On-site COVID-19 testing

Large-scale worksites should consider, but smaller facilities have options, too

With our nation’s largest construction and critical infrastructure projects returning to work, teamwork, data, and COVID-19 employee testing are keys to ensuring workplace safety. Accurate and sensitive viral testing helps large worksites to remediate and disinfect high-risk locations.

A $6 billion construction project in Beaver County is almost back to full capacity. This 8,000-employee worksite was shut down in spring, and getting the project running again was no small feat. But an onsite employee virus testing lab and rapid results allowed it to continue adding workers through the summer.

A dedicated mobile testing laboratory allows the company to test employees, with results in just four hours — instead of several days or a week through traditional clinical laboratories. That gives the company a holistic view of employee population infection metrics and an integration of sample analysis, tracking and reporting. Rapid testing turnaround times also assist with contact tracing, as the company is able to quickly let close contacts know about positive virus testing results.

Employee access to the worksite requires a negative COVID-19 test, and after all employees have tested negative, testing is reserved for those who are symptomatic, new hires and those who show higher-than-normal temperatures at daily screenings. The company also offers a COVID-19 hotline if employees are feeling symptomatic outside of work, connecting associates with a clinical provider.

CEOs should consider mobile laboratories in the short- erm for COVID-19 testing, but labs-on-wheels can be used in the future for antibody testing, on-site flu testing or vaccinations, norovirus, or other future viral outbreaks. It is likely that human resource leaders and health and safety professionals will add employee viral activity to the associate dashboards they monitor. Quarterly virus numbers may be monitored forever, along with employee productivity, insurance claims costs and employee culture, as a determinant of company and employee health and success factors.

Keeping employees safe and productive has ROI and can help avoid negative press if viral outbreaks occur. An onsite lab and testing could cost less than a lost day of productivity for large work sites.

While not all worksites have the resources to develop onsite virus testing, a combination of the antigen and antibody tests that are now available have rapid turnaround times and could be included in smaller companies’ back-to-work strategies. In addition, smaller facilities can focus on plant safety documentations, or do smaller-scale on-site virus testing, with samples shipped to a dedicated lab with 24-hour testing. While not as fast, dedicated testing can help facilities avoid the slow health care supply chain and keep employees from leaving work to test.

Operations such as refineries, food processing, manufacturing and large-scale construction and government worksites are learning to distance and revise processes to mitigate viral risk as we wait for a vaccine. But that may be a long-term hope, not a short-term strategy.

We could be living with this virus for much longer. Employee COVID-19 testing with quick turnaround times should be part of back-to-work planning for major U.S. facilities to keep our nation producing, building and thriving.

Casey Bunker is the COO of RJ Lee Group