COVID-19: Testing A New Consideration for Workplace Safety

As part of an employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe work environment, companies are continuously responding to risks. Today, one of the greatest threats to employee well-being, and ultimately a company’s ability to operate, is COVID-19.

As part of a desire to maintain a safe working environment and protect the well-being of employees, companies mitigate known hazards. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a new threat to every business, regardless of industry or area of focus.

By now, we are all accustomed to high level COVID screenings that occur in a range of settings—where foreheads are scanned for temperature and some basic questions are asked. While some exposure risk may be identified using these methods, both human nature and the way COVID-19 impacts individuals leave considerable gaps in providing a true shield from risk of spreading the virus. For example, answers to questions about exposure may be unreliable and individuals with COVID-19 may never experience a fever.

Advances in testing have introduced more reliability into the equation of how to tangibly reduce risk of introducing COVID-19 into a workplace. Some of today’s saliva-based active virus (PCR) testing is highly reliable, non-invasive, and typically returns results within 48 to 72 hours. This solution is an important tool to increase workplace safety.

Keys to an Effective Testing Program

When planning a COVID-19 testing solution, here are eight important considerations:

  • Are the results reliable? Reliable testing is critical to building a sense of trust and security with your population. Working with a network of labs versus one lab helps ensure access to the most reliable tests as they become available. Based on what we know today, active virus (PCR) tests are among the most reliable. Ensuring tests are always analyzed and evaluated at a lab, whether conducted on-site or at-home, is critical for accuracy.
  • Is the test easy to administer? There are two areas to address to make administration of testing easier – 1) physical burden of the test and 2) time and place of testing. Minimizing physical burden is particularly important if a test needs to be repeated over time. Tests that leverage saliva are typically less burdensome than those that involve a swab of the back of the nose or throat, which may be seen as invasive, unpleasant, and even painful. Regarding the second factor of time and place, a test that can be self-administered with an option to be conducted at home will typically be preferred.
  • Is privacy maintained? As with employee background screenings or other drug and health screenings, privacy is critical and legally required. The test provider that you choose needs to assure you that results will be securely shared with the employee or candidate and only select members of your staff. In addition, this data should be securely stored and protected. Ultimately, you need to protect the test-taker’s privacy by putting fully vetted vendors and processes in place.
  • Who has accountability for ensuring proper testing? For integrity and to ensure the test has been conducted properly, saliva-based tests may be observed. This can occur either onsite or via a video conference, but should be done by someone who has been properly trained and to achieve proper documentation.
  • Are results available in a reasonable time period? We all know that extensive delay of test results leads to uncertainty, especially when an individual is concerned about exposure or testing is being proactively done across a population who are awaiting clear answers. When reliable, lab-based results are returned within 72 hours, isolation of any infected individuals can occur, and risk of spread can be mitigated. Many leading labs can now meet that timeline, which reduces stress and mitigates risks.
  • Can the results be aggregated easily? Data overload is a real risk today. Simple, easy to understand reports and dashboards provided by the test program provider can quickly indicate where attention is needed. When testing a workplace population, the consistency provided by a single integrated solution can do wonders.
  • Can the test be easily repeated? As with any medical test, COVID-19 results reflect a specific point in time. To respond to the ongoing nature of this threat, periodic tests can be considered to properly monitor your population for the virus.
  • Can tests be quickly provided to those at higher risk? When leveraging preventative measures like temperature checks and self-reported symptoms, instances of fever, reports of flu-like symptoms, or incidents of potential exposure may arise. Whether these instances occur on your jobsite or while employees are still at home, it is important to proactively have an established process to access tests. Simply sending someone home and advising that a test is needed is not recommended since it introduces additional challenges and risks if you are not supporting them on necessary next steps.

Putting It All Together

As part of an employer’s responsibility to maintain a safe work environment, companies are continuously responding to risks. Today, one of the greatest threats to employee well-being, and ultimately a company’s ability to operate, is COVID-19. A complete, end-to-end, tech-enabled solution will help restore a measure of control in a time of great uncertainty. The result is a safer environment and a return of focus to your company’s mission and critical initiatives.

About the Author

Alla Schay is the General Manager of the Industrials, Government, & Education group of Sterling, a leading provider of background and identity services. She previously served as Sterling’s Client Services and Account Management leader, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Human Resources Officer. Alla is an operations management professional with experience in business process transformation, Six Sigma analysis, and software and CRM implementation.

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