Enhancing Workplace Safety And Control Through Covid-19 Testing

Eight questions to ask about your testing strategy to ensure your workplace is protected against spread—and liability.

Successful people and organizations know that change is inevitable. They innovate and plan for both seen and unforeseen challenges as part of their DNA. To respond to urgent threats, operational redundancies are in place and business continuity plans are designed and tested.

Speaking with leaders across a variety of industries, a major theme lately is the importance of quickly regaining elements of control in uncertain times to keep organizations on track.

Typically, emergencies last for limited duration, solutions have precedent, and necessary adjustments last days or even a few weeks before a return to relative normalcy. Covid-19 has been the obvious exception to that rule, with an open-ended expectation for dramatic change.

Symptom Screenings and Active Virus Tests

By now, we are all accustomed to high-level screenings that occur in a range of settings—where foreheads are scanned for temperature and some basic questions about symptoms and potential exposure are asked. Some companies have made considerable investment in training or hiring staff and purchasing equipment. Although not foolproof, individuals who exhibit Covid symptoms can be asked to stay home to reduce exposure to a broader population.

It is possible to have the virus and display no significant symptoms. A more sophisticated, science-based approach to avoid the direct threat of exposure in the workplace is testing individuals for the active virus (leveraging PCR), an indicator of the presence of Covid-19 at that specific time. This can provide a meaningful restoration of control, enabling additional exclusions of infected people to further reduce risk.

Program Guidelines for Effective Covid-19 Health Testing

As organizations seek to protect their employees, customers, partners, communities, brands and reputations, here are eight important considerations as organizations focus on Covid-19 health screening:

1. Are results reliable? Reliable testing is critical to building a sense of trust and security with your population. Based on what we know today, active virus (PCR) tests are among the most reliable and should be the foundation of a strong testing program.

2. Is the test easy to administer? Covid-19 tests typically leverage either saliva or a swab of the back of the nose or throat. Many consider the latter to be invasive, unpleasant and even painful. A saliva test that can be self-administered and then sent to a lab for analysis is emerging as the preferred option.

3. 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 ensure that results will be securely shared with the employee or candidate and only select members of your staff.

4. Is there accountability? 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.

5. Are results available in a reasonable time period? With most leading providers, reliable, lab-based results are returned within 72 hours. Timely test results are critical to ensure isolation of any infected individuals can occur and risk of spread can be mitigated.

6. Can the results be aggregated easily? Look for providers that offer simple, easy to understand reports and dashboards of aggregated testing data for your population so you can quickly identify where attention is needed.

7. Can the test be easily repeated? To respond to the ongoing nature of this threat, periodic tests need to be anticipated to ensure that your population continues to stay clear of the virus.

8. Can tests be quickly provided to those at higher risk? When leveraging preventative measures like temperature checks and self-reported symptoms, it is inevitable that instances of fever, reports of flu-like symptoms, or incidents of potential exposure will arise. It is important to proactively have an established process for those identified as high risk to access tests, rather than simply sending someone home and advising that a test is needed.

An effective end-to-end solution will be tech-enabled, providing easy access to both aggregate and individual results to help determine any next steps. The challenges of Covid-19 testing have strong overlap with random drug testing programs associated with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirements. Record-keeping of massive quantities of data requires a proven, pressure-tested solution.

Know Your Workforce to Protect Your People

As you bring new workers onboard, you are adding to your company culture and introducing new people to your existing employee base, and potentially to your customers and your community as well. In short, new team members can impact your brand and reputation. A consistent, high-quality background check remains critical for ensuring a safe, secure workplace that includes only those individuals who meet the standards you set.

A recent poll by Sterling revealed that 55% of respondents are considering or planning to re-screen employees who have been furloughed during the coronavirus pandemic. Investing in consistent, high-quality background checks every 12 to 24 months can provide critical information about your workforce and help reduce risk.

Planning for an Uncertain Future

In myriad ways, risk reduction restores control in uncertain times. Through putting clear programs and risk management measures in place, companies can focus more attention on proactively pursuing their strategies. While size and scope of the Covid-19 pandemic is unlike anything faced before, a focus on well-coordinated and managed screening and testing programs can reinforce your company’s commitment to safety across employees, customers and the communities you serve.

Alla Schay
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.