Last year, nobody would have predicted that this COVID-19 pandemic would still be going strong in 2021.
However, at the end of last year, we were given a glimmer of hope – COVID-19 vaccines have been approved and rolled out to the priority groups.
On top of this, the testing capacity has increased massively in the UK! This allows essential workers and those who cannot work from home to return to work safely and avoid long self-isolation periods.
COVID-19 has changed the world of work for the foreseeable future. To remain open during the pandemic, businesses have made many changes to keep employees and customers safe.
Employers have been held responsible for ensuring workplaces have adequate cleaning and hygiene facilities, social distancing measures are followed and PPE being installed (plastic screens, face coverings, visors, etc).
With so many changes being made, workplace testing seems like the next reasonable step to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the place of work.
Especially now that the rapid tests have become more readily available.
Types of COVID-19 Tests
Currently, in the UK there are two main types of test for detecting COVID-19, these are;
- PCR (polymerase chain reaction) – These tests check for the genetic material of COVID-19 (RNA) and must be sent off to a lab for analysis.
- LFD (lateral flow device) – These tests detect antigens (proteins) that are made by the virus and they can give a result in 30 minutes (rapid testing).
The lateral flow tests being distributed aim to detect the 1 in 3 people who don’t know they’ve been infected with the virus.
Plus, research shows they are cheaper to produce, easily handled and don’t require additional resources (e.g. a laboratory).
These tests can detect people who may not have any symptoms but do have high levels of the virus – meaning they’re much more likely to transmit COVID-19 to others.
For every case with no symptoms that are detected, the chain of infection is disrupted leading to reduced transmission.
Workplace COVID Testing
On the 7th of February, the government announced a boost to rapid workplace testing! This testing scheme aims to detect COVID-19 cases in those without symptoms (asymptomatic).
Any business in the UK with more than 50 employees can join this rapid workplace testing program for those who cannot work from home (usually organised by occupational health teams).
Previously, only businesses with over 250 employees could join this testing program.
This means more asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 will be detected and told to self-isolate. It is possible that this program could save hundreds or thousands of lives by reducing the spread of the virus.
If an employer knowingly allows a staff member with COVID to continue working, a fine of up to £1000 could be given!
The government highlighted a case study where these lateral flow tests have identified employees with the virus that would have otherwise carried on working.
Transport for London has been using these rapid tests to test asymptomatic employees, aiming to protect those using the transport networks.
They found 28 cases of the virus which otherwise would not have been detected – which could have spread to colleagues and customers.
Every asymptomatic case of COVID-19 found in the community is important and will cause the infection rate of the virus to decrease.
Instead of carrying on with normal life, these positive asymptomatics can stay at home for two weeks and stop themselves from passing on the virus!
How Often Should Staff Be Tested?
Employees who are working in places with a higher risk of transmission are advised to take two LFT a week (every 3/4 days).
This is the optimum frequency because the virus takes a few days to gestate before people become infectious.
It may seem like twice a week is a lot but it is the only way to be sure employees are not transmitting the virus.
Additionally, the rapid tests are less accurate than the lab assessed tests – testing twice a week can prevent the issue of false negatives/positives.
Having frequent workplace testing reduces the likelihood of employees having needless time off work to self-isolate.
This is beneficial for both employer and employee as more work can be carried out (increased productivity) and employees don’t need to take time off work (retain income).
Do I Need To Report My Test Result?
Yes – No matter what the result is! You can do this by visiting the government website and following the given instructions. If the test result was positive, you may be asked to take the PCR test to confirm the result.
A positive test means that you and your family must self isolate at home while you wait for the confirmation PCR test, or for two weeks if a PCR test isn’t given.
Once the PCR test is complete, employees will know whether they need to remain self-isolated of it they can return to work.
If the test result was invalid, another LFT should be taken as soon as possible – If further issues occur, it is recommended that you are tested at an official test site.
If the LFT comes back negative, people are still advised to follow all the relevant social distancing guidelines in place.
They should also keep an eye out for COVID symptoms, if any are displayed, another test should be booked straight away.
HSE has introduced guidelines under RIDDOR, which requires employers to report new COVID cases.
If an employer fails to report a COVID case the consequences are severe, unlimited fines and the potential for custodial sentencing.
A RIDDOR report should only be made under three circumstances –
- A worker dies as a result of exposure to COVID at work.
- An incident has or could lead to the transmission of COVID-19.
- Someone at work contracted the virus while on-site.
Does your business need help dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? Look no further, Wurkplace is here to provide all the support you need – We’ve got your back! Call us on 0330 400 5490 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wurkplace also offer training courses aimed at improving your safety at work. These include subjects like: Nutrition, Hygiene, Allergy Awareness, COSHH training, Diabetes Awareness, Food Safety, Infection Control, and Slips, Trips, and Falls.
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