Lateral Flow Testing for the Workplace - An Employer's Guide

29 October, 2021  |  Holy Winter - Healthcare Writer

Lateral Flow Testing for the Workplace - An Employer's Guide

As society reopens and we return to work, there is a pressing need to ensure workplace health safety. The government has supplemented the vaccination drive by helping employers and businesses sign up for testing, with Lateral Flow Testing becoming the go-to testing option across the country. Read on to find more about it.

What is Lateral Flow Testing

Lateral Flow Tests (LFT), also known as rapid antigen tests, allow for rapid results (within 30 minutes) and are considered cheaper and more efficient as compared to the traditional Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Tests.

The Lateral Flow Test is used to check for viral proteins (antigens) of the COVID-19 virus in the swab sample. As the test checks bodily fluids, it can be administered both orally and nasally. The best-known example of an LFT is one used as a home pregnancy test; the LFT for COVID-19 is equally efficient and affordable.

Lateral Flow Testing for COVID has been widely tested and perfected through trials within the UK. Trails in Liverpool were conducted to check the feasibility of Lateral Flow Testing for detecting and measuring the spread of COVID-19 infection in patients. The trials indicated that a swab of the patient’s saliva, when placed on the test cartridges, would change colour within 15-30 minutes. This colour would then be compared to the baseline.

The reliability of Lateral Flow Testing lies between 88.75% and 99.17%. This is from a sample of 20 million tests, which were part of the aforementioned trial in Liverpool. Lateral Flow tests score relatively lower on reliability as compared to PCR tests and thus will not entirely replace PCR tests for general testing.

Lateral Flow Testing for businesses is considered ideal, as it is a lot more cost-effective than other testing options and can be scaled up in usage. Hence the reason why Lateral Flow Testing for key jobs and employees is beginning to be widely used across the UK. Lateral Flow Tests are conducted twice a week on all employees regardless of symptoms. Since some COVID-19 carriers can be asymptomatic, employers who wish to keep their workplace safe and avoid disruptions should consider implementing a business-wide rapid Lateral Flow Testing.


Lateral Flow Testing For Businesses

There are three routes employers can take when implementing rapid Lateral Flow Testing for employees. These methods depend on how much resources the employers wish to allocate to testing and the size of their workforce.

Self setup

The employers themselves can set up a testing site at the workplace. This entails ordering their testing kits, conducting tests and handling the results. This is an ideal route for businesses that wish to be as thorough and efficient as possible. A self setup will ensure all employees are tested bi-weekly and can get their results as soon as possible. However, this does involve more responsibility on the employer, as test results come under sensitive personal data. This data should be handled with great care and only shared with concerned authorities.

The testing needs to be done very carefully, as inconsistencies in processes and reporting can lead to false positives, which will then lead to unneeded absences from work. 

Third-party private testing services

Employers can employ the services of a third party who would organise a Lateral Flow Test for employees at the workplace. Employers are still responsible for ordering test kits for all the employees. The government has declared that they do not validate or approve all third-party private test providers, and employers are therefore strongly recommended to conduct their own research about the testing services they use. Most of the providers are still going through the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accreditation process but do comply with the minimum standards, but it is important to determine where they stand at the point of using their service.

Community testing

Another option is community testing. This option is ideal for implementing Lateral Flow Tests for companies with under 50 employees. Employees can visit their local testing sites to take a Lateral Flow Test. Employees can be relayed this information from the local authority website about the location, costs and timings of testing. This shifts the responsibility of testing and relaying results from the employer to the individual employees.

Can Testing Be Made Mandatory?
The government recommends that all workplaces accomplish Lateral Flow Testing on a voluntary basis. This has proven to be an effective testing strategy when it comes to implementing Lateral Flow Testing for businesses across the country. It hasn’t been controversial since the nature of administration is not overly intrusive. However, the oral or nasal swabs done for the test can still be perceived as invasive by some people, and thus these factors should be taken into consideration before proceeding with the test.

Employers can potentially include a clause in their contracts that includes bi-weekly Later flow testing for new hires. This clause should be added with some caution, as employees can refuse to be tested for a variety of medical, religious and personal reasons. In such cases, employers should try to accommodate their employees as much as possible; however, in the end, workplace health safety will need to take precedence. The best strategy is to communicate with your employees about why their refusal to be tested is problematic. Effectively communicate and educate them on exactly what Later Flow Testing is and why it is an important step in the direction of ensuring a safe working environment. 

If the employee can effectively work from home then their refusal to get tested can be accommodated by allowing for remote work. However, if they cannot work from home and refuse to take the test then they can be reprimanded. This is because testing can be justified as a reasonable management request based on the current exceptional health circumstances.

Employees That Test Positive

Employees that test positive must self isolate and book a confirmatory PCR test. The co-workers in close contact with the employee will need to self-isolate as well unless they are fully vaccinated. In either case, it is recommended that all close contacts do take a PCR test. Employers cannot knowingly allow employees who have tested positive to return to the workplace. These employees must work from home if they can, considering their role and health.

It is the responsibility of both the employee and employer to ensure that all test results are communicated to the authorities. Failure to abide by these guidelines will result in fines for employees and employers.

Employees who cannot work from home are entitled to statutory sick pay while they self-isolate. However, they cannot be placed on furlough based on the guidance provided by the  Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. For these employees to be furloughed, they must be severely vulnerable or at high risk of severe symptoms from the coronavirus. This decision will be up to the employer, based on the determination of the health of the employee.

To make the process of Lateral Flow Testing for employees as smooth as possible, employers should facilitate their employees at each step. Since most of this process is done on a volunteer basis, it is important to remember that employee willingness is the key. For employers to cultivate willingness amongst their employees, they should have open communication about the need for rapid Lateral Flow Testing.

Reviewed By

Omar El-Gohary

Omar El-Gohary

The superintendent and lead pharmacist - registration number 2059792.

Omar is passionate about developing healthcare technology to empower our patients.

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