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COVID-19 Testing in the Workplace – What Do Employers Need to Consider?

19 January 2021

With businesses interested in conducting their own private workplace coronavirus testing for employees, what do employers need to bear in mind?

The government’s COVID-19 testing programme is intended to restore the country’s economy and help us to lift lockdown restrictions, but employers may wish to take matters into their own hands.

Within businesses that operate as essential services, and those wanting to safely bring staff back to the workplace, one option is to introduce their own internal testing programmes outside the NHS Test and Trace service, which focuses tests on symptomatic individuals. 

According to the Financial Times, Bupa is providing tests to more than 250 organisations around the UK and the English Premier League has hired a Hong Kong-based group to conduct weekly tests on football players and club staff.

The main aim is to provide confidence to workers and customers in the workplace and help to protect and enable business continuity. The use of lateral flow tests, that give results within 30 minutes, without the need for any involvement of laboratory testing, is one of the easiest options to organise within a workplace.


Communicating With Your Employees


Employers are duty-bound to communicate clear information on internal testing programmes, and the government recommends making the following clear:


  • Why they are setting up a testing programme, as well as or instead of accessing the existing national programme
  • Whether the programme is voluntary or mandatory
  • What the consequences are for staff who decline to take part in the testing programme
  • What the next steps are for staff after they receive the result, including the requirement to notify their employer of a duty to self-isolate if the worker is due to work (or undertake work activities) during the isolation period. Failure to do so may result in a £50 penalty
  • Where staff can seek advice on their rights throughout the process
  • Whether staff will have the opportunity to discuss the collection of such data if they have any concerns
  • What to do after receiving a test result, including the legal requirement to self-isolate for 10 days from the beginning of any symptoms, in the case of a positive test


Complying With Data Protection Legislation


Employers are advised to make all staff aware of how their personal data will be processed before processing begins. The Information Commissioner's Office has set out specific points with regards to GPDR and the Data Protection Act 2018.

This includes ensuring staff are aware of what personal data is required, what it will be used for, and who it will be shared with taking account of the ICO's guidance on individual rights, and to make staff aware of how long they intend to keep the data for.


How Should Used Lateral Flow Tests be Disposed of?


The government has provided guidance on organisations wishing to pursue an internal testing programme, but this type of quick-result test is categorised as chemical waste by The Department of Health under the European Waste Codes (EWC) 18 01 07 and 18 01 04. 

Therefore devices cannot be mixed with other waste types and must be incinerated. Additionally, the PPE used to conduct the lateral flow tests is categorised as offensive waste (EWC 18 01 04) and should be stored separately from the lateral flow test kits.

Initial Medical, one of only a few UK companies currently providing waste disposal for used lateral flow testing kits, is recommending a specialist waste collection service for such chemical waste.

With the vast majority of waste disposal and treatment centres across the UK currently at capacity due to the extra PPE waste being generated, Initial Medical has secured additional capacity at several disposal sites, to ensure it can help to meet the anticipated demand for the disposal of used lateral flow test kits. It is also providing dedicated clear waste bags to customers for all used lateral flow testing kits, with the option of internal containers and external wheelie bins depending on the service required. 


How Accurate are Lateral Flow Tests?


According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the public should be aware of the accuracy of lateral flow tests, as well as the risks and implications of false-negative results.

Professor Jon Deeks argues that the Innova lateral flow test is not fit for purpose for any form of mass testing, citing the Liverpool pilot study.

In this study, 60 per cent of infected symptomless people went undetected, including 33 per cent of those with high viral loads who are at highest risk of infecting others.

Given this, the BMJ is calling on the government at least to pause the rollout of rapid asymptomatic testing using the Innova test, including its use in care homes, schools, communities and self-testing by untrained people at home, until clearer messaging on the risks of negative results can be developed.

Picture: a photograph of a lateral flow COVID-19 test. Image credit: Initial

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 19 January 2021


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