Key steps for introducing an effective health testing programme in your business

After initial difficulties most businesses can now source the PPE they need and have plentiful advice about cleaning products and regimes to control infection.

Key steps for introducing an effective health testing programme in your business

After initial difficulties most businesses can now source the PPE they need and have plentiful advice about cleaning products and regimes to control infection.  However, as we look at other countries, we know that we cannot be sure what will happen next.  The risk of infection might increase, and you may need to introduce different activities in response.  But how will your business know when this is necessary?  A systematic plan for regular testing of your staff will help with this.

Once a workplace has reopened you will need to have of policies and procedures in place and your staff will need to understand these. Many people won’t read policies or remember policies, so you need to have simple guides, sign or charts to make sure they understand their responsibility. As we are learning more and more about Covid-19, you will need to continually refine and adjust policies as best advice or government regulations may change.

Policies will need to cover the logic of 

Opening or closing a unit or workplace

Social distancing, 

Travel to work,

Meeting in person

Other practical aspects of daily life.

How can you keep track of all these changes, how can you keep up to date with the latest guidelines? You will need to identify a Covid-19 safety officer or coordinator (it is the role that matters, not the title) and they need to keep their training and knowledge up to date. 

Fortunately, there are now specialist training providers emerging who offer not just online training but ongoing updates and access to Covid-19 specific clinical advice to make sure you adjust as you go along. You need to make sure that you choose a provider with suitable credentials and check out if they are able to offer CPD points or certificates.

You can also use online tools to monitor the changing situation in the workforce. It is not just sickness, but for example changes in travel plans, increased risk in a particular locality or venue. 

And now let’s talk about testing and the seven steps you can take to introduce and manage a testing procedure in your SME.

Monitoring symptoms and personal circumstances

First make staff aware that they should be monitoring their symptoms and communicating with you.  Talk to them so that you understand any additional risks that might affect them. For example, are they using public transport daily? Do they live in large households? These factors will inform the testing plan you put in place.

Choosing your test

Only use tests that have been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

Privacy considerations and data security

As well as medical issues, privacy of personal data must be taken into account in your testing procedures.

As you develop the testing programme for your business make sure:

You have clear documentation for every step. (remember the policies we started with? They must cover documentation)

You take a systematic approach.  With large numbers of employees, you may choose to undertake random tests, but this requires clarity around who is chosen for testing and when.  

You use a decision tree: If specific results are identified, what happens next?

You follow the guidelines from Public Health England (PHE) guidelines. Where practicable have the testing undertaken with medical supervision.  You may find an occupational health physician who can supervise for you.

There are steps to identify when data is no longer needed and a documented process for it to be destroyed 

You use a secure system to protect the data. Avoid programs such as Excel which can be compromised.

Avoiding potential discrimination

There is evidence that there may be a higher risk from Covid-19 for people with a BAME background. Because of this it may be appropriate for them to be, for example, tested more regularly, or to have shorter intervals between tests.

However you do this, it is essential that any form of discrimination is avoided. Be open and transparent about why and how you would like to test your staff.  You can also get advice and/or training on how to communicate sensitively with those most at risk.  

Additional questions and decisions

As you put together your testing programme you will need to ask a number of questions and make decisions depending on the answers:

What specific type of information will you be gathering?  What action will you take (depending on what you find)?  For example:  you might have to change the way PPE is used, or to undertake more testing with a particular group of staff. 

What other details will need to be recorded to provide context for the testing? For example, if someone is living with a family member who is at higher risk, if the staff member has a BAME background.

What type of test needs to be carried out in relation to any symptoms?  Assuming tests need to be repeated how will you manage repeat testing, and long will you leave between tests?  

This will depend partly on how long test information is valid for. It is important to remember that each test is only effective for a very precise period.  If you run tests at the wrong time, the results will be meaningless.  To be meaningful you need to get test results at the right time in relation to symptom development. 

Managing the testing programme

Most businesses will probably find that their current system for recording HR data is insufficient, so a new system of Covid-19 testing is needed.

Communication with your staff

Communication with staff is crucial.  Everyone needs to understand the reporting procedure if a member of staff tests positive.  They also need to be clear about how testing will change or increase if a customer or supplier reports they have the virus.  

There is also a grey area in relation to UK employment law as employers have a duty of care but do not have the quality of information about Covid-19 they need.  In these circumstances you require specific legal advice, as well as clinical advice, before you introduce a testing programme.  

In summary, your testing programme needs to be backed by policies, clearly communicated to staff, with ongoing monitoring for changes in advice or guidelines, staff monitored for symptoms and risk factors and the testing needs to be clearly recorded within data protection guidelines. Combining these elements will provide the best approach to fulfilling your duty of care as an employer while keeping administration up to date and manageable. 

Marta Kalas
Marta Kalas

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