Since the government announced the end of free COVID-testing as part of its Living with COVID strategy, we have received many questions from customers about what they should do. How do they know if someone is COVID-positive, and is it even relevant any more? COVID-19 workplace tests help you decide what to do next. This article seeks to provide some clarity on the topic. You can receive Rapid Antigen tests for as little as £4.88 per person via a PHSC trusted Partner, or a fully managed in-company testing service. All you need to know about COVID tests is explained below.
From our experience as health and safety practitioners, many people experience mild symptoms with Omnicrom variant. However, many do not and are debilitated for at least 1-2 weeks. If they are expected to “battle on” and come into work, the risk of transmission to your team will increase. This will affect your productivity and your absence levels. It is also likely to affect your team’s general anxiety and stress levels in a negative way. For employees who are more vulnerable the risk remains a very real and significant threat. We can support you with simple tests for as little as £4.88 per person.
One of the biggest concerns you face is managing the unknown – ie whether one of your team is COVID-Positive (eg asymptomatic but infectious). The only way to have reasonable assurance that someone is not infectious is to test them. There are many ways to achieve this, from providing home-kits to your staff to a comprehensive testing facility delivered at your own premises.
What Tests are Available?
There are two main types of test.
One that identifies if a person has the virus. This is called a COVID-19 Antigen Test, and means that someone who tests positive will currently have the virus.
One that identifies if someone has previously had the virus and has antibodies. This is called a COVID-19 Antibody Test. It means the person is no longer infectious and will have their own immune response without having to rely on the vaccination.
What Type of COVID-19 Antigen Tests are available?
There are two types of Antigen tests available;
PCR Antigen Tests, which are Government approved and require taking a swab from the nose and throat of the person and is able to be administered by a healthcare professional or the patients themself via a home test kit. The specimen is then analysed in a laboratory and results are available in 20-48 hours following the test.
Rapid Response ‘Point of Care’ Antigen Tests, which must be CE-marked and adheres to Government guidelines. The approach involves a healthcare professional taking a swab from the nose and throat of the person. The specimen is mixed with a reagent at the point of care without the need to send the specimen to a laboratory for analysis. Results are available in 10-15 minutes following the test.
What does COVID-19 Testing achieve:
Testing in the workplace will identify within a very short time-frame (typically 10-15 minutes) whether an individual has a current or past infection. For the former (ie current infection) it enables the person to self-isolate immediately, and for them to prevent risk of transmission to others. For the employer it provides several benefits, including:
Enables close contact occupations to work safely, knowing they are not infectious and liable to spread the disease to others
Significant reduction in sickness absence due to transmission and spread of the virus to others
Reduces the impact and disruption on production caused by staff being unwell or working whilst unwell
Enables tailoring of safety measures in the workplace such as social distancing
Is an effective proactive monitoring strategy of staff for the virus at work
Prevents spread to other colleagues, thereby affecting business continuity as well as potential for valued colleagues to become seriously ill
Reassurance to staff, customers and other stakeholders that they are not likely to contract the disease from work
Reduction of stress and mental health problems amongst your teams.
Improved efficiency by ability to schedule work teams/tasks more effectively
Testing enables targeted and focussed isolation only where it is needed, thereby saving costs associated with staff absence, reduced service or production.
NHS Test and Trace will not generally contact employers unless 2 or more new COVID-19 cases are linked to a workplace setting so your staff may get tested but you are not likely to be notified. And this only applies to people who have received a COVID test – the majority of your staff are unlikely to have had any test at all. So employers are currently working with a big unknown risk factor; “are any of my workers COVID-19 positive and spreading the virus unknowingly?
Is COVID-19 Testing at the Workplace Mandatory?
You do not have to provide COVID-19 tests at work by law. However, when done well you can significantly help to reduce risk of infection spread, and sickness absence. Further, you will help to instil staff and customer confidence and reduce stress and anxiety as a result. This will help your business continuity and productivity as infection levels continue to fluctuate.
You can no longer order free rapid lateral flow tests for your employees. Instead, you can:
- Buy your own tests and set up your own workplace testing.
- Pay an approved provider to provide tests or run a test site for you.
- If you cannot provide testing, you can ask your employees to get a rapid lateral flow test at home or at a test site.
We can support you with options 1 and 2, simply by calling 01622 717700 or sending us an email to email@example.com
How to Check that COVID-19 Testing Providers are Reputable?
There is legislation to ensure that anyone providing COVID-19 test services is reputable. Any provider must be accredited to ISO 15189 and ISO 22870 or have evidence that they have applied for the standards and are working towards it. ISO 22870:2016 gives specific requirements applicable to point-of-care testing and is intended to be used in conjunction with ISO 15189. As these are internationally recognised standards, having your test regime completed by an accredited organisation will demonstrate that your testing process is robust and accurate.
Should COVID-positive workers self-isolate?
Now the legal requirement to self-isolate has been removed, you will need to devise your own policy and procedure. This should be based upon risk and take into account risks associated with staff stress and anxiety if they feel unsafe. You should also consider reduced production caused by staff sickness and the effects of low morale.
Further Help and Advice
PHSC has been supporting clients wishing to introduce COVID-19 Testing at the Workplace. There are several providers offering a range of services. One we have found to deliver a prompt, professional and pro-active testing support package is the Harley Street Clinic. Please click here if you would like to know more about their services or to purchase some Tests Kits.
If you would like to speak to a specialist safety practitioner for impartial help and support, please call us on 01622 717700. Alternatively send us an email at . We can talk through your thoughts and ideas to help you decide if COVID-19 testing is suitable for your own workplace.