COVID-19 and Workplace Screening
After many months of being closed to both workers and the public, businesses, offices, factories, laboratories, shops, restaurants and workplaces of every kind are beginning to cautiously reopen. As infection numbers decrease and cities across the province make steps towards reopening, many employees who have been unemployed or working from home because of the pandemic are returning to their place of work
But in order to contain the spread of the virus, things can hardly go back to business as usual. Indeed, before allowing any workers to resume working in their office, lab, shop or any other place of employment, employers need to have plans, policies and procedures in place to ensure the health and safety of their employees.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to take reasonable precautions to protect workers. The single greatest concern for most employers right now is preventing the spread of COVID-19 in their workplace. The virus is highly contagious and so any space in which people gather or share contact creates a risk for transmission.
While ensuring that employees, customers, visitors and anyone else who enters your workplace wear personal protective equipment (such as masks), sanitize their hands and maintain two metres physical distance from one another at all times is imperative to reduce the spread of the disease, a critical means of preventing transmission is ensuring that people who are infected do not enter spaces where they can transmit the disease to others in the first place.
Screening employees for COVID-19 is a proactive measure that employers can take to protect everyone from the spread of coronavirus.
Coronavirus Screening Measures
Screening employees for coronavirus will look different from one workplace to the next. What employee screening looks like will also depend on the employer’s resources, the nature of the workplace and the nature of risks associated with performing workplace duties.
Measures necessary to protect workers in a small office will be different from those needed to protect those working in a large warehouse, for example. They will be different for workplaces that interact heavily with the public versus those that are predominantly self-contained.
While some screening methods can be performed quite easily and at a low cost, others are more complicated to administer. Each method had benefits and drawbacks that each employer must consider before implementing in their workplace.
This is one of the easiest to administer and lowest-cost screening options available to employers. A self declaration checklist requires those who enter a workplace to answer a variety of questions that may help to indicate if they are at risk for having, and therefore transmitting, COVID-19.
There are many templates available online but common questions to pose include: Have you been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19? Do you have a fever, runny nose or other cold-like symptoms? Have you been out of the country in the last 14 days?
It is important that questions on a self-declaration checklist be limited to what is reasonably necessary to determine an individual’s risk of coronavirus exposure and ensure the health and safety of the workplace.
Employers should empower employees to self-report and avoid the workplace if they are experiencing any symptoms of or have potentially been exposed to the virus. Employers need to create an atmosphere of trust so that employees feel safe disclosing any potential COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolate when advisable. In order for self-reporting to be an effective screening method, employers must provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which an employee should self-report, how they should report and to whom, and what to do after they have reported.
Fever is a common symptom of the coronavirus and therefore having employees check their temperature before entering the workplace (using a temperature gun) can be an effective means of screening for potential illness. All employees will need to be trained on how to properly take and record their temperature and what to do if theirs is elevated. Temperature screening is non-invasive and provides instant results. However, body temperature alone is not an accurate assessment as to whether or not an individual does indeed have COVID-19.
Viral testing involves having all individuals being tested for the coronavirus. Viral testing will not be necessary or even feasible for many workplaces and employers. However, it may be not only appropriate, but necessary for workplaces that pose a high risk of transmission.
Key Takeaways for Employers
Whatever the measures you decide to take as an employer to screen your employees, these measures should be thoughtfully developed and clearly explained to all employees. Employees should understand the measures that their employee has taken and the reason for these methods. They should be away of how and when to report for testing. Perhaps most importantly, employees should be informed of what steps will be taken based on the outcome of the test. Employers should have a plan in place to swiftly and safely address what will happen if an employee’s screening indicated potential exposure to or symptoms of the Coronavirus.