the key terminology

You may already be aware of the difference between antigen and antibody tests, symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and how the PCR Antigen test works and if not, we have published a guide that covers the basics.

Read the Government guidance on workplace testing

As an employer it is your responsibility to ensure that your programme is safe, legal, effective and in line with Government recommendations.

Contact an occupational health provider

Most businesses, irrespective of size, work with OH specialists to plan and deliver workplace testing. Click here to understand how OH can help you ensure programme success.

Define scope & secure initial buy-in

Who are we planning to test? How often? Why?

Most businesses are testing because they want to identify 'silent transmitters,' prevent outbreaks and reassure staff that they are safe to be in work. Some businesses test all staff, others focus on specific groups of employees who are deemed to be higher risk. Most businesses choose weekly testing but in situations where social distancing / other virus protection measures are not possible, some test more than once a week.

What will this cost?

Costs vary significantly from lab to lab and will also depend on volume / the projected length of your programme. In our experience, most businesses embarking on winter programmes are booking lab capacity for a minimum initial period of 12 week (our instant quote calculator will give you a price estimate for 24 and 48 hour results turnaround from the labs in our network).

Communicate with key stakeholders

Informing and involving key stakeholders  i.e. employee representatives and/or board members from the beginning will make a huge difference to the success of your programme. Potential roadblocks will be flagged early and can be dealt with before they become problematic.  



Think about: logistics, policies and communication


How will you get test kits, who will process the results?

The Government guidance outlines the standards and accreditations you should look for in terms of testing kits and lab services. Some labs will only process results, others offer a broader wraparound service, for example all of the labs in our network can supply approved testing kits as part of the workplace package.  

Where will testing happen and when?

The businesses we work with range from single site operations where everyone works the same hours, to multi-shift, multi-site operations where testing is scheduled across several days / locations. Your schedule will need to factor in your lab's turnaround time, e.g. our network of labs process tests within 24 hours receiving them: for results to be delivered on a Friday morning, they must be shipped to the lab by Thursday morning.

Who will ensure that your staff are self-swabbing correctly?

If you are not planning to work with OH you may wish to bring in a healthcare professional for your programme's initial stage in order to mitigate false negative results.

How will you gather consent and make sure confidentiality is maintained?

Some businesses ask employees to sign a consent form every time they give a sample, some have a register. The labs in our network process anonymous barcoded samples and a point of contact, usually the OH specialists, is responsible for tracking barcodes against employee names, receiving and communicating results when they are returned.

How will you achieve compliance?

In our experience most programmes are opt in and employees are generally happy to participate if communication has been clear and they understand a) why testing is happening b) how the process works c) are assured of confidentiality and fair treatment.


What happens if someone in your workplace tests positive?

You'll need clear protocol for both the business and the individual in the event of a positive result including policies and processes for: sick pay; return to work; informing selected members of the wider business (i.e. colleagues working in close contact); NHS Test and Trace and employee support.  


How will you communicate with and support staff throughout the programme?

Clear, transparent communication is essential throughout all stages of the programme and is key to achieving buy in and compliance. We recommend being clear as possible from the outset as to how the process will work, how results will be used to keep employees safe and business open. We also recommend creating an easily accessible information / FAQ page and having a clear process for staff to raise concerns confidentially / receive support in the event of a positive result.



Examples of ongoing testing programmes (all results returned within 24 hours)


Automotive industry: multi-site
Opt-in weekly testing available for all employees across all UK sites. Test zones, run by an OH provider, are open 4 days a week and samples are returned in batches for pool testing.


Media industry: single site

20% of workforce are unable to socially distance and are tested 3 times a week. The remaining 80% are tested weekly. Testing, co-ordinated by an OH provider, takes place in a tent set up at the site entrance. Staff are also temperature checked daily upon arrival.

Construction industry: multi-site
Programme began as a small-scale weekly trial for employees who were particularly vulnerable and was subsequently scaled company wide. Testing, co-ordinated by OH provider is available 3 days a week. 

At Covid Testing Network we have been at the forefront of workplace testing since the start of the pandemic and we are experienced at delivering testing plans across a wide range of industries. The labs in our network are all fully accredited and approved for Covid-19 virus testing.

Whether you're about to press go on a full-scale programme / you want to explore starting with a small, focussed trial, we can work with your OH provider or you directly to manage the end to end logistics from testing-kit supply to results return, just reach out to our Head of Client Management, Ami Jayakrishnan


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