With virus cases rising daily across the UK, at Covid Testing Network we're seeing many more businesses implementing routine workplace testing in order to remain safely operational through the winter months.
Whether a company is testing 30 or 3000 people each week, in our experience the vast majority are working with occupational health specialists to design and deliver their programmes.
It's not just about buying tests
Most workplace testing is focused on routine screening of asymptomatic staff in order to identify 'silent transmitters' i.e. people who have the virus but are not showing symptoms. Each week staff are swabbed, samples are shipped to a lab for processing and results are returned as quickly as possible (our network of labs return results within 24 hours).
A well-planned programme, incorporated seamlessly into the weekly schedule, can provide reassurance to staff that they are safe to be in work. In the event of a positive result, employers can act quickly, potentially preventing an outbreak and subsequent business shutdown.
Simply buying tests, however, is not enough. As outlined in Government guidance on workplace testing there are a series of governance, compliance, logistical and safety frameworks which need to be put in place before an effective rollout can begin.
Where occupational health specialists add value
An OH specialist can work with you to develop these frameworks before moving into a project management / business support capacity when testing goes live:
Risk assessment, testing plan design and protocol advice
OH professionals can help you to assess the risk profile of your environment and workforce and understand whether you should offer testing to all employees or focus on specific groups / locations. They can then work with you to unpack the Government guidance and design a bespoke plan including processes for gathering consent, ensuring confidentiality and handling results. They will also advise on protocol for the individual and the business in the event of a positive result.
Selecting and managing a testing partner
As an employer you are responsible for procuring approved testing kits and lab services. Your OH specialist will be able to guide you in selecting a lab with the appropriate accreditation and will often negotiate fees on your behalf. Once testing is live, your OH specialist will act as the testing lab's main point of contact and will be on hand to organise test-kit delivery and sample return. They will also be able to deal with any issues or queries around results which can be time-consuming and confusing if they are not handled by a healthcare professional.
Location, scheduling and on-site safety
An OH specialist can advise as to the most suitable location(s) for testing to take place as well as help you to formulate a non-disruptive schedule - both of which can be complex even in a small business and particularly if shift-work or multi-site operations are part of the equation. They will also ensure that appropriate social distancing and safety measures are in place before testing begins.
Ensuring effective swabbing
The virus test is highly sensitive - even if a staff member has a very early-stage virus, if it is present on the sample it should be detected. However, incorrect swabbing can lead to a false negative result. Having a healthcare professional to supervise staff to self-swab is extremely important in your programme's initial phase.
Sample logistics: tracking, handling and return
Most labs process hundreds or thousands of test samples on a daily basis. Your OH specialist will ensure that samples are properly logged according to lab protocol and that they are correctly stored and packed to avoid damage in transit to the lab.
Consent, confidentiality and communication
OH specialists can help you to set up and manage your processes for gathering consent and ensuring confidentiality. As the government guidance states, transparent communication is vital for workplace testing programmes to succeed and your OH partner will be able to support and advise on how best to articulate and position your programme throughout.
Receiving a positive result can be distressing for the employee concerned and having a dedicated healthcare professional on hand is of huge value - both in terms of providing reassurance and advice to the individual and in guiding the business through the necessary next steps. Most OH specialists also have links to doctors should further diagnosis / consultation be required.
In addition, some businesses choose to extend their Covid-19 package beyond asymptomatic testing - for example setting up additional screening such as temperature checks for staff entering a building or environmental testing (testing surfaces / air for virus presence).
How do I find an OH provider?
If you have no connections to an Occupational Health provider, The Society of Occupational Medicine has an extensive database which you can use to connect with Occupational Health companies or independent specialists in your area / industry.
Having been at the forefront of workplace testing since the start of the pandemic, Covid Testing Network has strong relationships with both independent specialists and larger providers and also would be happy to make recommendations. If you're not ready to contact an OH provider yet but you'd like to have an initial conversation about workplace testing for your business, we are similarly happy to help, just contact our Head of Client Management, Ami Jayakrishnan