Reducing COVID-19 risk to businesses – what businesses need to know about rapid testing.
A significant proportion of worldwide cases of coronavirus have been related to occupational exposure according to an article by Professor David Koh published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine1.
So, what can, and should businesses be doing to protect their workforce and limit the risks from Covid-19?
One of the most effective ways of limiting the transmission of Corona Virus is through testing. With approximately 75% of all those who test positive for Covid-19 being asymptomatic (showing no symptoms), testing is the only way to know if you have the virus and should isolate.
There has been a huge amount of information about testing in the media over recent weeks, much of which has concentrated on ‘rapid tests’ and their effectiveness. Since the Government has started rolling out the use of these rapid tests and thereby de facto endorsing them, there has been an equally significant surge in the number of companies selling them and associated marketing literature extolling their virtues.
There are good quality tests with high levels of accuracy and reliability available but there are also many that do not do not live up to the claims they make. It is important to separate the science from the marketing. Check the provenance of the tests and ensure accuracy claims have been independently validated.
The overall quoted accuracy figure is a statistical representation of two completely separate numbers added together. It is what I call “marketing” of scientific data.
Sensitivity describes how “confident” you can be with a negative result and Specificity describes how “confident” you can be with a positive result.
It is however very important to note the difference between the confidence levels of sensitivity and specificity: The prevalence of Covid within the population means the majority of people do not have Covid and hence the majority of people will test negative.
In practical terms, it is therefore far more important to consider the specificity results because a specificity of 99.5% with the current prevalence levels means 1 in every 2.35 or 43% of positive results will be false!
There are tests on the market with less than 85% accuracy and there are those with over 99% accuracy, zero false positives and all the independent evidence to back up their claims so it is critical to check the validity of all the quoted figures.
What does this mean for businesses?
It means that companies are now able to screen their workforce for Covid-19 on an ongoing basis in a convenient and low-cost way to significantly lower the risk of workplace exposure. This doesn’t just represent good corporate social responsibility or enhanced compliance with Health & Safety legislation, it means at the very least, a safer workplace, a reduction in employee absence and improved employee confidence and wellbeing. It can however also provide the ability to open up your workplace again and get people back into the factories, shops and offices that have been closed or, more still, it can prevent businesses from being closed down due to an outbreak.
The return on investment is substantial and tangible for businesses and all organisations employing staff. However, it is vital that when deciding on a screening regime for your workplace you choose the right tests, a suitable frequency of testing to meet the risks of your environment and adhere to best practice with all of your protocols.
It is recommended to take advice from Occupational Health, Human Resources and Health & Safety when introducing a screening regime in your organisation and, of course, to regularly check and adhere to the government guidelines for your type of workplace here.
7th December 2020